The New York Rangers traded for Rick Nash six years ago yesterday. The trade is one of the best in recent memory.
For an NHL team on the cusp of greatness, the trade market is often the best course of action to improve.
Being that a team typically taps out its in house resources first, trades are the way to fill in a serious need. In the case of the New York Rangers, the 2011-2012 team that lost in the conference final needed more offense.
So, in the middle of July, before the owners locked out the players, the Rangers made a league shifting trade. New York sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Rick Nash, Steven Delisle and a third round pick. Without even touching the draft picks, the deal served a purpose for both teams.
In trading Dubinsky and Anisimov, the Rangers avoided tying up too much money in middle six forwards. Down the line, both Dubinsky and Anisimov would combine for a total of $11 million per season. The move secured the Rangers a bonafide top line forward that could be deployed in any and every situation.
At the time, the Rangers were a serious cup contender in need of top six scoring. The trade was a calculated risk that a team that considers itself close makes under any circumstance. While fine players, neither Dubinsky or Anisimov were as dynamic as Nash.
Nash as a Ranger
The Rangers and Nash had a unique dynamic that is complicated to explain. When the front office traded for him, Nash was supposed to put the team over the top. Instead, the six time all star was left stranded with little depth behind him in the lineup during his first season.
However, in year two, Nash was an important part of the Stanley Cup final team’s regular season.
Of course, in the minds of many, Nash was supposed to score the clutch goals. Those big moments never truly happened for the forward with New York and it soured his reputation.
Yet, saying Nash under-performed during his time with the team would be unfair. There were flashes of the dynamic game breaker that Nash was in Columbus.
In addition, Nash developed a more well rounded 200 foot game as a member of the Rangers. During the 2014 Olympic break, Nash played on the penalty kill for Team Canada for the first time in his career. After winning the gold medal, Nash stayed on the penalty kill with the Rangers for the remainder of his tenure with the team.
It should be noted that while Nash never really matched his raw goal scoring numbers from earlier in his career, he was still amongst the most productive forwards in the NHL.
According to Corsica, of all forwards at 5 on 5 only two players, Auston Matthews and Brock Boeser, generated more goals per 60 minutes than Nash’s 1.21 since the 2013 lockout shortened season. It should be noted that both Matthews and Boeser have vastly smaller sample sizes than Nash.
The back end
The real shame of Nash’s time with New York was his inability to stay healthy. It may be unfair to blame Nash for his injury woes, but it is a reality that staying healthy is an important part of being in the NHL.
If a player cannot be on the ice to help his team win, the player isn’t worth anything no matter his talent.
The serious concern was Nash’s history of concussions. There remains so much unknown about the impact of concussions on the brain and their long term impact.
The NHL will likely face a serious comeuppance from its former players as they reach middle age. In the case of Nash, the concussion history is so serious, he is considering retirement.
Not only did the Rangers get great offensive years out of Nash, they were also able to trade him for a substantial return.
The Boston Bruins gave up Ryan Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Belesekey and a first round pick for Nash and a seventh round pick. That haul may prove to be better than what the Blue Jackets got from the Rangers.
Dubisnky and Anisimov
On the other end of the original Nash trade, two middle six forwards were sent to a rebuilding team. When Columbus traded Nash, he was a big fish in a small pond. The Blue Jackets were a middling and struggling franchise with a great player on a bad team.
Acquiring Dubinsky and Anisimov gave the team some depth and planted the seeds for the quality roster they have now.
It should be noted that the Blue Jackets later traded Anisimov to the Chicago Blackhawks for a package centered around Brandon Saad. Of course, the Blue Jackets traded Saad back to the Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin which was an outright steal.
So, using the degrees of separation, there is an argument that the Nash trade worked out well for both teams.
Sure, Dubinsky is on the back end of his career and slowing down. In fact, the American was a healthy scratch during the postseason series against the Washington Capitals.
Unfortunately for Columbus, Dubinsky still has three more years on his contract and $5.85 million is a lot to pay a fourth line center.
When the book is closed on the Henrik Lundqvist era, Nash’s role will be one of hot contention. The Rangers came awfully close to winning the Stanley Cup three separate times with Nash on the roster.
The detractors will argue that New York would have won the cup in 2014 had Nash found a clutch goal.
Yet, that point should be moot. Only one team can win the Stanley Cup per year, meaning that 30 other teams have to lose.
To finish in the final four of those 30 teams three times in four years is a notable achievement. Winning the Stanley Cup is arguably the most difficult feat in all of sports. The Rangers went 54 years without winning and had quite a bit of heart break along the way.
Wishing for more from Nash is a realistic gripe but it should be put into the context of the team. The Rangers had a weirdly constructed roster that relied on depth to overwhelm the other team over the course of a seven game series.
This fostered a next man up approach that led to a wide array of heroes in big games.
Throw in the fact that the Rangers used the Blue Jacket’s third round pick to select Pavel Buchnevich and the deal looks all the better. In all likelihood, Buchnevich plays in the Rangers top six for the foreseeable future. In addition, the team will have Lindgren, K’Andre Miller and Ryan Spooner for the near future.