Reflecting on Rick Nash’s Time As A New York Ranger
Looking back on Big Stick Rick’s time with the Broadway Blueshirts.
Rick Nash announced his retirement from hockey on Friday at age 34, and he did so because of issues stemming from concussions.
He was a tremendous player whose career should have lasted at least a few more seasons, and it is a shame he couldn’t leave the game when he felt it was ready. Blueshirt Banter thought it would be nice to reflect on Nash, his time with the Rangers and offer thoughts on his career.
What were your thoughts regarding the potential of the Rangers acquiring Rick Nash at the 2012 trade deadline?
Tom Urtz Jr: The Rangers were chugging along prior to the deadline, and the thought of adding Nash was really exciting. Had the Rangers went out and got him, Nash immediately would have became one of the team’s top offensive weapons, and his addition would have likely resulted in a chain reaction of players slotting down one spot in the lineup. This year was a rather productive one offensively, as Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and rookie Derek Stepan were players who tallied 50 points or more. Gaborik led the team with 41 goals and 76 points, Richards tallied 25 goals and 66 points. The Rangers also had a decent supporting cast of youngsters such as Michael Del Zotto (41 points in 77 games), Carl Hagelin (38 points in 64 games), Artem Anisimov (36 points in 79 games), Brandon Dubinsky (34 points in 77 games) and Ryan McDonagh (32 points in 82 games) who rounded out the roster quite nicely.
The rub regarding Nash was the cost to acquire, and it was rather high according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
Rather, Sather is fazed by Columbus’ asking price, believed to be Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan McDonagh or Michael Del Zotto, Boston College winger Chris Kreider and either a first-round pick or another of the Rangers’ top prospects.
McDonagh and Del Zotto are untouchables on the NHL roster, and Kreider is regarded as a can’t-miss prospect with a ceiling as high as those in an apartment in a Manhattan pre-war building.
Adding Nash would have been nice, but the above package would have altered the Rangers’ future dramatically. The Rangers were a really good team during the 2011-12 season, and ultimately lost in the Eastern Conference Final vs. the New Jersey Devils, and the loss was due to the team’s inability to score. Henrik Lundqvist was spectacular in the playoffs, and he would go on to be rewarded for his regular season — a record of 39-18-5 with a 1.97 GAA and a .930 save percentage — with the 2012 Vezina Trophy.
Kevin Power: At the time, I remember being really excited at the prospect of adding Rick Nash, a player that I absolutely loved, to a team that was really running on all cylinders. The rumors, as Tom pointed out above, were absurd and looking back on it kind of funny. Adding Nash to a team that had Marian Gaborik at the height of his goal scoring amazingness would have been awesome, but the fan base was jittery, not wanting to disrupt a team that was clearly going places. Of course this comes to a head when the Blue Jackets played the Rangers at MSG just a few days before the deadline, as Nash fittingly scores a tying goal late in the 3rd only to be serenaded with “we don’t want you” by the Rangers faithful.
Again, hindsight is hilarious.
Beth Machlan: That’s what I wanted, and that season would have ended a lot differently (Devils Schmevils) ... I don’t even want to think about HOW differently. Nash was on fire.
Mike Murphy: At that time, Nash was one of my favorite players in the league. He had been since his rookie season in Columbus. His rare combination of size, speed, and skill made him one of the most entertaining players in the league. More importantly, he had shown that he could carry an offense — if not an entire team — with his skill set. The Rangers needed a player like that. They needed Rick Nash.
Shayna: The Rangers needed a boost on offense, and like Mike said, the combination of that skill set made him an excellent option. Nash was the guy in Columbus, and that was the one thing the Rangers were missing — that guy on offense. Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding in net, but needed offensive support. Adding Nash got him that. My biggest concern was the Rangers going for a past-their-prime marquee name, but Nash didn’t fit that bill — he had a lot more to give to whatever team he was joining, and even if he didn’t put the team on his back, like he did with the Blue Jackets, he was a missing piece.
What was your reaction when the Rangers traded for him in July of 2012?
Tom: When the deal was finally done, I was ecstatic. I say finally done, because it was a long process that started once the season ended. It very much felt like a situation of when Nash would join the Rangers as opposed to if he would join them. After failing to deal Nash, Scott Howson set things ablaze by essentially throwing his captain under the bus by saying Nash requested a trade in January. This move wasn’t a wise one, as he created a tenuous situation which gave him little leverage. He was then unable to move Nash at the draft, because of an insistence on a “larger than life” asking price, and he lost the little bit of leverage he had left. The Rangers were the team most interested in Nash, and they ultimately had the right combination of assets — Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick — to get the job done. At the time I was thrilled to have Nash, and felt the package sent was fair. Losing Anisimov was a bit of a bummer because of his potential, but the whole package was a massive reduction on what Columbus originally asked for, and the Rangers got the best player in the deal.
Kevin: Hell. Yes. Sure, the Rangers had to give up young players like Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, as well as include Tim Erixon and a 1st, but they got Rick Freaking Nash and were able to hold on to Ryan McDonagh and this Kreider kid we kept hearing so much about. Also, I remember how hilariously Scott Howson shot himself in the foot all throughout the off-season as he consistently threw Nash under the bus at every opportunity while probably driving down his return. The Rangers played the long game with Columbus in this deal and let the Blue Jackets play themselves into a far inferior package than what they probably should have gotten for their disgruntled superstar.
Beth: Trade math isn’t my forte, but even I know NYR won that one, hands down.
Mike: It was a big deal, but a good deal. At the time I was convinced that the Rangers lost something special in Artem Anisimov, but I was far more convinced that the Rangers got an elite winger and the best player in the deal.
Shayna: From a fan perspective (which was the only perspective I had back then), I was super disappointed about Artem Anisimov being a part going the other way, even though I knew it was for the best with this trade. The bottom line was the Rangers were a team filled with these hard working, character players like Dubinsky, but they needed someone with Nash’s skill to compliment the Ryan McDonagh's, Chris Kreider's, and those hard workers still on the roster like Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
Describe a favorite memory/game of Nash
Tom: Nash had a knack for scoring some amazing goals, and making some dazzling plays. This goal vs. the Dallas Stars is one that always sticks out — even though it isn’t the most glamorous — because Nash didn’t give up on the play and just willed the puck into the net.
Something else that stands out to me is Nash’s second game as a Ranger at Madison Square Garden. His debut was delayed until January of 2013 because of the NHL lockout, and I attended the game when the Rangers played the Bruins. It was an amazing game for a number of reasons, but it was awesome to see the trio of Nash-Richards-Gaborik make magic.
It would have been awesome had this trio remained together longer, because they were magic when they were firing on all cylinders.
Kevin: I don’t think there’s really one moment that really stands out in my mind when it comes to Nash. However, my everlasting memory of Rick in a Rangers uniform is of his underrated skating driving towards the net and playing keep away with the puck in the offensive zone. Nash was a player that the Rangers haven’t really had before or since, and he’s going to be sorely missed.
It was just a lot of this, all of the time
Beth: Like Kevin said, I will always remember Rick Nash just careening toward the net like a madman, and doing the goddamn WORK in the crease, using that big body to protect the puck and make things happen. My favorite memory is that bananas scoring streak he went on right before and after his first son was born, in fall of 2014. He was the first Ranger in history to score in the first four games of a season, and according to Sports Illustrated was on pace for a 123-goal regular season, including the game he left after 2 periods to be with his wife, Jessica, for the birth. (As we know, that didn’t happen, but it was fun while it lasted.)
Mike: Just 11 games into his career as a Ranger, Nash went on an 11-game point streak that included a five-game goal scoring streak. From Feb. 10 to March 10, Nash piled up 16 points in 10 games. That 11-game point streak was the highlight of his first season on Broadway. His play in that stretch made it abundantly clear what the Rangers acquired in the blockbuster deal that brought him to New York. He finished that first season with 42 points in 44 games. He played nearly 20 minutes a night and averaged 4.0 shots per game. He was a force of nature.
Shayna: Echoing Beth with the 2014 scoring streak. He had an excellent season overall in 2014-15 with 42 goals and 69 points in 79 games. But, if I had to pick one specific play, it was an amazing assist on Carl Hagelin’s goal against the Boston Bruins. I don’t think we talked about Nash’s passing enough — but we do talk about his effort — and this combined the two so perfectly, and embodied the hard worker that Nash was throughout his career.
If you had to do it all over again, would you have still traded for Rick Nash?
Tom: The Nash trade was an huge win for the Rangers. This tweet from Miika really sums up things from an offensive perspective.
Career CBJ goals from Dubi/AA/Erixon:— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) January 11, 2019
Career NYR goals from Nash:
Kevin: In a heartbeat. Looking back on the trade; the Rangers unquestionably received the best player in the deal and took a major step forward in forging a new bright era of Rangers hockey.
Beth: What he said.
Mike: Without a doubt, yes. The Rangers paid a fair price to acquire a player in his prime who had the ability to take over games with his skill. Nash is tied for 27th all-time on the Rangers all-time goals list. The fact that the Rangers did not win a Cup with Nash shouldn’t overshadow what he accomplished and achieved during his time in New York. He scored 38 points in 73 playoff games and 252 points in 375 regular season games with the Rangers.
Shayna: What Kevin and Mike said. The Rangers craved a player with Nash’s skill, that could take over a game the way he could. Too many will point to the fact that he didn’t help bring a Stanley Cup to New York or that $7.8 million cap hit, but it was a cost worth absorbing for someone as talented as Nash. One of the problems with the Rangers during his tenure was the fact that they didn’t have more players like him, to provide more offensive support in the 40+ minutes he wasn’t on the ice.
What will you remember most about Nash during his time with the Rangers?
Tom: One quirky thing I will remember out Nash is team interviews. Whenever he would be asked a question he would always do this stare which I found to be awkward and hilarious at the same time.
Rick Nash = Care Bear Stare— Jess (@JessicaLynn312) March 31, 2014
Rick!!! pic.twitter.com/lOAbl3Cid3— Tom Urtz Jr. (2019) (@TomUrtzJr) January 14, 2019
There are other things I will remember about him, but I will get into that in the last section.
Kevin: The one thing I’ll miss the most might be how unassuming Nash was. Rick was one of the biggest presences on the ice, you always knew he was there, but off the ice he always seemed like someone who was happy to get lost in the crowd of Manhattan with his family. Those scenes of the Nash family from Road to the Winter Classic really showed how this big, burly goalscorer was just a dad from Canada, hanging out and playing hockey in Manhattan. It was a nice juxtaposition.
Beth: I interviewed Nash twice and was struck both times by how he really listened to what I was asking him, and he didn’t just throw back the usual hockey cliches. Bonus points for when he rolled his eyes about Alain Vigneault’s treatment of Henrik Lundqvist; read it here.
Mike: His work ethic and hustle away from the puck. Even when he was snake-bitten, which he undoubtedly was at times, he was always one of the best players on the ice regardless of who the Rangers were playing or what time of the year it was. In addition to his motor, his wingspan and speed when he was driving the net was truly a sight to behold. And, like Tom said, his interviews were always fantastic.
Shayna: He was such an effective player even when the puck wasn’t going in the net. Like Mike said, his work ethic and hustle are so memorable, because even when he wasn't scoring — which he still did a lot with 252 all situation points, 172 5-on-5 points, and an impressive 42 points in 44 games in his first season in New York — he was noticeable. He drove play, got the puck on net, attracted the opponents to him to buy his teammates time and space, and was defensively responsible in his own zone and on the penalty kill.
General thoughts regarding Nash
Tom: Nash will go down as one of my favorite Rangers, because he was a very talented hockey player who truly gave it his all for the organization. When he was healthy, Nash was an unstoppable force, and it is a shame he was forced to retire because of issues with concussions. He was dynamite in his first season with the team tallying 42 points in 44 games. His second season saw him miss 17 games due to a concussion, but he still put up a respectable 26 goals in 65 games. He came back healthy the following season and scored a career-best 42 goals — 32 of them at even strength — in 79 games. The years after saw Nash battle various injuries including a back injury and a knee injury, and it was clear that his best days were behind him. There were also those times in which he had undisclosed injuries, and we will never know if those were related to concussions. Despite this injuries, there were little spurts which showed opponents that Nash was a player you still had to keep an eye on, because he was damn good at making a defensive play and turning it into an offensive opportunity.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Nash and the playoffs. The biggest criticism Nash faced was lack of elite production in the postseason. It was maddening that a player so dominant at even strength in the regular season saw his career shooting percentage halved in the postseason. One thing that fans will always remember is his shot that deflected off Slava Voynov’s stick in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Had that puck went in, the Rangers would have headed back to New York with an opportunity to tie the series. That didn’t happen, and that’s all I have to say about that. The following postseason Nash tallied 14 points in 19 games which was second on the team in scoring. After Nash’s first disappointing run — three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 25 games — he would tally 23 points in his final 36 playoff games as a Blueshirt.
The Rangers accomplished a ton without achieving the ultimate goal during Nash’s time in New York, and he was a big part of the team’s success. He was one of the more complete players the team has had in recent memory, and one who should be looked at fondly. It is saddening to see Nash’s career cut short, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best going forward. I hope he can live a healthy and successful life, and that he isn’t adversely impacted by lingering effects of the concussions suffered during his career.
Kevin: It should never take an injury or the passing of time to really appreciate a player as great as Rick Nash. He came to New York, scored a whole bunch of goals, and came just oh so close to the eternal prize. It’s not his fault that the Rangers never won a Stanley Cup, much like it’s not Henrik Lundqvist’s fault or Derek Stepan or what have you. Nash, when healthy, was virtually unstoppable and his play in New York was spectacular and deserving of any and all platitudes.
Beth: While 95% of the criticism of Nash is either unfounded or uninformed, there’s no way around it: the guy was snakebit towards the end. He’d make the most amazing chances happen and it was as if the puck would evaporate and then re-materialize on the other side of the net, no goal, and you’d just hear the whole arena groan, because HOW DID THAT NOT GO IN??? (Shayna posted GIFs of two backwards shots that are worth watching even though they don’t touch twine — not the right twine, anyway.) But Nash never broke a stick or screamed an expletive or crosschecked a defender out of spite; he just kept shooting. That was his job.
Mike: Rick Nash was a great Ranger and a great hockey player. That his career ended at 34 is a sobering reminder of how dangerous this game is. His decision to step off of the ice also reminds us that there are far more important things than ice hockey. I wish Nash and his family nothing but peace, good health, and happiness. I also hope that the hockey community as a whole starts to take brain injuries far more seriously.
Shayna: A player’s career can’t be defined by whether or not he has a Stanley Cup because it’s team-effort, and most of the teams he played on throughout his career weren’t strong enough. The Rangers should already be familiar with this, or Henrik Lundqvist would have hoisted the Stanley Cup a long time ago. A player also can’t be critiqued for their cap hit. What player would turn down more if a team was offering it? He signed it on a very different team — a Blue Jackets team that was centered around him — and the Rangers chose to absorb it. He put his all into each and every game, and was a great Ranger both on and off the ice.
Also, to further on what Mike said, it is so unfortunate that Nash’s career ended this way, but commendable that he decided to stop now and focus on his health and family. Players are always portrayed as warriors for playing through the pain, but this doesn’t make Nash any less of a warrior. If anything, doing what’s right for him and his family, even though he didn’t win the Stanley Cup, and likely had years left to keep competing for one, shows bravery — and other players and the NHL should take note.
Stats via Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.