For the first time in his career, Rick Nash finds himself on the trade deadline market as a true-blue rental.
Though rumors about Nash’s availability have swirled for the past few seasons, that he’ll be on the move come deadline day became all but official on Monday when it was reported by TSN’s Bob McKenzie that the New York Rangers had requested the 33-year-old’s list of 12 teams to which he would be willing to except a trade. The request comes with Nash only months away from the end of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract, a deal which carries a hefty $7.8-million cap hit.
That Nash is being made available by New York isn’t the least bit surprising. For weeks now there’s been talk about the Rangers potentially shipping out players at the deadline, and those discussions have only intensified as New York has fallen behind in the Eastern Conference wild-card race. Currently, the Rangers sit three points back of the New York Islanders with a single game in hand, and while that might not mean they’re far enough out of the race that selling at the deadline is the only option, the reality of the Blueshirts’ situation is that even a post-season appearance wouldn’t result in much more than a first-round exit.
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton understands the situation, too, which is why there could be several moves by New York in the coming weeks in an effort to retool the organization. That brings us, first and foremost, to Nash, who will undoubtedly have his suitors despite a cap hit that some consider prohibitive. While true that he’s a veteran winger in obvious decline with a lengthy injury history and admittedly far removed from the days when he was a consistent 30-goal threat — he has 53 goals in 180 games across the past three seasons — Nash brings an element of size and offensive acumen that few players on this season’s rental market can offer. And though some may scoff at the cost of Nash’s deal, chances are the team bringing him aboard won’t be stuck paying full price — it’s a safe bet to suggest whichever team acquires Nash will do so at a cut rate.
In fact, the Rangers retaining some of Nash’s salary can make any deadline deal involving the eight-time 30-goal scorer a win-win for both teams. From New York’s perspective, swinging a deal that reduces Nash’s cap hit for the acquiring team stands to bring a better return than one that would see Nash moved along at full cost. For instance, retaining, say, 50 percent of Nash’s salary might turn what would’ve previously been a third-round selection into a second-round pick. Conversely, teams on Nash’s trade list that may not have been able to afford to bring him aboard without salary retention can now enter the bidding for the veteran.
So, which teams could pursue Nash at or ahead of the deadline? Here are five potential destinations:
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Anze Kopitar needs some help. No doubt, he has been excellent in rebounding from a down season, pacing Los Angeles with 20 goals and 55 points, but with Jeff Carter still on the sidelines, the Kings’ attack hasn’t been all that difficult to slow down.
Los Angeles has the 19th-ranked offense and keeping pace with some of the West’s higher-scoring clubs — the Vegas Golden Knights, for example — is going to be a chore if the Kings don’t add some extra scoring punch. Nash could be that scoring punch. Yes, as noted, Nash’s best days are behind him, but he still has 15 goals this season, which would tie him with Adrian Kempe for fourth in scoring among Los Angeles forwards. Beyond that, Nash’s size would fit in with the Kings and he’s proven he can contribute in the playoffs. In 36 postseason games over the past three years, Nash has 10 goals and 23 points.
Worth noting is that the Kings have been mentioned in connection with Evander Kane, another top deadline rental, on a regular basis since his name first appeared in the rumor mill. However, Nash could be cheaper to acquire, especially in terms of the draft choices and prospects required to complete a deal. That should appeal to Los Angeles as their system is running thin and Kings GM Rob Blake should be attempting to avoid any swaps that could further hamstring the franchise in the future.
Would anyone be at all surprised to see Penguins GM Jim Rutherford make a splash at the deadline? Maybe Nash isn’t the big prize ahead of the trade freeze, but he seems like he could be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh and a piece of the puzzle that helps push the Penguins right back into contention as they search for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
What makes Nash in Pittsburgh intriguing is potential versatility. Consider Nash skating on the wing next to Crosby or Malkin. Again, while his prime is behind him, Nash’s natural goal-scoring ability and offensive smarts could make him a lethal addition next to either center. However, Nash doesn’t even need to play on the top two lines to fit with the Penguins. Matter of fact, as a depth scorer playing on the third line, Nash would face weaker defenders which could allow him to break out. That’s not to mention he could be a welcome addition to the power play, making an already strong Penguins special teams unit that much better.
The one downside to such a deal is that it doesn’t address the Penguins’ need to fill their third-line center role. He’s a winger through and through, so acquiring Nash would still leave Pittsburgh seeking an additional pivot.
It has taken most of the season for the Ducks to get completely healthy, and now that their injured reserve list has dwindled, Anaheim is starting to make a push for the post-season. It’s difficult to picture a team as deep as the Ducks missing out, and GM Bob Murray could further increase his team’s chances by pursuing some additions at the deadline. One such player is Nash, and much like the Kings, the fit with the Ducks could be there in both style and substance.
Primarily, Anaheim would need a player like Nash in order to boost what has been a struggling offense. Through 54 games, the Ducks have average just 2.74 goals per game, which ranks 23rd in the league. Worse yet, the scoring hasn’t been spread out. Rickard Rakell is the team’s lone 20-goal scorer, and the next best goal -coring threat is Ondrej Kase, who has 13 tallies. Nash would almost immediately be able to slide into the top-six and help the offense.
Another way Nash could help, though, is by offering a pseudo-replacement for Patrick Eaves, who has been sidelined for most of the season. While Nash and Eaves have somewhat different skill sets, both have the ability to put up goals in bunches. There is little doubt Anaheim has missed Eaves’ contributions this season, and if he’s out for the remainder of the season, Nash could provide what has been lost in his absence.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Yet another Pacific Division option, but only because the Sharks, like both the Kings and Ducks, make sense as a trade destination for Nash. Like Los Angeles and Anaheim, San Jose has lacked the offensive firepower of other top teams in the West. Despite coming on in the past several weeks, the Sharks’ offense is firmly in the middle of pack at 2.87 goals per game. Their offense, however, stands to take a big hit with the loss of Joe Thornton, who sustained a potentially season-ending knee injury.
While Nash, a winger, isn’t a 1-for-1 replacement for Thornton, he would at least provide some additional offense and potentially limit the damage done by the Sharks’ loss of the skillful veteran center. The benefit of chasing Nash over other deadline options could come down to price, too. It will likely take less to pry Nash out of New York than it would to land other top talents who will be available ahead of the trade freeze.
One underrated aspect of landing Nash, the one that is wholly contingent on Thornton’s return, is that there is a level of familiarity between the winger and the pivot whose offense Nash could be brought into replace. The two formed a dynamite combination with HC Davos during the NHL’s lost lockout season of 2004-05. That was a long time ago, but if Thornton returns, maybe he and Nash could rekindle some of that magic.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
It was nearly six years ago that the Blue Jackets shipped Nash to the Rangers in a deal that saw Columbus send their franchise player packing. To this day, Nash remains the franchise leader in games played, goals, assists and points. For the entirety of his early NHL years and into the prime of his career, Nash was the face of the Blue Jackets. But now, with Columbus and New York seemingly heading in different directions, the time might be right for Nash to make his return to where it all began.
This isn’t pure nostalgia, though. Like other teams on this list, the Blue Jackets are in need of some additional firepower. However, unlike others on this list, Columbus’ offense has been woeful to a different degree. With 30 games remaining in their season, coach John Tortorella’s team has averaged a mere 2.52 goals per game, which is the third-worst mark in the league. Only the lowly Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have been worse. Suffice to say, few playoff bubble teams could use Nash – or really, any offensive additions – as much as the Blue Jackets.
There’s also some interesting history here between Nash and Tortorella. Though it only lasted one season, and the lockout-shortened season at that, Tortorella coached Nash during the 2012-13 campaign with the Rangers. Nash was brilliant in that season, too. In 44 games, he registered 21 goals and 42 points. Tortorella managed to get some of Nash’s best hockey out of him, and if he could do it again, maybe the veteran winger will be just what the doctor ordered for a struggling Columbus attack.
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