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From Blue Jacket to Blueshirt: An Appreciation of Rick Nash

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New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rick Nash joined the New York Rangers in a blockbuster trade on July 23, 2012. Through six seasons in New York, he scored 145 goals and 107 assists for a total of 252 points in 375 regular season games, plus another 38 points in 73 postseason games. Now that he’s been traded to the Boston Bruins, Nash’s time in a Rangers’ sweater has ended... at least, for now.

In exchange for Nash, the Rangers acquired a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, and prospect Ryan Lindgren. The Rangers retained 50 percent of Nash’s salary, while the Bruins retained 50 percent of Beleskey’s. Moving Nash was a necessary step for the rebuilding Rangers, especially since they aren’t destined for the playoffs and he’s a pending unrestricted free agent.

The Rangers acquired Nash during the 2012 offseason from the Columbus Blue Jackets (along with Steven Delisle and a conditional 2013 third-round pick which ended up being Pavel Buchnevich) for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a 2013 first-round pick.

At that point in his career, Nash had scored 547 points (289 goals, 258 assists) in 674 games on a Columbus Blue Jackets team that often found itself towards the bottom of the standings despite his game-changing play.

With Nash came his $7.8 million cap hit – one that kicked in when Columbus signed him to an eight-year, $62.4 million contract extension after the 2008-09 season. Before extending, Nash had a 40 goal, 79 point season that helped the Blue Jackets reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Nash was the guy in Columbus, and he was paid like it.

Those expectations followed Nash to New York when he was dealt here, and they were amplified by how much it cost the Rangers to acquire him. And when Nash wasn’t that exact guy in New York, he was subject to more criticism than his play warranted.

Here’s the thing – Nash was effective on the Rangers. From his first season when he scored 42 points in 44 games until this most recent season when he scored 28 in 60 games. Of course that level of effectiveness varied, but it was demonstrated in a number of ways besides scoring.

That’s not to say scoring wasn’t a major component of his game. He scored 252 points in all situations in a Rangers’ sweater. At 5-on-5, he tallied 172 points (99 goals, 73 assists). The only player to score more than Nash at 5-on-5 during his time with the Rangers is Mats Zuccarello (183 points), who played over 600 more 5-on-5 minutes than Nash in that span.

In his first season with the Rangers, Nash scored 42 points in 44 games. Thirty-one of those points were scored at 5-on-5 at a team-leading rate of 2.74 per 60 minutes. Only Derek Stepan tallied more primary points than Nash, but Nash led the team at a rate of 2.12 primary points per 60. The Rangers were better at controlling the shot share with him on the ice and they generated more quality chances while he was deployed.

The following season, he scored 39 points while being limited to 65 games due to a concussion. Nash added primary points at the second highest rate (1.69 per 60 at 5-on-5), directly increasing the Rangers’ scoring. He was again a positive influence on his team’s shot generation and the Rangers were expected to – and did – score more goals with him on the ice.

In 2014-15, Nash led the Rangers in points (69), goals (42), 5-on-5 points (47), scoring rate (2.74 per 60), and primary point generation (2.12 per 60). The team was better at generating offense (plus-5.15 relative Corsi, 3.13 relative expected goals) with him on the ice.

After that exceptional season, his production began to taper off. He only added 36 points in 60 games in 2015-16 and 38 points in 67 games in 2016-17. Injuries shortened both of those seasons, and Nash’s game inevitably declined as he aged. While he was still effective on both sides of the ice in all situations, his tangible production just didn’t stand out.

But even as his production slowed, Nash still continued to drive play. In all six of his seasons in New York, he generated the highest rate of individual shot attempts for.

*Red data points are Nash, while blue represents his teammates

Nash has been plagued by streaky scoring throughout his career, and it was as clear as ever this season. When he’s scoring, his dominance shows on the score sheet. But when he’s not scoring, he’s still been an impact player – just not in the way that some may have hoped, especially with that $7.8 million cap hit hanging over his head.

His play in his own zone and penalty killing shouldn’t be overlooked. And neither should his scoring, even if it wasn’t always overwhelming. It was still some of the best production the Rangers were getting over the years.

*Red data points are Nash, while blue represents his teammates

It’s not as though those contributions were elite or enough for him to truly be considered the guy during his time here; the Rangers really only had one guy in those years, and it’s consistently been the guy between the pipes. But Nash was still a key contributor who achieved great things during his tenure with the Blueshirts.

Nash’s time in New York should not be viewed from the perspective of what could have been. One player doesn’t hoist a Stanley Cup, an entire team does —the Rangers have seen it firsthand. One exceptional player isn’t enough, and Henrik Lundqvist’s career is the perfect example of that.

There have been too many misconceptions surrounding Nash’s play. He did score, he did produce in the playoffs (41 points in 77 games), and his versatility and ability to play in all situations was crucial.

That’s how his time in New York should be remembered – not that he didn’t live up to the $7.8 million cap hit that the Rangers inherited from the Blue Jackets. A player can’t be measured by their salary. And a player shouldn’t always be faulted for the salary they’re awarded – the general managers who structure that contract should be – or, in the case of the Rangers, their front office should be for willingly absorbing it (if it was really such an impediment to their potential).

It shouldn’t be remembered by the fact that he didn’t win a Stanley Cup in New York; no other player that was on this roster between 2012 and 2018 managed to do so either. Was the Rangers’ idea to bring Nash in to win a championship? Yes. But was the expectation that his high-caliber play alone could do that? Or was it that he’d help them take a step further?

Nash’s play contributed to the club taking a step forward. He helped New York reach new heights that they hadn’t reached in years – including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. And although they fell short, it was a team loss, not an individual one. Nash responded to that disappointment by elevating his play the following postseason with 14 points in 19 games, and it still wasn’t enough to propel the Rangers past the Eastern Conference Final. The next year, the Rangers were eliminated in even fewer games despite Nash scoring four points in five games.

Were there moments when he could have been better? Were there moments that could have been game-changers had they gone differently? Without a doubt. But Nash’s time with the Rangers can’t be looked at as what could have been. It should be appreciated for what it was.