Rick Nash: bad luck and twilight

No, not the Kristen Stewart Twilight.

Forget everything you know about Rick Nash. Just empty your brain into the sink like a carton of milk that has started to sour.

Now, imagine a 33-year-old winger with a cap hit of $7.8 million who has 17 points in the first 42 games of the 2017-18 season. That sounds pretty rough. I bet you wouldn’t want that player on your team, would you? As you probably guessed those numbers belong to Nash.

The big winger is on pace for the least productive season of his career and he’s yet to miss any time with injuries. With the first half of the season in the books Nash has nine goals and eight assists; five of which are primary. To put that into context Riley Nash of the Boston Bruins has 18 points and has as many primary points as the Nash on Broadway. Yeah, not good.

Your brain has started to fill up with all of your preconceived notions about Nash again, hasn’t it? Little spurts of belief and memory hitting the bottom of the milk pail with each sentence that you’ve read. Maybe you’re nodding your head and thinking that Nash is washed up and not worth half of his $8.2 million salary. Or maybe your brow is furrowed and you’re expecting to read something about all the little things that Nash does right game in and game out. Or perhaps you’re lactose intolerant on this issue and are fed up with the Nash debate. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

Nash is frustrating. Even at this age, he still shows flashes of the explosive strength and speed that made him a 40 goal scorer in 2014-15 and a superstar in Columbus. Anyone who has watched the Rangers play this season knows that Nash has had a lot of bad luck this season. And the numbers show that his misfortune has reached nearly epic proportions.

No one in the NHL has hit more iron than Nash this season. He’s hit seven posts and sent more shots wide than any other Ranger. The rest of the Rangers combined have hit metal 17 times this season.

Nash has a 6.67 shooting percentage during 5-on-5 play this season, which is the second-lowest total of his career. If we consider his play at all strengths, he’s riding the worst shooting percentage of his 15-year career (7.0 percent). A big part of Nash’s hard luck is his lack of power play production. He’s never been much of a force on special teams, but thus far this season he has just two points on the power play (both are goals). That number hasn’t been a big discussion point this season because of his limited power play ice time (2:06 TOI/GP), but it’s certainly played a role in Nash being on pace to finish with fewer than 20 goals for the second time in three years.

The puck just isn’t going into the net like it did half a decade ago.

“You always look at your points,” Nash told Sean Hartnett at the beginning of the month. “You always know your numbers. I like to watch my shooting percentage. I try to get five or six shots a night. If you look at the top guys, they’re usually around 12 to  15 percent (shooting). If you get five or six shots a night, it seems like you should get one goal in those five or six shots. I look at those numbers, and you can kind of judge (a player) on that.”

Nash’s drop in production isn’t a result of a lack of effort on his part. He leads the team in shots on net by a significant margin. But the bottom line is that Nash’s bad luck gets lost in the shadow of his $7.8 million cap hit. On the Rangers only Brendan Smith and Marc Staal have higher cost-per-point rates than Nash (among players who’ve played at least 30 games).

Nash isn’t the player he was four years ago. He isn’t the elite winger who can win a game with his prowess in the offensive zone alone. Like many veterans, his game has grown in other areas as his speed and quickness have waned. Unfortunately that hasn’t been enough to pardon his crashing production. Plus, Nash needs to score now more than ever with Chris Kreider out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

But this is what Nash looks like as a 33-year-old winger who will be 34 by the time July 1 arrives. The Rangers need Nash to score at a higher clip to ensure an appearance and success in the postseason, but we shouldn’t count on it happening. Both the eye test and the numbers are telling us that this just isn’t Nash’s year.

Data courtesy of NHL.com, naturalstattrick.com, and capfriendly.com