Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Pursuing Rick Nash

It's official: The trade season is upon us.

While it was reported on the Fan590's Prime Time Sports by co-host John Shannon a week or so ago that Rick Nash had hinted that he wouldn't be opposed to a move out of Ohio, things really hit a fevered pitch today.

Yahoo! Sports kicked things off late last night with a report that Nash was on the trading block and then Aaron Portzline, a  Blue Jackets' beat writer confirmed that this was likely the case, and finally, the evening was capped off with insider-royalty, Bob McKenzie speculating that the Leafs were likely among the teams on Nash's shortlist.

While one might expect that any fanbase that had an opportunity to see a star talent land in their hometown would be excited by the possibility, Rick Nash isn't without his warts.  Reaction has been mixed among Leaf fans so we decided to put together a list of the pros and cons of chasing after Nash.


Big Talent, Bigger Contract
Rick Nash's present deal lasts another 6 years at a staggering cap hit of $7.8M.  Not only is that pushing it in terms of the length of deals that Brian Burke finds acceptable, but it would make him the highest paid player on the team by a wide margin.  As things sit today, the Leafs are up against it as far as the salary cap for next season is concerned and while there would undoubtedly be some money going out in any deal that would land Nash, we would also likely find ourselves out of the Grabovski sweepstakes.

Powerforward Wear and Tear
Rick Nash's production this year has been abysmal.  With only 18 goals in 56 games, he's far from lived up to his plus-sized contract.  While this may be attributable to the ineptitude of the Columbus roster as a whole, it's also possible that playing the role of powerforward in the NHL over the last decade (less one season spent at Davos) has taken its toll.  Will he ever return to the form that saw him win the Rocket Richard trophy all those years ago?

Cost of Acquisition
We can only speculate what the package to land Nash would be at this stage but I think it's safe to say that it would be somewhere in the range of two NHL-ready prospects and a first round draft choice.  How would Leaf fans feel about parting with Schenn, Kadri, and a 1st -- especially knowing that this would mean 5 consecutive first round draft picks have been dealt out of town to land Kessel and Nash?  The price for Nash will certainly be steep and there will be some pieces dealt that the team landing Nash will wince to lose.


In Theory, He's What Our Forward Corps Lacks
Until this season, Rick Nash was the goalscoring power forward with size that Leaf fans have been moaning about for years now.  Nash can score goals in transition or by smashing in rebounds.  He's skilled, versatile, and would give us the trap-busting talent that we so desperately need.

A Move For Nash Thins The Crowd
While the cost of acquisition is a 'con', it's mitigated by the fact that our forward group is more than a little crowded heading into next season.  Without making a trade, Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, Kulemin, MacArthur, Connolly, Kadri, Frattin, Colborne, and if we re-sign him Grabovski, are all likely best suited to top-six roles.  In acquiring Nash, the Leafs will have undoubtedly thinned out that group while unassailably adding an upgraded talent to the wing.

He's Only 27
I know a lot of people will be concerned about paying for a past-their-prime player and Nash certainly has some hard miles on him for a man so young but it's rare for a high-level talent to become available much younger than his late 20s.  Think of the fervor over Brad Richards last year -- or Kovalchuk the year before.  These guys simply don't become available very often and when they do, it's a 30 team league.  This may be a rare opportunity where we have a 1 in 5 chance to land a top 30 talent in the league.

Our Take

I started the day in the 'nay' camp but I've ended it in the 'yea' camp.  The tipping point for me is the logjam that's about to take root in our top-6.  I believe that Nash still has plenty of game left and while I would expect that he'll probably start to see his production dip by the end of this deal, I think it's worth it.  I understand that Nash's production isn't worth the $7.8M he's getting paid per season, but it's rare for elite players to outperform their cap hit.  It's also rare to win without them.  I'm wary of relying on Lupul to produce at the rate he has been thus far this year on a move-forward basis and Nash has been a reliable 30 to 40 goal scorer over his career.

Fortune, they say, favours the bold.  It's a motto that the Habs organization has lived by.  However, if we apply it in an intelligent way, rather than the way the mouth-breathers in their front office have over the past five years, it can work.  There's no 'safe' way to get to the top; you have to take risks, and  Rick Nash is a risk that I would take.


Duncan said...

Yes, it does address the need of a big, top 6 power forward, however for that cap hit I'd rather have Jeff Carter (with his long contract) and a gritty 3rd line forward with a strong forecheck.

I do agree that we have a log jam of top 6 role type players, but I feel removing them for one $7.8million winger does not fit the need of the team. I was opposite of you, Curt. I started believing that Nash would be the perfect fit for the team. Also, at the rate that the Lupul/Kessel combo has been performing, it would be hard to consider breaking them up. That means that Nash would be moving to a 2nd line role, which would not be utilizing him to his whole value.

Having Nash would inevitably mean that Grabovski is gone next year. I currently have the thought of having Carter and Grabovski as a 1/2 punch at centre is extremely beneficial to the success of the leafs.

I still believe that shedding the contracts of Lombardi and Connolly would be beneficial as they are both playing outside of their preferred roles.

I think Burke would be best suited to meet the teams primary needs (big 1st line centre and some grit and size for the 3rd line) before filling spots that have already been filled. From Columbus, I'd rather see Carter and someone like Sami Pahlsson.

This all being said, if Burke were to pick up Nash, I would not be upset. However, I feel that it would not be the smartest move for Burke and the leafs.

Darryl said...

Rick Nash is a bit of a tough case. His contract, while huge, lasts until he is 33, at which point we can still reasonably expect him to be performing at a high calibre, and he will likely be pretty good trade bait at the TDL at that point should the Leafs be on the downswing. I know that's a long time from now, but it doesn't hurt to think ahead.

As you mentioned, there are tons of pros to having Nash on the Leafs. He's a hometown kid, he's big, he's got cotton soft hand, he's a smooth skater, and he's outrageously talented. I think one thing that simply cannot be understated that works to Nash's advantage, is that HE IS AVAILABLE. As much as people pine for a Parise/Ryan contract that's more cap-friendly, players of their (and Nash's) calibre simply do not become available. Period. Every year a bunch of people talk about guys like Iginla, Weber, Getzlaf, Stamkos last year, etc. Teams don't let these players go, because they are not easily replaced.

Of course, what do the Leafs give up if Nash does come over? You mentioned Grabo would be gone if the Leafs got Nash, but I don't necessarily think that's the case. If Burke can smartly shed the contracts of guys like Komi/Connolly/Lombardi/Armstrong, there will be space for Grabovski. The Leafs have cap space now, and consider that any package for Nash, I think would have to start with Schenn + Kulemin (if I'm Howson, those are the 2 young players I'm starting with). Then there will have to be a 1st round pick or top prospect, and some kind of salary from the Leafs going back as well.

Is it too much to give up? Probably, but I would just give Burke the benefit of the doubt. If there is a good deal he'll make it, but I am reasonably sure he won't overpay.