By William McInerney
A player who often gets overlooked for the New York Rangers is Rick Nash.
Although his scoring numbers have dropped in recent years, he is still capable of dominating a game, even if he doesn’t find the back of the net. His size-speed combination is still very impressive, and although he has been snake-bitten many times during his run as a Ranger, he can still light the lamp with the best of them when he gets hot. Adding to that, he is one of the most underrated defensive forwards in the NHL, which can be seen in his regular play and is accentuated during International games, when he is pressed into a fourth line role, tasked with shutting down the top forwards in the world, and succeeding at it.
Nash doesn’t play on the top line anymore, mostly due to his production dropping, and partially to limit his minutes due to age and injury history. He is generally on the second line, providing a good defensive presence and taking a game over here and there.
One thing people underestimate about Nash is his ability to adapt to his linemates. He’s always been more of a shoot first player, which makes sense considering how good his shot is and how bad the players around him in Columbus were. But he can score in multiple ways, be it with a quick snap shot from the slot, using his body to protect the puck while he goes from the perimeter in the slot, or using his speed to get in on the rush and snap a shot past the goalie. Those different ways of scoring allow him to have success with multiple players.
Whether he’s getting a breakout pass from a defenseman like Ryan McDonagh, playing with a winger like Mats Zuccarello, who can move the puck quickly as he gains the zone, or playing with a center like Derek Stepan, who tends to need to hold the puck longer and wait for his wingers to get into a good scoring position.
Despite his versatility in scoring, and his very impressive defensive play, his cap number is a problem. Nash counts $7.8 million against the cap, second only to Henrik Lundqvist on the team. Although Nash is a solid winger, he is not the second-best player on the team, and certainly not worth the huge cap hit.
There has been a lot of talk about what the Rangers can do with Nash going forward. One suggestion has them working out a deal for Las Vegas to take him in the expansion draft in exchange for a few draft picks. However, the way Nash’s partial no-trade clause is worded caused the NHL to declare it a no-movement clause for the expansion draft, meaning the Rangers must use a protected spot on Nash unless he waives it. It’s unlikely he will waive it to go play for a bad team, as he knows there is a very small chance he will be bought out.
Although trading Nash makes sense, it only makes sense for the right price. I don’t want to do a salary dump for a couple of reasons. First, he’s still effective, albeit not at the level he once was. Second, when you do a salary dump, you must give up good pieces, and you often don’t get much back. For example, look at the Blackhawks this past offseason. They sent Bryan Bickell and his large contract to the Hurricanes, but they were forced to give up Teuvo Teravainen, a former first round pick who had a very promising start to his career. Nash is frankly too good to give a piece of that caliber up just to get rid of him.
Nash at this point of his career is a middle six forward, and his cap hit is too high for a player of that role. But considering he has only one year remaining after this season, it isn’t that bad of a situation.
The Rangers should absolutely explore trading Nash, as the money dedicated to him could be better spent somewhere else. However, they should wait for the right deal, and if it doesn’t come, don’t reach for a trade. They’d still have an effective two-way forward in the last year of their financial commitment to him.
It's not the worst thing in the world if no trade comes through, so the Rangers should explore, but not force a trade involving Nash.