Player: Rick Nash
Cap Hit Outlook: Two years left at an annual $7.8 million hit
Status: Top-Six Forward
2015-2016 G-A-P: 15-21-36 in 60 GP
Every educated New York Rangers fan will have clicked open this article sharing a few universal preconceived thoughts on number 61. Most glaringly, his rather extreme lack of production during the playoffs and specifically during the 2013-2014 Cup Final run stand out. There’s also his outrageous price tag that plants his average annual cap hit right in between Shea Weber and Zach Parise/Ryan Suter—Nash is the 13th highest paid player in the entire NHL. There is no doubt that the 6’4, 220 pounder was brought in from Columbus in 2012 to continue to play the very specific, vital role for the Blueshirts that he had been playing for the Blue Jackets; the superstar goal-scoring dynamo on the top line. It’s fair to say he hasn’t lived up to that hype and expectation during his four seasons thus far in New York. However, any just analysis of Rick Nash must be presented objectively and without the personal bias that comes following his role in some of the most heartbreaking post-seasons Ranger fans have endured in decades.
Rick Nash is surely overpaid. There, I’ve said it. With that clear fact out of the way, it’s time to look at what he actually brings to the ice to determine his day-to-day worth on this team, at this time. Nash will be 32 years old in June, so he’s no spring chicken. Despite this, he’s only got two years left on his current mega-deal and is just one year removed from pouring in 42 goals in 79 games—good for third most in the NHL that season. His 104 goals in 248 regular season games as a Ranger; a .42 goals per game ratio, slots him 11th in the entire league amongst everyday players with at least 240 games played from 2012-2016. He’s also tied for 6th in the league with 7 shorthanded goals in that span and passes the eye test on the penalty kill with his still-devastating speed and solid positioning on the back-check. It’s also a serious plus that he’s versatile enough to play well in any and all game situations, as some guys’ egos get in the way of their potential and maximum possible impact for a team. He is a true do-it-all player with great size and speed.
The main problem is that this isn’t the objective for a guy making $7.8 million per season, and his noticeability on the ice seriously decreases as the calendar months flip into the spring. He currently sits at 11 goals in 61 playoff games for the Blueshirts—a .18 goals per game ratio, behind ex-Rangers such as Benoit Pouliot and Arron Asham. That is simply unbelievable and unacceptable. Nash’s notorious no-shows during the playoffs have over-shadowed all regular season accolades and accomplishments, and it’s hard for me to think of what could’ve been had he produced AT ALL during the Finals run when he managed to score only three goals in the 25 games that postseason.
Where is the one place that a big forward with a history of goal scoring should establish positioning when on the power play? Right in front of the crease, blocking the opposing goalie’s vantage point. This also invites deflections and rebounds—something Rangers fans are not accustomed to seeing very often. At this stage in his career, Rick Nash needs to be using his big body similar to Wayne Simmonds and David Backes, crashing the net with authority and establishing himself as an immovable barrier for opposing d-men to contend with. I truly believe he has the ability to do this, but it’s a yet to be seen strategy. If AV is serious about his “total re-evaluation,” he’d be wise to explore this prospect further and encourage Nash (and some other big bodied forwards on this team) to play with more of a physical edge in front of goal. Too often the Rangers play the horizontal game in the offensive zone, looking for that perfect pass that’s rarely there. Nash needs to add more power-forward play to his game if he’s to turn around the fortunes of this Rangers power play that’s ranked 21st in the league during his time on Broadway—though this is not at all entirely on 61.
While the rumor mill has pegged a Nash-for-Kevin Shattenkirk countdown, I’m not so sure the St. Louis Blues will be jumping into such a deal regardless of the ultimate result of the current deep playoff run they’re on. In a perfect world, the Rangers would strike a deal this summer for the top-four, 27-year-old New Rochelle, NY native who grew up a Rangers fan and move on from the last two years of Nash’s enormous price tag. However, the NYR faithful also have to be fully prepared for the real possibility that Nash suits up opening night at the Garden. This writer believes he has the abilities necessary to change his game for a more productive role on the team. The ultimate question will remain whether he has the confidence, insight and instruction to actually make it happen. Also creeping in is the feeling that he’s overstayed his Broadway welcome and it’s time to move in a different direction.
Regardless, he’s had plenty of chances to prove himself in big moments and has yet to really come through. I wouldn’t shed a tear should Sather and Gorton fetch a return similar to Shattenkirk either over the summer or at the trade deadline next season.