Last summer, the New York Rangers thought they had solved their dreaded salary cap issues by trading away expensive, expendable pieces off the roster to gain the necessary dollars needed to sign the team’s top restricted free agents. The goal was to remain competitive in the Stanley Cup playoff chase, while replenishing the depth of the minor league system with the draft choices and young prospects acquired in salary-dumping trades.
Only one problem with this formula – the Rangers stopped winning.
Rangers Losing a Quality Veteran Leader
The one surprise in the 2017-18 season has been the lack of consistency by the Rangers to play winning hockey on a nightly basis. Since the Winter Classic, the team has gone 6-12-1 in their last 19 games, and the team’s ongoing struggles have changed the outlook of Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton on the remainder of the season. The organization has several players in the last year of their contracts who could become valuable assets at the trade deadline, but one such player’s fate, Rick Nash, will be hard to predict.
No can argue that Henrik Lundqvist is the face of the Rangers organization, but Nash has endeared himself to the loyal Blueshirts contingent. It hasn’t been easy for him as expectations were high when the team made the 2012 trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets that brought Nash to New York. The power winger has scored 144 goals in his six seasons with the Rangers, and it will be hard to find a suitable replacement in the lineup.
Nash is the perfect mentor to the organization’s young talent. He can educate them on how to correctly use their skillset by reading each on-ice situation to determine whether to shoot-first or pass-first to gain favorable results in the offensive zone.
It’s not surprising that Nash has express an interest in returning to New York as an unrestricted free agent this summer, but, at 33 years old, this may be his last opportunity to gain a big money, multi-year deal. Nash’s current contract carries a large salary cap hit at $7.8 million, so his return to the organization would have to come at a lower rate for it to work for both sides. This where the dilemma begins for the Rangers is should Nash stay or go at the trade deadline.
Nash is the Most Versatile Forward Trade Chip
There isn’t one Stanley Cup contender who couldn’t use a forward of Nash’s caliber. He’s versatile enough to play on a team’s top scoring or checking line because his forechecking skills create turnovers near an opponent’s crease, and he still has the ability to put the puck in the net during crunch time. Nash’s production has fallen off since netting 42 goals in the 2014-15 season, but Ranger fans still cheer when the veteran uses his patented power move to get around a defenseman en route towards scoring a goal from close range.
Ranger fans are bracing for the departure of Nash by the Feb. 26 trade deadline as this will signal the start to the process of retooling the roster for next season. All inquiring trade partners will have to sacrifice a high price of at least one first-round draft choice, a quality prospect and other players to secure his services. Why such a large package? Well, any organization would welcome Nash’s playoff experience (he has scored 14 goals in 73 playoff games with the Rangers) inside their locker room. His defensive play has greatly improved during his time in New York, which has led Nash to become one of the Rangers top penalty-killers. Plus, he’s a prolific goal-scorer who can also create scoring opportunities for his linemates near the net.
The length of the Rangers’ retool will be dependent upon the package acquired in any proposed trade, which is why the price tag will be quite expensive to pry Nash out of New York. It could become a quick process if the right moves are made by the front office at the trade deadline which gains the pieces to complement the roster’s solid foundation of young talent. This mix could propel the Rangers back into the playoff chase as soon as next season.
It’s inevitable that Nash’s time in New York is coming to an end – the only part of the mystery that hasn’t been solved is his next destination. The thought of capturing a Stanley Cup championship will be too tempting to stop an organization from pursuing Nash because he’s the most versatile forward available on the trade market today. It will not matter what the asking price is if a chance to hoist the Cup is within an arm’s length away.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy