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If Not Steven Stamkos, There Is No Rick Nash Replacement In Free Agency

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We’ve discussed Rick Nash a lot this summer. We graded him on his performance this year, dissected his trade value and fictionally traded him in a web of moves that led the New York Rangers to Steven Stamkos.

The reality is Nash has a high-dollar contract on a team that desperately needs to save cap space. Even though most fans who want him gone overlook all of his non-offense contributions, it makes sense to at the very least explore a Nash move this summer. Especially if it makes the Rangers younger, cheaper and puts them in a position to be better long term. Moving Nash for defensive help and then seeking offensive replacements on the trade market isn’t the worst way to go about fixing this team.

With that being said, I’ve seen some things floating over the Internet that’s concerning. Mainly:

Now, this should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. Murphy is not only not a Rangers reporter, but he’s also speculating. With that being said, I can also see the Rangers jumping into the Loui Eriksson sweepstakes, simply because I’ve become jaded over the years to the Rangers making some big mistakes.

Here’s the big forward names on the free agent market this summer: Stamkos, Milan Lucic, David Backes, Andrew Ladd and Loui Eriksson. There’s other guys out there, too, but those are really the five guys I can see the Rangers having true interest in for one reason or another. That’s not to say Gorton is willing to throw money at them, but I can see the “big body who can score” stuff coming up in their war room. The hope is the Rangers are smart enough to avoid them.

And that’s really the crux of this article.

Want to know a dirty secret about a potential Nash trade? The Rangers don’t have to trade him. As I talked about in my above linked story about fans overlooking his impact away from the puck:

Here's the thing about Nash no one seems to appreciate: He's a true three-zone star. New York is a tough room to play, no one is denying that, but the hate Nash gets on a daily basis from this fanbase is insane.

Nash is one of those rare elite goal scorers who can impact the game even when he's not scoring. He's a monster in his own zone and in the neutral zone. I know you're not paying him $7.8-million a year to play defense but you can't deny how much of a negative impact losing him to injury was. Think about your traditional, pure goal-scoring superstars. When they slump they're usually not bringing much else to the table. Nash isn't like that, and it's a major credit to who he is as a player.

Nash has an extraordinary amount of stay value. Although his contract might be looked at as a problem, it’s actually really good when you consider the fact that it both ends in two years and is much cheaper than what his market value would be today.

It’s where his contract ends, though, that gives him the most value. The Rangers have an elite goal scorer who doubles as one of their defensive mainstays and he’s only signed for two more years. Moving him to save space only to spend that money on a (not all that much) younger and more expensive version of Nash wouldn’t be very smart at all.

Here’s Nash compared to the other players I mentioned above (Stamkos is not included) over the past three years (regular season) at even strength:

Nash leads the field in goals, goals per 60, points per 60, primary points per 60 (goals and first assists only), individual corsi for, individual corsi for per 60 and relative corsi for per 60. (He leads in relative corsi against per 60, too, but that’s not a good stat to lead in.)

Note that Nash leads all players in goals even though he played in at least 20 games less than all of them. Lucic — his closest competitor in the category -- scored eight less goals in 38 more games. That’s a pretty big jump -- and it’s also why Nash’s per/60 numbers are so much higher.

Any of these free agents would cost a significant amount of money and years. Even if Eriksson only gets $6-million a year, signing him to a six or seven-year deal to replace Nash would totally miss the point. In the old days of Glen Sather running the ship, Lucic would probably be priority number one. But with the money and term that he wants, it just doesn’t make any sense, even though he’s still in his prime.

Nash creates a lot of his own offense, as seen above. He leads the field by a very wide margin in all those categories.

Since the Rangers had trouble creating consistent offense all year, it seems foolhardy to replace Nash with any of these players; especially since he’s the best goal scorer of the bunch. For a team with more than enough pass-first forwards and not enough shoot-first guys, replacing Nash on the free agency block doesn’t seem like it’s much of an option.