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Rick Nash takes step back from free agency with future undecided

Rick Nash had multiple suitors with free agency only days away from opening, but the 34-year-old winger has decided to withdraw himself from the start of signing season as he considers his future.

Fresh off of a 21-goal, 34-point season in which he was one of the trade deadline’s hottest commodities, there was reason to believe interest in winger Rick Nash would be high with free agency fast approaching. After all, despite recently turning 34, Nash is a big-bodied power forward with top-six potential who has scored 20-plus goals in all but two seasons throughout his career. He’s also a near-constant threat to score in the 40-point range.

Well, Thursday came with some good news for any and all teams hoping to have Nash in their lineup in 2018-19: he’s not ruling out joining anyone this upcoming season. The bad news, though, is that he’s not exactly counting anyone in, either.

Amid reports that multiple teams had interest in singing Nash, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Thursday afternoon that the veteran’s agent, Joe Resnick, has said that the three-time 40-goal scorer is undecided on his future, and that pertains not just to where he’ll play next season, but whether he’ll play at all. Nash has reportedly made his decision clear to all teams who showed interest in signing him this summer, and regarding telling teams about the decision to pull his name out of the mix, Resnick told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston that Nash isn’t “ready to make a decision and teams need answers for personnel decisions. He wants to be fair to the teams.”

This isn’t the first time rumblings of Nash’s potential retirement have surfaced this summer, however. In fact, this past Saturday, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont noted that Nash could be considering walking away from the game this off-season. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Monday, though, that Nash said he was weighing his options and his “main goal is to win the Cup.”

The primary reason for Nash’s indecision has reportedly been his health and whether he wants to continue playing after suffering multiple concussions over the course of his career. Documented throughout his career, Nash’s history with head injuries stretches back to the first month of his rookie campaign, October 2002, when he was sidelined one game with a concussion. Since then, Nash has missed another 30 games over the past 14 seasons with neck or head ailments. Included in that is a 17-game absence during the 2013-14 campaign with what was then reported simply as a “head injury,” and 11 games this past season after being acquired by the Boston Bruins from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline.

Beyond the head injuries, though, Nash has had a difficult time remaining healthy throughout his career. He has averaged six games on the sidelines per season over the course of his 15-year career, missing significant time with ankle, knee and back injuries throughout his career.

Surprising as it may be that he could be seriously considering retirement, though, Nash will be able to walk away from the game quite comfortably. Nash has made career earnings of upwards of $91 million, signing two lucrative deals with Columbus Blue Jackets, the team which drafted him first overall in 2002, that have carried him through to this stage in his career. The first contract, signed in August 2005 following the completion of his entry-level deal, was a five-year, $27-million pact in Columbus, followed then by an eight-year, $62.4-million mega deal signed in July 2009.

Statistically, too, Nash would have an impressive list of accomplishments, including one Rocket Richard Trophy, eight 30-goal campaigns and a career 437 goals and 805 points in 1,060 games.

That said, if Nash does decide to return, choosing to take his time before committing to a new destination makes a tremendous amount of sense for a player whose desire it may be to win the Stanley Cup to cap off his career.

Once free agency and the off-season gets into full swing, Nash will be able to get a better understanding of where teams stand heading into the 2018-19 campaign, and it’s likely that many of the same teams looking at bringing him aboard would still be more than willing to find a spot for an effective veteran scorer at the right price. While he’s no longer the 30-goal, 60-point player he was in the early part of his prime, he does still have more than enough left in the tank to conservatively estimate he could score 15 goals and 30 points as a middle-six winger. And if Nash is willing to take a pay cut — and it would have to be a significant cut from the $8.2 million salary he earned this past season — he may have his pick of the litter when it comes to landing spots.

So, like the teams who were pursuing Nash this summer and hoping to bring him into the fold, we now wait for his final decision. And chances are we shouldn’t expect it to come anytime soon.

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