The fact that the Rick Nash trade winds have been swirling in the aftermath of last Friday’s loss in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final should come to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Quite frankly, it seems like the natural gut response to a severely disappointing loss, blaming the biggest name forward on the team who somewhat under-performed throughout the postseason.
But the blame on Nash is as misplaced as the defeat at the hands of the Lightning was painful, and if there is one thing the Rangers must not do this offseason, its trade their most natural goal scorer since Marian Gaborik.
That, as far as I’m concerned, would be a mistake of cataclysmic proportions.
A Career Year
Why shouldn’t the Rangers trade Nash? Well for starters, the soon to be 31-year-old winger is in the prime of his career, and is coming off of one of his strongest seasons to date.
Nash’s 42 goals – four of which were shorthanded a team best and good for second in the NHL – was his highest single season total. His eight game winning goals also led the team, while his six power play goals was tied for second best on the squad with Derick Brassard. Only Chris Kreider’s seven power play goals topped that.
Those numbers transition well into discussing the fact that Rick Nash also does do so much more than simply play the easy game and score the soft goals, as he’s often accused of doing. As his four shorthanded markers suggest, the man does kill penalties in addition to playing plenty both at even strength and with the man-advantage. But it isn’t as if he just comes out onto the ice in the waning moments of penalty kills and gets lucky by scoring goals just before time expires.
Nash was in fact one of the team’s most consistent killers of penalties all season, almost always pairing up with Derek Stepan as the second forward combination behind the dynamic duo of Hagelin and Moore. His 80 seconds of shorthanded time-on-ice per game and 106:09 of penalty killing time this season was fourth among all Ranger forwards.
Not bad for some guy who was branded a one-dimensional player when he came over to New York from Columbus…
Nash is extremely strong when battling along the boards as well. His play this season – regular and post – reflected that, and he’s only going to get better.
But what about the playoffs? Well this one’s a valid question, but shouldn’t be much – if any – of a concern when it comes to Nash.
First of all, the man is trending in the right direction when it’s come to playoff performance and it’s been that way each and every appearance he’s had in the postseason.
Is it really fair to even judge Nash from way back in 2009 when his Columbus Blue Jackets got swept in the first round of the playoffs? I don’t think so, so let’s move on to his stay with the Rangers.
In 2013, his first season – an abbreviated one thanks to the lockout – on Broadway, Nash scored 21 goals in 44 games but only netted one goal and five total points in 12 playoff games. If you’ll recall though, Nash had an injured wrist throughout those playoffs.
Pretty tough for a goal scorer to have maximum impact with a wrist injury.
Then there was last spring, 2014, when Nash did absolutely everything but finish. He went to the right areas, did all the right things away from the puck, and yet the luck of the little black rubber wasn’t with him. Still, the big winger stuck with it and finished the run with 10 points in 25 games. Not good enough, but still a career high.
And finally there was this spring where Nash continued to do all that he had been doing the previous spring, except this time the breaks started to go his way in the slightest of ways. This time around, in six fewer games, Nash finished the postseason with four more points: five goals and nine assists for 14 points. And that’s without mentioning that fact that he was without regular line mate Mats Zuccarello for the majority of the postseason.
Again, not fantastic, but new career highs and continuing the trend in the right direction.
Just as so many NHL defensemen take an extra couple of years to blossom into their true potential, perhaps Rick Nash is simply following the course of a locomotive and slowly but steadily getting better and better with regard to the playoffs.
Surely the Rangers wouldn’t want to give up on him before he reaches his full potential and ultimately becomes unstoppable the way a speeding steam engine once finally traveling at maximum speed.
Now there’s no denying that Nash does still need to do more in the playoffs. There’s no way around that. He’s said it, Vigneault has said it, and every Rangers fan and their mother has said it.
But after having a discussion with Nash following the team’s premature exit from the 2015 playoffs, Vigneault also praised Nash for his play, and reiterated his confidence in the Blueshirt forward in his ability to continue to improve in future playoff runs.
“Rick does so many other things, too, but at the end of the day we had that talk with him today. In every playoff that he’s played, he’s improved. He was an older player when he got to New York and having only had four games experience, he’s getting better, he understands that his contribution is real important and I think he’s only gonna continue to improve.” – Alain Vigneault to reporters on NYR breakup day (courtesy of Blueshirtsunited.com)
But What if the Return is Right?
Well sure, if the return is right, then perhaps the Rangers ought to, in the words of TSN insider Bob McKenzie, “at least consider” trading Nash. But considering a trade is a far cry from actually carrying out a trade.
There would be no harm in generating talks, or perhaps even listening to offers, but at the end of the day, Rick Nash is a premier goal scorer who is also a terrific all-around hockey player. In the regular season, he’s worth every dollar and cent. In the playoffs, he’s getting there and continually headed in the right direction. Of that there is no doubt.
If the Rangers give up on a 31-year-old talent such as Nash, it would be a downright travesty, no matter how good the return might appear on the surface.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.