With the NHL season over and the free agency period just two weeks away, it’s time to shift our focus on the fun world of NHL rumors. I don’t claim to own a magic ball or have any inside sources that feed me information, I’m going based on what I see are team needs and hunches. Nonetheless, it’s fun to discuss and debate.
Today, we’re going to look at Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets really shook things up last offseason, bringing in Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski with long contracts worth big money. Carter ended up being traded to the Los Angeles Kings and Wisniewski didn’t really live up to the hype like most of us figured. Fortunately, the Carter to LA trade brought back Jack Johnson, who is quite a talent on the back end. Johnson will lighten the load for Wiz and allow him to focus on what he does best: rack up points on the powerplay and take cheapshots. But even with the addition of Johnson, there’s just too much wrong with Columbus for them to try to keep trudging along. They tried moving him at the deadline but couldn’t get a deal done, mostly because they wanted the moon for him. I’m assuming they’re going to be asking for the moon again, which they may or may not get given the flexibility that the offseason gives potential trading partners. They still have to be careful that they’re not too stubborn, or else there will be a lot of clicking of phones.
Nash is the top available forward this summer and we’re likely to hear rumors about him going to every single team in the league. Despite never really playing with a prolific center, he’s a stud and usually has put up 30+ goal campaigns. Because he’s done so much with so little around him, fans and front offices will be salivated over the chance to get their top playmaker paired with him. I do think that Columbus will deal him as I think they’d prefer several forwards with shorter contracts with smaller cap hits. They could likely get two top six forwards in a deal involving Nash, likely young players to whom they could reasonable money and get good production. Columbus has several players under very long term contracts, and Nash is the only moveable player aside from Jack Johnson (who needs to stay on the club). And remember that at the end of the day, Nash will be able to nix any deal that is made with his no movement clause.
Nash has six years left on his contract that carries a cap hit of $7.8 million, which is a ton for one player. Between his cap hit and what it’s going to take for a team to trade for him, I do not see the Flyers making a move for him. It would take James van Riemsdyk and likely another good forward to make something work. The Flyers are hoping that JVR will blossom into a 30 goal scorer in the next year or so, so why would they take on nearly twice the salary of JVR for an amount of goals that the other player in the deal would be likely to score anyway? On top of that, the Flyers have their eyes set on using any trading pieces of making their defense better.
Staying within the state, people of course would love to see Rick Nash play next to Sidney Crosby. Theoretically, it’s downright scary what those two could do together. I do not see a deal to the Penguins happening for the following reasons. Assuming no other big contracts on the Pens are moved to make this happen (and I don’t see anyone taking Paul Martin or Zbynek Michalek), the Penguins would have an enormous amount of money tied up in only a few players. Six players combine for a cap hit of $36.4 million, which is more than half of the projected $70.3 million cap ceiling for next season. Throw Nash in there, and that number balloons to $44.2 million. If they wanted, they could deal Malkin next year, give Staal a contract to be the #2 center and have a one-two punch of Crosby-Nash and Staal-Neal. With Crosby’s shaky health, however, you’d be risking going from a center combination of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal to Staal being forced to be the #1 guy is Crosby falls to another injury. The Penguins, who in the past have had great success without giving Crosby and Malkin big name help on the wing, have bigger fish to fry this offseason anyway: the defensive corps built last year was really exposed this postseason. They need to focus on improvements there before even thinking about Rick Nash.
The New York Rangers love big money players. In the recent past, they’ve acquired Chris Drury (haha), Scott Gomez (hahaha), Marion Gaborik, and Brad Richards. And surprisingly, the Rangers actually have the cap space and the pieces to get a deal done. They’ve got about half a dozen players to resign, the most significant being Michael Del Zotto, who is a restricted free agent, so his contract should not be too painful. They have several promising young forwards in Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Carl Hagelin. I have to think that those three players would be used as trade bait for Columbus and I would move any of them in order to get Nash. The problem for the Rangers, however, is that the Jackets are sure as heck going to want Ryan McDonaugh. Defensemen as good as McDonaugh and as young as McDonaugh are very rare occurrences. A big reason for the Rangers’ success this year was the play of the team defense in front of Lundqvist, and you cannot deny the importance of McDonaugh’s presence. However, if the Rangers really feel that Nash is the missing link for them, maybe moving McDonaugh is the right move. I don’t think it is—I’d much rather try to move Del Zotto in a deal and sweeten it with the aforementioned young forwards and picks. Maybe if Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is snorting bath salts when Rangers GM Glen Sather calls him up, the Rangers could stick Brandon Dubinsky in the deal. At least that would further open up some cap space to try to bring in a defenseman in a separate move. So with the Rangers, I’m not saying that it won’t happen, I’m just saying that I wouldn’t pull the trigger given what Columbus would be asking in return.
Speaking of taking bath salts, it’s absolutely no surprise that Brian Burke the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking at Rick Nash. Even though Nash won’t solve the whole lack of a quality #1 center or with the issues on defense, you know that Burke is going to be on the line with Howson about Nash. And looking up and down the roster of the Leafs, what would they give? Luke Schenn would be a candidate, but he’s taken a step backward. Nazem Kadri would be all but guaranteed to be traded, but who are the other young forwards they could include? Maybe the Jackets would like the rights to Nikolai Kulemin? The Leafs do have the #5 overall pick and Columbus already has the second overall pick. Could the Jackets convince the Edmonton Oilers to deal the #1 overall pick for the 2nd and 5th picks in order to get Nail Yakupov? I’m leaning towards no. Still, having two top-5 picks in the draft could be very tempting for the Jackets, depending on how patient they’re willing to be with the rebuild.
The Bruins are rumored to be very interested in the services of Rick Nash. With the news of Tim Thomas taking the year off and still being on the hook for his cap hit, the Bruins are going to have to move salary around to fit him. The cap relief from Marc Savard’s contract will be absorbed by resigning Tuukka Rask, which leaves the Bruins about $5.3 million under the cap. With the emergence of Tyler Seguin as a very good top six forward, you have to wonder if that makes the services of David Krejci expendable. Patrice Bergeron is too important to the team to be moved and Krejci provides the Jackets with a very good forward who is still young enough at 26 to be very effective once they turn the ship around (assuming that happens). It’s going to take more than Krejci to get Nash, but I’m not sure what Boston would be willing to give up as well. They own the 24th pick of this year’s draft as well as a promising prospect in Dougie Hamilton (I’d be shocked to see him dealt). I’d be very curious to see what kind of package the Bruins put together.
Finally, I’ll take a look at San Jose’s shot at getting Nash. Joe Thornton has struggled the last few seasons, and maybe a Nash shot in the arm could reignite him. Last season, they made the big trade in sending Dany Heatley to the Minnesota Wild for Martin Havlat. I really hate to judge a transaction after only one year, but Havlat was rather ineffective last year…and surprise, he was injured most of the year. Along with Havlat, Patrick Marleau would be the only forward the Sharks would really want to have be the major piece in an offer for Nash. But Havlat has injury problems and isn’t quite on Nash level and Marleau is 5 years older than Nash and has a cap hit that’s less than $1 million cheaper. If Columbus makes a deal for either of these players, someone on the Sharks has very compromising pictures of someone on the Blue Jackets. Now, on the flip side, the two players the Jackets would want would be Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. If either of these two players is dealt, I’m sending a letter to the San Jose front office asking for an interview for the General Manager position. Unless the Sharks are going to package together a bunch of top prospects and picks, I don’t see a deal happening here.
So who else do I think could be seriously involved in a Rick Nash deal? I think you’ll see the Red Wings pop up in talk. They’ve got a lot of cap space, but I think a lot of that will be used in trying to fill the void left by Nicklas Lidstrom that can’t be filled. I’m not sure they’d make a deal within the division anyway, as the St. Louis Blues are in a similar situation with a lot of cap space. Do they keep the Brian Elliott/Jaroslav Halak combination in net or do they use one as trade bait? The Ottawa Senators are an intriguing team. Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad are two top prospects and Kyle Turris and Bobby Butler could be tempting pieces. You have to wonder how much longer Daniel Alfredsson is going to play before he hangs them up, and it would be great if the Senators can grab another elite forward to help fill in his place.
Howson better sit down and look at all of the preliminary offers and decide what he wants to do. If no one’s offering anything near what he’s looking for, it’s either time to take Nash off the market or reevaluate his price. A frustrated Rick Nash is not going to make the Blue Jackets better.