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2012 NHL Trade Deadline: Jeff Carter, Not Rick Nash, Could Be Dallas Stars Target

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Over the past 48 hours the hockey world has been buzzing over the potential trade of Rick Nash. Just over a year since committing to the Columbus Blue Jackets long term and buying into their rebuilding plan by signing an 8-year, $62.4 million contract, Nash has made it known that he is ready to go elsewhere.

The Blue Jackets decided this past summer to try and money whip their team into shape with a number of free agent signings and blockbuster trades, which on paper seemed like a grand plan. The addition of Jeff Wisniewski on the blue line was going to add power from the defense, with the hope that Steve Mason would rebound and go back to the stellar play of his rookie season.

The Blue Jackets also made one very big trade, acquiring Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers. Carter was going to add some much needed scoring depth to the firepower provided by Nash and for the first time since becoming a franchise the Blue Jackets were looked at as early favorites to at the very least make the playoffs.

As we all know that plan never came to fruition. The Blue Jackets have been one of the worst teams in the NHL and proof that it takes more than money to build a winning team. With Columbus looking at a lottery pick this summer and another long rebuilding process ahead, Nash has made it known he's ready to move on to a successful franchise. He's not willing to go through yet another rebuild of the only team he's ever known.

Now, every team with Stanley Cup dreams are rumored to be interested in Nash -- with some saying the Dallas Stars should target him as well. With Nash in complete control of the team he is traded to and with so many teams likely interested, the price will likely be absurdly high for a top-20 scorer with six years remaining on his contract.

Yet Nash is not the player the Stars should be targeting, it's Jeff Carter -- who may have been the target all along.

Let's play a game of speculation, shall we?

We've known for a few months now that the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets have been scouting each other nearly every game. The Stars have sent Scott White, GM for the Texas Stars, to scout a Blue Jackets game, and even as recently as last night the Stars had scouts in Columbus. Now, these scouting trends are never sure signs of a pending trade but we do know that Joe Nieuwendyk likes to scout his potential trade targets well before actually making the transaction -- Alex Goligoski has been on the Stars radar for months before being traded to Dallas.

Then we take the fact that both the owner, Tom Gaglardi, and Joe Nieuwendyk have made it known that the Stars are likely not going to be sellers at the trade deadline and are in fact looking to add scoring firepower to the roster. The term "young, top-six forward" has been used several times over the past few weeks -- especially by Gaglardi -- and there are only a few truely valuable candidates that fit that description that could be targeted by the Dallas Stars.

There's also the fact that unless an absolute tank job occurs over the next week or so (entirely possible, and likely happening) the Stars will remain solely focused on making the playoffs while a hope still exists for that possibility. The Stars, in looking to accomplish this feat, obviously need some much needed scoring depth and added firepower. The Stars will not make the playoffs without some sort of addition, especially to the top six, and it seems the team is focused on at least attempting to make this happen.

The best thing for the Stars to do, if this were indeed the plan, would be to make a move that would not only benefit the team in the here and now but also at least be a needed addition for the future as well. The Stars may have a few young prospects on the way in the next few seasons, but adding a proven goal scoring winger/center that is just entering his prime and is under team control for a number of years is a path the Dallas Stars desperately need to explore. While the addition of such a player would be invaluable for the next few months, being able to use that trade to continue to improve for the future as well would certainly be the best case scenario.

Rick Nash, an NHL star capable of easily producing 30+ goals any given season, is under control for the next six years. While his $7.8 million cap hit seems relatively exorbitant, in reality his contract is right on par with other forwards who are consistently in the top 20 scorers in the NHL. That Nash has accomplished this in Columbus, surrounded by less talented teammates, makes him a very shiny object of affection of any team with Stanley Cup or even playoff aspirations. That he could also be the centerpiece of that team for years to come makes him even more valuable, especially to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Dallas Stars fans would love to see Nash on the ice at the AAC, wearing the black, gold and green. Despite playing in his ninth NHL season, Nash is just 27 years old and still has plenty of good years ahead of him -- perhaps better than he has been so far in his career. His level of stardom would also be invaluable in helping to resell the team and the sport to the fans in Dallas, as a player like Nash -- along with Jamie Benn -- would go a very long ways towards building up interest as the teams fights for relevancy in a very fickle sports town.

Unfortunately, the possibilities of Rick Nash coming to Dallas are slim. Nash has full control over his potential destination and since he's under contract for years to come, there's no rush to move him before the trade deadline -- at least not by the Blue Jackets. This means that the price for Nash via trade will skyrocket as teams try to not only convince Columbus -- but Nash himself -- that they present the best option as a trade partner. That Nash will likely want to head to a proven contender will also set the Stars behind, as there's no guarantee how long the building of this team will last.

So, the Stars could look to the next best option on the Blue Jackets, a player that has had been frustrated since going to Columbus and who is in the middle of an extremely frustrating season -- but has the talent to be extremely impactful as well . Jeff Carter, traded to the Blue Jackets last summer by the Flyers, had scored 115 goals in the three season preceding the trade and is widely seen as one of the premiere goal scorers in the NHL. This season, playing on a bad Columbus team while fighting through injuries, he has just 12 goals and nine assists 36 games. Well below what we'd expect from Carter, it's been made known he's unhappy with his situation and would likely welcome a change.

While Nash is certainly the superstar name the Stars would love to have, Carter represents just as much offensive opportunity and potential as a pure scoring winger. He puts up well over four shots per game throughout his career and is pure offense, something the Stars desperately need in their top six.

What creates some hesitation when discussing a trade for Carter is the contract he signed with Philadelphia before being traded. With 10 years remaining after this season, and a cap hit of $5.2 million, some feel the contract is too long and too expensive -- around $6-7 million actual salary -- for the Stars to make such a commitment, especially after his issues with his new team have been made known.

The trick here is the fact that Carter's NTC was nullified when he was traded to Columbus, meaning that the Stars could decide to get out of that contract in a few years if the two sides decide to part ways. So, while that long contract is certainly a concern it's far from the ball-and-chain that some are making it out to be when discussing a potential trade.

Finally, there's the issue of just what it would take to get Carter via trade -- the same issue that plagues any talk about a potential Nash trade. While teams are clamoring to get Nash, the hope is that the Stars could be able to work out an affordable deal for a player who obviously wants out of Columbus. The Jackets spent a first round pick (#8 overall) and Jakub Voracek to get Carter last summer. While it's unlikely it would take a top-ten draft pick to trade for him now, the Stars would have to part with a top prospect in order to even contemplate making such a trade.

In Jack Campbell, the Stars have a promising trade asset that would be valuable to Columbus and could be the centerpiece for any such deal. It's likely that Campbell would be part of a package that includes another relatively high draft pick and a current NHL roster player (perhaps Eric Nystrom), but if the Blue Jackets covet a potential franchise goaltender -- the Stars have the perfect piece of the puzzle to start the conversation. While Campbell's struggles since being drafted are well known, there's the fact that the development of goaltenders are incredibly hard to predict, especially at the OHL level.

Perhaps all of the scouting of the Blue Jackets is indeed in an effort to get Rick Nash, with the Stars looking to make one heck of a splash at the trade deadline. Realistically, they're likely looking for a player that would be more affordable via trade and could still be a big part of this team for the near future -- someone like Jeff Carter.

Of course, the Stars could be targeting R.J. Umberger or Antoine Vermette, and this entire conversation would be for naught.