Monday, July 9, 2012

Pro's & Cons: Acquiring Rick Nash

As I sit here in Richmondtown on a wonderful Monday July afternoon, at least the heat wave has taken a break. If only the much debated Rick Nash would take a dive into the ocean once and for all.

It's not so much that I don't like him. He's a star power forward who can help any team. The continued wonder is when Columbus GM Scott Howson will find a deal that'll send Nash to a new team. Since the trade deadline when temps were more icy, the Blue Jackets franchise scoring leader has remained in limbo, stuck in the Siberia of the NHL. Since its inception, the Jackets have only made the playoffs once, getting unceremoniously swept out by Detroit a few years ago. At the time, there was hope they could be on the rise with then Calder winner Steve Mason creating a buzz. Unfortunately, he's been more Andrew Raycroft than Martin Brodeur.

In a strong division that boasts recent Cup champs Chicago and Detroit along with division winner St. Louis and Nashville, Columbus is stuck in the Central basement. A place they'll struggle to climb out of for years unless something miraculous happens. Maybe the Wings come down post-Lidstrom but the odds are against it with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall still around.

With seemingly no one to help the 28-year old Nash, it makes sense to move him. The Blue Jackets can get a good return for the four-time All-Star and former Rocket Richard winner who's dying to play on a contender. How could you blame him? Imagine being selected first overall 10 years ago and a decade later, still having never won in the postseason literally. It's maddening. His career is being wasted. The good news is Nash still has a few prime years left. You know he'll be hungry to prove himself whereever he goes. His list of teams remains at six including the Rangers, who remain the frontrunner due to a plethora of forward depth. Exactly what Howson's looking for.

Does Glen Sather like Nash enough that he'll give up Derek Stepan as a centerpiece in the package? If it's true that Slats won't part with Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider or Stepan, it makes pulling off a trade unrealistic. McDonagh should be untouchable due to a future that could include a Norris. Kreider is off limits following an encouraging debut in a postseason that saw the Blueshirts go the deepest they have in 15 years.

The dilemma is Stepan, who avoided a sophomore jinx by posting 51 points (17-34-51), four power play goals, four game-winners and a plus-14 rating over 82 games. Six more points than he had his rookie season. The disappointing aspect was his postseason where he notched nine points, including his only goal in four playoff series. Perhaps the 22-year old wore down. He's not the strongest (6-0 190) and was easily knocked off the puck at crucial times. Stepan needs to beef up and improve in the faceoff circle. He's the team's second line center. An important part of their future. If they part with him, that creates a hole.

This past weekend, Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline appeared on WFAN with Marc Malusis to discuss the Nash Saga. It was an interesting interview with the Jackets beat writer hinting that a package of Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky and a pick could get it done. He's been closest to the situation. So, take it for what it's worth. The only question is is that really what Howson wants. Two NHLers who can improve the Jackets along with a No.1. What about asking for one of our top prospects such as J.T. Miller or Christian Thomas? The Ranger organization regards Miller ('11 first round) higher than Thomas. Is Columbus interested in Mike Del Zotto? Personally, I wouldn't move him because you can't replace him.

If it could be a deal involving Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon, I'd pull the trigger. But I doubt Howson would. He'd be nuts. That wouldn't get it done. I also would like to retain Dubinsky, who's our most versatile forward that is capable of teaming with Brian Boyle on a checking line. At last check, Dubinsky's a better player than Brandon Prust who's due for a bounce back. Anisimov I'm 50/50 on. I still like his skill set and believe he needs to be used as a top six forward. Otherwise, he's being wasted. John Tortorella didn't handle Anisimov right in the playoffs. Don't forget he's also younger than Dubinsky and cheaper.

If they get Nash, Dubinsky's certainly the likely candidate to go. If the teams can't agree on the other piece, then a prospect and No.1 should be included. There's no way he comes for only one roster player. It has to be fair compensation. That's one area that bugs me. Some of our fans have this impression that because Nash had an off year (59 points), we shouldn't have to pay up. It doesn't work that way. Rick's 30 goals would've placed second behind Marian Gaborik, who we'll be lucky to see by December. His 59 points on a horrible roster aren't bad. If he came here, they would improve along with disappointing power play numbers which suggest that the losing's getting to him.

Nash is an outstanding player. Not a superstar who can carry you. But capable of getting hot and scoring big goals. As Portzline also noted with Malusis, he's dangerous shorthanded due to his reach and breakaway speed. An area that is always a welcome addition. Prust was our best penalty killer. For his career, Nash has 14 shorthanded goals, including five in his best season. Ironically the year Columbus made the playoffs. He put up 40 goals and 79 points along with a plus-11. Oddly enough, he hasn't been much of a plus player. In 674 career games, Nash has 289 goals with 258 assists totaling 547 points along with a minus-71 rating. Part of it is the team. It's hard to gauge.

For his career, Nash has hit double digits in power play goals four times, posting 11 in '05-06 and 10 each in '07-08 and '09-10. His career best came all the way back in his second year when he had 19. He's set up more for teammates. Not surprising given the attention he gets. He's reached 40 goals twice and registered 30-or-more in seven of nine seasons, including the last five. Outside of '05-06 when he missed 28 games, Nash has been durable playing in at least 74 the other eight campaigns. This past year was the first time he played in all 82.

Given everything I've laid out, is Nash the right fit for Manhattan? Outside of potential cost and cap hit ($7.8 million), he can help bolster our offense. Just his size and shot alone should aid the power play. I guess it comes down to how loyal Sather is to a core he's hesitant to break up. Is Nash worth it? Only if he can fit in and win a Cup.

Pro's:

-proven finisher who's scored 30+ 7 of 9 years
-4-time All-Star
-Olympic gold medal
-Rocket Richard
-5 seasons 30 assists-or-more
-adds size, shot, skill and speed
-should be hungry
-is 28 and has prime years left

Con's:

-can he handle big stage
-only four career playoff games
-contract could hinder Rangers maneuverability
-cost likely would create another hole down middle
-is he good enough overall to play for Tortorella
-must finish more PPG


There's a pretty good argument for acquiring Nash, whose other suitors include the Flyers, Red Wings and Maple Leafs. Maybe the Bruins and Penguins too. Eventually, something has to give. Would you make the deal? Who for and why?

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