Rick Nash Still Provides Plenty of Value
During the summer of 2012, the New York Rangers were looking for an offensive star. They had just come off a season that saw them finish first in the Eastern Conference, but a playoff loss to the New Jersey Devils had sent the Blueshirts home two games short of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Henrik Lundqvist was a rock in net, while Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were leading the team in scoring. However, they needed an offensive weapon to complement head coach John Tortorella’s tight checking defense.
Enter Rick Nash.
After six seasons with the Rangers, though, the big forward’s days seem numbered; his contract expires at the end of this season and he was recently asked to submit a list of teams that he would not accept a trade to. Despite the narratives about his time with the Rangers, some team is going to get a solid, albeit older forward for the rest of the season, if not longer.
The elephant in the room is Nash’s counting numbers. During his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he was prolific. He shared the 2004 Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy as the league’s leading scorer with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla in his second NHL season; he scored 57 points that season and only picked up the pace from there. He would score 54 points in 54 games during an injury-shortened 2005-06 season and 69 points in 80 games during 2007-08. Nash would hit his peak during that next year, notching 79 points in 79 games. In his remaining years in Columbus, he would score 67, 66, and 59 points for a total of 547 in 674 games.
Nash never found the same heights on Broadway, though. He scored 42 points in 44 games in his opening season with New York, but finished the next year with 39 points in 65 games. The forward briefly silenced his critics by scoring 42 goals and 69 points in 2014-15, but that was not a consistent uptick -- his two seasons since have ended with 36 and 38 points, respectively.
The winger’s underlying numbers have also dropped off, but nowhere near fatally. During his time in New York, his five-on-five corsi for percentage has dropped from a dominant 55.50% to 47.39%, according to Corsica. It’s important to note the change from Tortorella's defense-first hockey to Alain Vigneault's counter attacking style, however, as virtually no Ranger looks good in terms of possession playing under their current system. Even if Nash was legitimately a 47% possession player, that’s still perfectly usable in a sheltered, scoring role rather than a possession-driving one.
His goals for percentage tell a similar story, falling from 68.42% during his first season on Broadway to his current 44.44%. Again, that number may be exaggerated by how the bottom has fallen out for the Rangers this season. Nash isn’t going to be dominating both ends of the ice anymore, but he’s hardly a player who sinks his entire line.
His expected goal shares are still strong (50.26% this season), as are his individual expected goals (0.95 per 60 minutes). His shot rate has fallen a bit but seems to have settled around a solid 18 per 60 minutes. That’s in line with what anyone who has spent any time watching Nash play will have surely seen: him coming painfully close to scoring over and over without finishing the job.
Rangers and Jackets honoring Rick Nash for his 1,000th game in the first period by almost scoring a bunch of times but not actually scoring
— DL (@davelozo) November 7, 2017
On the whole, his time in New York will be colored by his hefty cap hit and early playoff performances. While neither was completely his fault -- no player gets paid more than the front office offers, while several postseasons were hampered by injuries and insanely low shooting percentages -- those two factors made him an easy target for a vocal section of the fan base.
No matter where he ends up after the trade deadline, Nash will remain what he’s been in for the past several years with the Rangers: a capable second liner who can play in any situation. Looking ahead to his next contract -- one that will presumably carry a lower cap hit and less individual responsibility-- he might get some overdue respect.