It's silly season. Starting there seems appropriate considering the nature of this article.
We've been through this before, but I'll refresh your memory of what I'm talking about here (in a story about the rumors of a Ryan McDonagh trade):
1) Leading up to the trade deadline.
2) The first week or so after the season ends (this period gets extended the worse the Rangers did that year).
3) The period that falls right before the draft and runs through the first few days of free agency.
All of these dates have something in common: It's a time when player movement/speculation is far more common, and the Rangers -- due to their very large following -- are linked to almost every player and trade because people read more when the Rangers are involved. They're not alone in this, of course; all the big-market teams get the same treatment.
There are a few sources that remove themselves from silly season, however. One of them -- Elliotte Friedman -- has been talking about the Rangers shopping Rick Nash multiple times the past few weeks. When there's smoke there tends to be at least some fire from the true insiders out there, and this is a topic worth exploring. Friedman doubled down on this assessment in this week's 30 Thoughts column where he said this:
It should be an interesting summer: pic.twitter.com/vl2uqTt7Fh— Joe Fortunato (@BlueshirtBanter) June 1, 2016
Nash has been a consistent force for the Rangers, despite the fan outrage that would confuse an outsider to thinking he's the worst player in New York Rangers history. In the 248 games he's played as a Ranger (regular season) he's scored 104 goals (good for 8th in the league in total goals over that span). At a goals-per-game basis, his 0.419% goals per game is good for 5th in the league over his time on Broadway. Those aren't shabby numbers.
People will yell about how he's not a playoff producer. About how he wasn't good enough. About how he was only a 40-goal scorer once (this ignores his 20-goal season in the lockout shortened year). About how he sucks.
Could Nash have better playoff numbers? Yeah, there's really no debating that. Does the lack of goals mean Nash sucked in the playoffs? No. The past two years Nash has had very good production (granted this year's was only five games) and the work he does defensively helped keep the Rangers afloat against speedier teams. The Rangers sort of forced their top six into tougher assignments thanks to their fourth line the past two years, and Nash was a big part of that. It's often overlooked, though, because you don't see that on the stat sheet.
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.
As an example: with Nash out Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard floundered in the possession game and saw a decrease in their own production. Why? Because Nash was no longer pulling the opposing team's defense away from them and they didn't have the puck as much because Nash helped carry their possession.
A lot of people don't want to admit to it, but Nash's impact on the game goes far beyond his goals and assists. Especially when his play adds to the team's overall offense.
Which is exactly why losing him would be such a big blow. Hockey Stat Miner did an outstanding write up of Nash's trade value; outlining some of the options the Rangers could take based on similar moves that have happened recently.
What can't possibly be known is how the Rangers want to move forward.
Captain Obvious alert here: But the way the Rangers handle the Nash situation is either going to be a really good thing or a really bad thing. I'm not sure I can see all too much room for an in-between result.
If the Rangers want to re-build they can eat some of Nash's salary, take top picks and prospects and move on. That's probably not going to happen though. The Rangers, more than likely, want to re-brand not rebuild, and because of that they need to be careful with what they get back. There is a potential Nash deal out there where they can still get future assets and help themselves right now -- even if they have to use some of the cap savings to bring in a player who can help mitigate Nash's loss.
The other option is the Rangers can simply keep him. That's where the Rangers hold the most leverage here: they don't have to trade him. Like we talked about when we discussed a potential Keith Yandle deadline deal, Nash has an extraordinary amount of stay value. He makes the Rangers better, and more than likely the Rangers will be a little worse even with the right deal in the short term (read that again: in the short term).
That means another team might have to blow the Rangers away. There's nothing wrong with that, and I do think there's going to be options for Gorton out there. A team like Colorado (not into analytics) could be talked into moving young talent for a guy like Nash to "help the room." The Blues (who might knee-jerk their lack of offense in the conference finals) might want to keep their forward momentum going by adding what they believe is a finishing piece. The Predators might be in the same boat.
Nash's contract does pose an issue depending on where he agrees to go and who wants him, but the Rangers do have the option to eat some of his salary in a deal. You might be wondering why the Rangers would do such a thing since they need money as bad as the next guy, but the Rangers would most likely be saving salary in a Nash trade even if they eat some, and doing it might help sweeten the return.
Assuming the Nash domino is the first to fall for the Rangers, it's going to tell us a lot about the direction the team is heading in this summer. With Henrik Lundqvist continuing to age, I can't see the Rangers entering a full rebuild but even removing that option there's still a plethora of roads the Rangers can travel down.
That some out there (crab people, of course) think removing Nash is addition by subtraction shows just how much Nash's work flies under the radar. It's safe to say the Rangers know how important of a piece he's been, and from all the chatter from those on the inside it's pretty clear the other NHL teams see that too.
This is a very important summer for the Rangers. Nash is a very important part of that very important summer.
It's safe to say that whatever does happen with Nash will not only tell us a lot about what the Rangers are doing, but it will also have a big impact on it, too.