Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Did you hear that? RICK NASH! First overall pick. Olympian. Maurice Richard winner. Prisoner of Columbus. That Rick Nash.
On Monday, RDS reported Nash was on the market, and on Tuesday the Columbus Dispatch confirmed that the Blue Jackets were willing to listen to offers for the face of the franchise.
In less than a week Nash went from untouchable to available. Things change quickly in the NHL.
It's amazing that Columbus would let GM Scott Howson deal the most important player in the history of the Blue Jackets, but you don't have a perennial cellar dweller by doing things the right way. Regardless, Nash is a premier talent and teams will be lining up for his services.
However, Nash has a no-movement clause, and TSN reports that he has likely given a very small list of teams that he would willingly play for. That means even if every team in the league sent a trade proposal to Howson, he immediately must disregard almost all of them, or at the very least give a quick glance and cry over potential missed opportunities.
From now until the deadline, all you're going to read or hear about is Rick Nash. The prevailing thought is that any team would be crazy not to go all in on Nash. Unfortunately, it's not quite so simple. Nash would be a great fit for some teams, but not others. I'm not convinced the Maple Leafs are the former.
To figure it all out I debated myself in a segment I like to call "Point/Counterpoint".
Point: Since Nash broke into the league in 2002-03 only seven players have scored more than his 277 goals. Those players are Patrick Marleau, Vincent Lecavalier, Marian Hossa, Dany Heatley, Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Not too shabby.
Counterpoint: Over that same period of time 24 players have tallied more points than Nash's 527. Those include Ray Whitney, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and Shane Doan. Not exactly elite company.
Point: Nash has played in Columbus with an awful supporting cast. In Nash's rookie season three players scored more than 60 points, and only five managed that feat in the seven seasons that followed. When the best teammates you can name are Nikolai Zherdev, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, and Kristian Huselius, you're in trouble.
Counterpoint: Franchise players should be great regardless of the talent that surrounds them. In fact, the truly elite players in the NHL are able to elevate the play of their linemates. Nash hasn't done that.
Point: His goal totals suggest he is an elite player. The last two seasons an average of 8 players hit 30 goals. Since the lockout that number usually fluctuates around 15. That's not a lot. One player on every other team will hit 30 goals. Rick Nash is one of those players that can score with the best of them. He's done so on a terrible team where he's undoubtedly the only player opposing coaches build defensive strategies around. It's frightening to think of how many he can score on a good team. Plus, put him on a better team and those assist totals are bound to skyrocket, regardless of the fact Nash isn't a playmaker. On a better team his stats will look a lot more impressive than they already are.
Counterpoint: Nash turns 28 this summer and has yet to have a really big season. He has only once surpassed 70 points in nine seasons. At what point do you stop waiting for him to really break out and realize that what you're seeing is what you get. He isn't a kid, there is no more developing left to do. I don't see switching teams as the magic elixir that creates Super Nash.
Point: How many big, strong, fast, skilled wingers are there in the league? Ovehckin and Kovalchuk? That might be it. How hard is it to blend size and skill? There aren't many players that have that unique combination. Rick Nash is one of those rare players that has these skills. He would immediately upgrade any forward group in the league.
Counterpoint: Nash is certainly big, but he doesn't exactly use that size like you would want. He has only placed in the top-5 in hits for the Blue Jackets once.
Point: Well, I'm not entirely convinced having your most skilled player leading your team in hits is a good thing. He's often thrown enough hits over a season to finish in the top-10 for Columbus, which for a skilled player is pretty good. His size is also a factor in how other teams play him. All good teams try to play physical with an opponent's best players, but when you're 6'4, 220 lbs that's not going to work as well as it does on smaller players.
Counterpoint: No, what's really big is Nash's contract; it is worth $7.8 million per season for the next six years. That's the fifth highest cap hit in the league. Nash has never finished in the top-5 in points, and has only finished in the top-5 in goals twice. Nash is paid like an elite player, but the truth is he isn't. Columbus broke the bank because they had to keep him regardless of the price, not because that was his actual worth.
Point: The cap hit is a lot, but this conversation (with myself) wouldn't happen otherwise. If Rick Nash was the perfect player he wouldn't be on the market. If you want to bring in someone like Nash, who is much better at scoring goals than all but a handful of players, you have to take some lumps.
Counterpoint: Sure, you have to take on a big cap hit to get something, but the cap hit isn't the only issue. What are you giving up to get Nash? Scott Howson isn't the league's best GM, but he isn't going to get Darryl Sutter'd over this one. That means a high-draft pick, top-prospect, and probably two young roster players. In Toronto's case that means either Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri, Luke Schenn, maybe Nikolai Kulemin (although he's having a very bad year, thus making his inclusion debatable), and a first-round pick. If I'm Scott Howson I hang up the phone if the offer is anything less. That's probably not even the best offer the Blue Jackets could get.
Point: There is a long history of prospects flaming out and becoming nothing. There's always a risk that you're dealing away a potential superstar, but you're getting a known quantity, you're getting an established superstar. It's a risk, for sure, but I think it's one you make.
Counterpoint: That sounds like the thought process of a Leafs' GM. You're also giving up the farm for a player with extremely limited playoff experience, and the experience he does have isn't exactly amazing. Isn't Nash supposed to propel a team to a Stanley Cup championship when they acquire him? What are we basing this on?
Point: He doesn't have much playoff experience, which is more of a Columbus issue than a Rick Nash issue. However, he's represented Canada internationally on multiple occasions, including the Vancouver Olympics which was the most pressure filled hockey tournament since the Summit Series. He has tallied 50 points in 47 international games and has often looked dominant and driven doing so. Put him on a true contender, not a team where dreams go to die, and you'll see international Rick Nash, not I'm trapped playing hockey in Ohio Rick Nash.
Counterpoint: Continuing with the pressure theme, it's a complete unknown how Nash will handle the spotlight of a major contending team (if he is traded to one). He's been hidden in Columbus for the past decade and faced little pressure from fans (who are a fraction of what you would find in a city like Boston, New York, Toronto, or Philadelphia). Plus, the media might as well be non-existent compared to the circus in New York or Toronto. He's put up his numbers in the relative anonymity of Columbus. That's a concern for any team that gets him, right?
Point: Well, the point is moot, anyways. Nash holds a no-movement clause and can determine exactly where he wants to go, if anywhere. If a deal is made you've got to assume that Nash is comfortable with playing there.
Counterpoint: Well, at least the deadline got a lot more interesting. Now back to twitter! Watch those rumours fly.