There is a perception in sports that a player's success or failure can be determined by their raw numbers. You see this across every sport. Certain things jack up the fan's expectations of a player, and their numbers are generally the only source used when fans cite whether or not they have hit or failed to hit their expectations.
Enter Rick Nash, who in this day and age represents the perfect storm of expectations for a newly acquired player. Let's look at the checklist, shall we? Big Contract? Check (Six years left with a $7.8-million cap hit). Did his acquisition cost something? Check (Defensive/transitional specialist Artem Anisimov, fan favorite Brandon Dubinsky, top defensive prospect Tim Erixon and a first round pick). Is the player supposed to be the missing piece to a championship puzzle? Check (you would be naïve to think Nash's acquisition doesn't push the Rangers expectations over the top).
Those are three of the biggest factors a player can have when joining a new team. And since he now calls New York home, the expectations are even greater.
The reality, however, is sometimes numbers aren't enough to justify what a player does. Here's really good example: In his weekly "What We Learned" Ryan Lambert wrote this:
12. Nine guys will break the 20-goal barrier this year. Rick Nash won't be one of them.
This, to me, is a classic example of looking at the numbers rather than looking at a player's total impact. Now, with that being said, I would be shocked if Nash didn't hit the 20-goal mark, but that's not the point.
Here's the dirty little secret about the Nash trade: He can do exactly what the Rangers brought him in to do without scoring 40 goals (a generic mark it seems fans expect him to hit every year in order to be a success). Glen Sather went after Nash for the following reasons: They needed more offense, they needed more consistency on the power play and they didn't want to lean on one or two players (and really one line) to provide all the offense for the team.
Nash will help in all those areas in presence alone. Honestly, he will. No matter where Nash lines up for the Rangers (and early indications suggest he will play with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik - although that's likely to change) opposing defenses will be looking for him. Quick, name one quality player in his prime Nash played with in Columbus without looking it up? Do you really think other coaches aren't watching film and going, "Boy, I wonder what Nash is going to be able to do with a guy like Richards feeding him the puck."
What about the power play? Nash not only represents another lethal sniper for the Rangers with the man advantage, his presence pushes another quality player down to the second power play unit. Imagine Nash, Gaborik, Richards, Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto on the first power play unit. That allows Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to line up on the second unit. That's if the Rangers decide to go with four forwards on the first line.
The other thing Nash does is create space. Even when he's not on the ice opposing teams have to prepare for him. The best defenders will have to shadow Gaborik, Nash and Richards leaving guys like Kreider, Stepan, Callahan and everyone else more space to operate with. The pressure automatically alleviates from the youth, and players have more room to breathe on the ice.
The point I always try to make is the following: If Nash - who needs to share the puck with other superstars - only scores 25 goals (in an 82 game season) but the power play scores consistently, other players have more room to breathe, the youth develops without being rushed and the Rangers win, then Nash did his job. If he scores 50 goals, the power play is still a disaster, he doesn't create more space for the youth and no one else seems to get going but him? Then obviously he did what he could but the team didn't follow. Now, if he scores 25 goals, the youth is rushed because the Rangers need their production and the Rangers other players don't get more space, Nash will have failed.
Don't judge Nash on his numbers. If he posts a 30-30-60 season (again, off 82 games) and does all the other things, then the trade was worth it. No questions about it.
Would I still make the trade Sather pulled the trigger on for Nash over the summer? In a heartbeat. You have to make the move when given the chance. Players like Nash don't come around very often and Sather (correctly) jumped on the opportunity. The Rangers are better today than they were in June.
In the end, that will be why Nash is inevitably (and sort of already has been) so dissected. He's supposed to be the missing piece of a Stanley Cup run. It's silver or bust, and when you're brought in as the guy, well, you better deliver.