Rick Nash for the Hart Is a Conversation worth Having

A couple months back I wrote an article about this year’s “Resurgence of Rick Nash” following last spring’s disappointing playoffs for him individually. Now, two months later, Nash’s strong play hasn’t slowed in the slightest, and his game on all parts of the ice has been nothing shy of dominant. Rick Nash is a man on a mission, and his play and demeanor have shown that, and has him deserving of serious consideration for the 2015 Hart trophy through this first portion of the season.

It’s important to remember, first, that the Hart trophy is not awarded to the player who has amassed the most goals or combined points, but to the one who is deemed the most valuable to his team. Given that, while it’s certainly possible to make strong cases for others, including but not limited to Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mark Giordano, and Pekka Rinne, Rick Nash has a pretty convincing case for himself as well.

Just listen to Derek Stepan briefly talk about his teammate following New York’s impressive 5-2 win over Calgary on Tuesday night:

Numbers and Beyond

In 29 games this season, Rick Nash has already eclipsed the 20 goal mark for the 11th season in a row, and is on pace to far surpass his career high of 41 goals which he set as an NHL sophomore in ’03-’04 while playing in Columbus. Nash won the Rocket Richard trophy that season, and if he keeps up his current pace, he will finish this season with 57 goals, enough to break both his personal, and the all-time Rangers’ single season goal record of 54, set by Jaromir Jagr during the 2005-06 season.

Nash has also already hit 13 assists this season, which is how many he had all of last season in 65 games, and is just six points shy of last season’s point total. Simply put, on paper Nash’s numbers speak for themselves thus far, but when analyzing his play beyond just the stats, he’s been equally impressive.

Instead of being the offensive minded, “one-dimensional” player Nash had been criticized of being prior to his arrival in New York three seasons ago, he has grown into a very effective two-way forward who is capable of playing in every situation that may arise.

In addition to being a key member of the Ranger power play, as he ranks second on the team in power play goals with two, and fourth on the team in power play points with five, Nash is also an integral part of the penalty kill.

The Rangers currently have the 13th ranked penalty kill in the league, as they’ve successfully fended off 81.3 percent of their penalties this season. Rick Nash has become a consistent presence for the Rangers when playing down a man, and has even found a way to be an offensive threat in those instances. Nash is ranked second in the NHL with three shorthanded goals this season, trailing only Tyler Toffoli of the LA Kings, who has four.

Rick Nash is also the lone player in the top-10 in scoring in the NHL who also ranks in the top-10 in shorthanded goals. Not many natural goal scorers are interchangeable as to where they play as Nash is.

Furthermore, 50.2 percent of Nash’s shifts have started in the offensive zone, and the same number have finished there as well. Of the 16 forwards who have played for New York this season, the only others aside from Nash on the Rangers to have an equal or greater offensive zone finish percentage than their offensive zone start percentage are Zuccarello, Hagelin, Moore, and Fast.

Value over Stats

The bottom line is this: Rick Nash may not win the Art Ross Trophy for most points, and he may not win the Rocket Richard trophy, but when it boils down to it, when you widen the scope to look at his overall value to the Rangers, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t deserving of at least strong consideration for the Hart.

In a year where Henrik Lundqvist has been less than “King-like” to start the season, and the Rangers lineup has been riddled from top to bottom with injuries, the case could be made that the Rangers would be in much worse position if it weren’t for the incredible play of Rick Nash in all facets of the game.

Just imagine where this team would be right now if Nash had gone down to an injury three weeks ago when half the Rangers blue line was also sidelined. It could’v e been a train wreck. But it wasn’t, in part thanks to Rick Nash.

Nash kills penalties and plays on the power play. He can be the extra attacker when called upon, and he can be on the ice to fend off a team’s last push with the empty net. His numbers are impressive, but his play in all situations is what should place him in the thick of the running for this year’s Hart trophy.

Nash looks bigger, stronger, meaner -on the ice, not in his head shots- and more driven this season than he has in a very long time, if ever. He’s spoken openly in the past about how frustrating last year’s playoffs were for him personally, and thus far he appears to have become better from the experience.

Sure, Tyler Seguin and Vladamir Tarasenko are tremendous talents, and Pekka Rinne is a standout netminder who has been invaluable to his team this season. But Rick Nash has done it all thus far as well, and his value to this Ranger squad is immeasurable. While there are others who are perhaps equally worthy, Rick Nash should be at the heart of every discussion regarding this year’s Hart trophy.