The New York Rangers have a busy offseason ahead of them, and a handful of moves in particular that they should prioritize for both short-term and long-term success.
One move, however, that might not top their list of priorities but could improve the team nonetheless, would be to trade winger Rick Nash. Of course, in making such a move — or any transaction, for that matter — both the pros and the cons need to be considered.
Why the Rangers Should Trade Nash
The most obvious reason why the Rangers should explore trading Nash, who will be 32-years old by the time next season starts, is because they would offload his massive $7.8 million annual cap hit, which spans the next two years. Doing so would give the Rangers more flexibility to acquire (or re-sign … Keith Yandle, anyone?) other players who could help the team by shoring up weaknesses and/or providing an injection of youth.
Nash is still a very good player, and while there is some validity in pointing to his perceived lack of production in the playoffs, that is largely an overblown media narrative. With the Rangers, Nash has become an excellent two-way player who is still a great scoring threat, even as he appears to be just past the apex of his career. At this point though, it’s clear the Rangers need a fair amount of change. Head coach Alain Vigneault even indicated as much on breakup day.
Given his effectiveness, Nash, despite his large contract, is one of the Rangers’ more tradeable assets — definitely more so than Dan Girardi or Marc Staal. He has a limited no-trade clause, so the Rangers would have to look for a team he would be willing to go to that would also represent the right fit as a potential trade partner.
A Good Potential Trade Partner for the Rangers
One potential trade partner that was actually suggested a year ago by Larry Brooks of the New York Post (the very same man Dan Boyle chewed out in his breakup-day interview session) would be the St. Louis Blues. At that time, Brooks speculated that a package of forwards might comprise a good return for the Rangers in a deal for Nash.
A year later though, it’s clear that the Rangers’ biggest weakness is on the blue line, and their right side in particular, where they have very little depth. That is why, consistent with some past speculation, Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk would be a great piece for the Rangers to acquire in a return package for Nash.
Shattenkirk is only 27-years old and shoots right-handed. He also brings offense from the backend, as he tallied 14 goals and 30 assists this regular season, and has accumulated over 40 points in each of the past four full seasons (not including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). The Boston University product was a first-round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 2007, and grew up as a Rangers fan in New Rochelle, New York. He would fit in very nicely on the the Rangers’ blue line.
Shattenkirk carries a salary cap hit of $4.25 million through next year, before he hits UFA status. His cap hit in comparison to Nash’s would allow the Rangers to save money in a potential deal (assuming he is the only roster player involved in the return), and would make the absorption of Nash’s contract more digestible for the Blues.
Of course, this is all speculation, as the Blues would have to be interested enough in Nash to dangle a very good defenseman like Shattenkirk. But St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock, who used to coach Nash in Columbus, is apparently a big fan of the hulking forward, and the Blues could perhaps use more offensive punch up front. Their defense corps is strong with players such as the criminally underrated Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and the emerging Colton Parayko, who could make Shattenkirk expendable. Since Shattenkirk is also set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, it’s possible that St. Louis could be looking to obtain value for him rather than let him eventually walk away and get nothing in return.
Why the Rangers Should Keep Nash
Having said that, there are some disadvantages that would come with trading Nash. Although the Rangers have strong depth at the forward position, Nash is one of the few forwards (perhaps the only one) who has elite, game-breaking offensive ability. That is not easy to replace.
Sure, a good return can certainly be obtained for Nash, but if, for example, it were Shattenkirk and possibly one or two draft picks, that would leave a fairly significant hole up front for the Rangers. They would either have to acquire someone else to help fill the void, or move forward without that elite game-breaker on the wing.
Nash also, as alluded to earlier, has a bad reputation for being a poor postseason performer. With that reputation, however, comes a lack of appreciation for everything he brings to the table. He has turned himself into an excellent defensive forward, and offensively, even when he is not scoring, his size and speed help create space for others. Again, these are elements that are not easy to replace.
So what should the Rangers do? Nash is an excellent player, but with an obvious need to retool and fix the defense, moving his contract and getting valuable assets in return would ultimately be a good thing for the Blueshirts — especially if they are unable to unload at least one of Girardi and Staal.
While Nash would be difficult to replace, elite offensive defensemen are even more difficult to find. To that end, moving Nash’s cap hit would give the Rangers room to re-sign Yandle, who would provide them with more value both now and down the road. On top of that, if the Rangers could acquire someone like Shattenkirk for their defense while also retaining Yandle, then that weakness would suddenly turn into a strength.
The Rangers would be foolish to not at least explore all trade options for Nash. Even if it’s not for Shattenkirk, there are likely multiple options available that would help them.