The loss of Syracuse Crunch left wing Tyson Nash to free agency will barely cause a blip on the parent Vancouver Canucks' radar screen.
But the Crunch will feel his absence deeply this season during the inevitable listless nights and roughhouse games.
And Nash is doing everything he can this summer to make sure he'll bring more fire to the sport in 1998-99, this time as a member of the St. Louis Blues organization.
The personable Nash was one of the most popular players on the Crunch during his three years with the team. He was a non-stop burr in the corners and one of Syracuse's most improved scorers (20 goals, 20 assists in 1997-98).
But the bottom line is that the Canucks doubted that his body (6-0, 190 pounds) could back up his antagonism against NHL thugs. Vancouver didn't tender Nash, 23, a contract this summer, and St. Louis took advantage by signing him to at the very least pump up its AHL affiliate in Worcester.
"Vancouver shot me down. I wanted to come back and they didn't want me," Nash said. "I was kind of crushed. I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I must be absolutely brutal.' I was just happy to know that somebody (St. Louis) wanted me."
Crunch coach Jack McIlhargey - whom Nash credited for much of his improvement - said Nash was another in the organization to fall victim to numbers. Under its dual affiliation with Vancouver and Pittsburgh, Syracuse has no room on its roster for older players who aren't considered prospects.
"We only have so many spots with the team being split," McIlhargey said. "You hate to see a guy like that leave. He was a heart and soul player."
Typically, Nash has used Vancouver's rejection and St. Louis' faith as rallying points for his summer conditioning. He vents even more motivation than usual to take the ice this season a better player than when he left it in the spring.
"After I signed my contract (with the Blues), my workout's picked up 200 percent," Nash said. "When St. Louis signed me...it's like I've got a lot of incentive. I'm working out like a madman. This is my window of opportunity. I'm going to take advantage of it."
This is the time of summer when deals are struck between veteran minor-league free agents and NHL organizations. But once again it seems Vancouver is content to avoid the bidding.
Mike Penny, the Canucks' vice president of amateur scouting, said he doesn't expect his team to stray from its philosophy and splurge on an established minor-leaguer for the Crunch.
"We're not going to go out and get a bunch of old guys that can't play in the National Hockey League," he said. "It's counter-productive."
That could be bad news for Syracuse if Vancouver starts the season with the goalie tandem of Corey Hirsch and Garth Snow. Unless Vancouver throws an established goalie Syracuse's way, the Crunch will be left with some combination of rookie free agent Mike Valley, raw second-year player Tim Keyes and Pittsburgh 1996 No. 1 draft pick Craig Hillier, who would also be a rookie.
The makeup of the Crunch could depend upon what evolves from a shakeup in the Vancouver front office. Earlier this week, Dave Nonis was named Vancouver's new senior vice-president of hockey operations. Nonis' job includes player contract negotiations, overseeing the Crunch and extensive hockey operations department responsibilities. Penny, who was assistant general manager, was shuffled to amateur scouting.
As an organization that seldom lets even small opportunities for promotion to pass unexploited, the Crunch will ride the obvious hook of the team's fifth anniversary for all it's worth this season.
The team has designed a fifth-anniversary logo, which will adorn a patch on the players' jerseys and make a splash on a new and expanded line of merchandise. The new souvenirs will be modeled during a fashion show to promote the unveiling of the line in the week prior to the opening game Oct. 9.