The Nash Saga

Will Rick Nash be doing more celebrating in a Ranger jersey or will Scott Howson wait till the summer to deal the much targeted power forward?

For what seems like a year (really two weeks), Rick Nash has been rumored to the Rangers. True enough, the Blueshirts could use another scorer to help balance an inconsistent offense that’s too reliant on a few performers. Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Swedish sensation Carl Hagelin have been the most consistent while Brad Richards has struggled to make a difference on our hideous power play.

Remember when everyone was convinced overpaying Richards for nine years would automatically improve our man-advantage? That didn’t account for chemistry. Especially when documenting our powerless play, which has never been the same since Leetch and Zubov ran it to perfection in ’94. Granted. Those were Hall Of Fame defensemen, who did it more conventionally. These days, a forward is frequently used on the point. It works a bit better in New Jersey with Ilya Kovalchuk, who paces the Devils with 21 power play points, including seven power play goals which puts him in a three-way tie with teammates Patrik Elias and David Clarkson.

In Big D, Richards had 29 power play points, including seven power play goals. Since coming to Broadway, he has been unable to carry it over with a disappointing 15 along with three PPG. Somewhat astonishingly, that output is good enough to tie Gaborik for the team lead. Gabby’s scored seven and set up eight while Captain Callahan leads the club with 11 power play tallies. Mike Del Zotto has 11 power play helpers and Stepan is 3-7-10. The production suffers for two reasons:

A.No True Point Man- Del Zotto has bounced back but rarely shoots and if he does, it almost never hits the net. Without someone who can blast the puck, the Rangers often find themselves working the puck to Gaborik on the right side. So predictable to decipher.

B.Lack Of Cohesion- What should be simple enough in what’s been a very good year just isn’t. For some reason, the Rangers relax. By that I mean they take their foot off the gas pedal and get outworked by hungrier shorthanded foes. It takes forever to get anything set up due to no consistent faceoff wins and a lack of aggression from our units. By the time they get going, there’s time for one last chance. The Blueshirts move the puck too slowly and don’t take enough shots.

If you just looked at Nash without factoring in his nightmarish cap hit ($7.8 million) or accounting for team chemistry that has the Blueshirts tops in the East with 84 points entering Monday’s home match against the Devils, it’s a simple answer. Stick Nash with Richards and Callahan while shifting Hagelin to the third line for better depth. It’d be easy to assume that the 27-year old former No.1 overall pick who’s had two 40-goal seasons and four 30-goal years would instantly bolster our power play. However, one look at his recent decline and it’s enough to make you wonder if he’d fail under the spotlight.

                 GP      PPG       Goals       Pts        Shooting Pct.
’02-03       74        6            17           39         11.0
’03-04       80       19           41           57         15.2
’05-06       54       11           31           54         18.2
’06-07       75        9            27           57         11.8
’07-08       80       10           38           69         11.6
’08-09       78        6            40           79         15.2
’09-10       76       10           33           67         13.0
’10-11       75        6            32           66         10.5
’11-12       62        4            21           43         8.9

There are two schools of thought. One is his power play production has dropped along with the expected output. That shooting percentage decline is hard to ignore. At 27 (28 this summer), Nash is in his prime and should be a consistent 40-goal, 80-point guy. One could argue that the lack of talent on the Blue Jackets has hindered his ability. Shut down Nash and you have a good chance. In a brutal year, counting today’s shorthanded goal in a 4-2 loss to the Penguins, his 21 goals, 43 points and 14 power play points all pace Columbus, who just subtracted Jeff Carter. When Scott Howson traded for the ex-Flyer, he had big expectations. The hope was Carter could take some pressure off Nash and improve enough to make the postseason. Instead, Carter got hurt and sulked before finally playing to potential when he knew his days were numbered.

Ironically, Nash has picked it up since the Jackets made it known they wanted to move him. Following a down January in which he totaled six points (5-1-6) over a dozen contests, the franchise cornerstone has 10 points (4-6-10), including points in eight of 12 games this month. That included a tying goal which forced overtime at MSG last week. Not a bad showcase. Even more impressively, he notched a goal and assist in a 6-3 rout of slumping San Jose, who have interest in reuniting him with former Olympic gold medal linemate Joe Thornton. With the Rangers able to pull out a 3-2 OT win over Buffalo yesterday while the free falling Sharks again lost today to Minnesota, might his destination be HP Pavilion instead of The Garden?

It all depends on who’s calling the shots. If Howson has his way, the odds are Nash doesn’t get dealt until the summer. The teflon GM has continued to demand Ryan McDonagh or Mike Del Zotto along with Brandon Dubinsky, top prospect Chris Kreider and a No.1 pick. Too rich for Glen Sather’s blood. Slats would part with popular Blueshirt Dubinsky along with D prospect Tim Erixon, possibly prospect Christian Thomas and a No.1 pick. Meanwhile, Howson wants Logan Couture from the teal. No way that goes anywhere.

We’re hopeful a deal can get done prior to the trade deadline that is fair and equitable for the Blue Jackets,” Nash’s agent Joe Resnick informed TSN in Puck Daddy’s Nash update earlier today. “However, if a deal is not reached, then the list of acceptable teams will not change at a later date.”

Resnick basically is trying to dictate the market in an attempt to force Howson’s hand. It’s obvious they want this resolved by 3 PM at tomorrow’s trade deadline. It’s unfair to Nash, who’s been all class despite playing for a minor league franchise who’s appeared in the playoffs once when they were swept by rival Detroit. I don’t buy it. If Howson has any brains, he’ll bypass the Rangers and Maple Leafs along with latest suitor Philadelphia (gee, what a shock) for the chance to acquire a No.1 goalie in June. Vancouver is the likely destination with Cory Schneider forever stuck behind Roberto Luongo. Hard to believe Blue Jacket scouts don’t like LA backup Jonathan Bernier while Howson is in love with former Calder winner Steve Mason. Hell-o Jim Carey, Blaine Lacher, Andrew Raycroft!

While Columbus has dumped Carter (Kings) and Antoine Vermette (Coyotes) they’re stuck with bad long-term contracts like R.J. Umberger, Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski. In other words, it could take years to recover for one of the NHL laughingstocks. So, now they’re gonna trade their meal ticket. What reason should Jacket fans go to games when Nash is gone? Other than top prospect Ryan Johansen, there”s little to get excited over. Jack Johnson is a solid pickup from LA that can improve a terrible back end but isn’t exactly the greatest defensively. They got little for their most versatile player Vermette, who had a friendly cap hit ($2.82 M). Solid move for the Pacific-leading ‘Yotes. Essentially, Howson cannot screw this up, which is why he’ll probably hold out till the Draft unless there’s a sucker.

If you’re Slats, try to shore up the blueline which needs one more dependable 18-20 minute guy to help an overworked top four of Dan Girardi, McDonagh, Del Zotto and Marc Staal, who’s still not there defensively. Adrian Aucoin is in his final year with Phoenix but it’s hard to see them trading now. Forget chief target Ray Whitney or dream scenario Shane Doan. The Rangers could also use a faceoff guy. Vets Sami Pahlsson (Scotty Hockey) and Paul Gaustad might fit. Another player who’s signed through ’12-13 is David Steckel on the Leafs. Gaustad is the best of the bunch who can also bring size and physicality to our bottom six. Dealing for Chris Stewart wouldn’t be a bad move. He’s underachieved in St. Louis but a scenery change may work.

For now, it remains quiet an hour before midnight on the East coast. What happens between now and roughly 14 hours away remains to be seen. Fasten your seatbelts!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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