Call it Rangers East versus Rangers Midwest.
Thursday night’s game against Columbus marked a reunion of sorts between two franchises who are intertwined.
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The Rangers employ former Blue Jackets Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore, Rick Nash and Anton Stralman. Columbus has five former Rangers on the roster in Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, Marian Gaborik and Fedor Tyutin, while franchise president John Davidson was both a goaltender for the Blueshirts and analyst for the team on MSG Network.
So, yes, these teams do have an intimate knowledge of the other. And neither side is running from the patently obvious.
“There’s obviously a sense of awareness, heightened sense of awareness,” head coach Alain Vigneault said after the Rangers’ optional skate. “They’re playing against their former organization, their former team. They obviously have a lot of friends there. But the competitor in any player is going to want to prove to the opposition that they want to win. I’m expecting our guys, the ones that played in Columbus, just like [former Rangers who are in] Columbus now, to be a little more excited and should make it a real good game.”
While members of both organizations spent the morning catching up, two players took center stage: Nash and Dubinsky.
The two forwards were the cornerstones of a massive trade that saw the organizations swap five players and two draft picks on July 23, 2012. Then-Columbus general manager Steve Howson sent Nash, Steven Delisle and a 2013 conditional third-round pick to the Rangers in exchange for Anisimov, Dubinsky, Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick the Blue Jackets used on Kerby Rychel.
The trade was the culmination of a nearly seven-month saga. During a press conference after the 2012 trade deadline, Howson reported Nash had asked for a trade in January, and the executive added he would not budge off his asking price.
Ultimately, Nash, who had a no -movement clause in his contract, was able to dictate where he wanted to go and Howson had the left wing submit a list of eight franchises he would be willing to accept a trade to leading up to the 2012 deadline. Nash did not expand the list during the offseason, essentially forcing Howson to make a deal in a small window.
“I think it could have been a bit smoother [of], I guess you can call it, an exit,” Nash said. “I thought everyone was honest and in the same boat. It ended up getting a little messy. At the end of the day when someone asks to move on for their career, you have to assume it’s going to get messy.”
Messy would be an apt way to describe Dubinsky’s final year with the Rangers. Dubinsky scored 10 goals and 34 points in 77 regular season games, and only had two points in nine playoff games.
“It was tough toward the end [of my time with the Rangers],” Dubinsky said. “For me, individually, I didn’t have the greatest year and sort of ended with an injury, even though I played [those] games in the Eastern Conference finals. It was hard for us as a team because we were close to making the finals and it’s still pretty fresh in the memory. We came back and tied both those games [Games 5 and 6] up and found ways to lose tough ones. It could have gone the other way, and who knows what would have happened? But overall, looking back on my time here, [I have] nothing but amazing things to say about the organization, the fan base [and] the city. I loved my time here and was excited to come back here.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.