If you think Rick Nash gave the New York Rangers the best full season he’s got in him in ’14-’15, then you’re wrong by about 30%
By Nick Adams
Rick Nash must do more this season than he ever has as a New York Ranger. In fact, he has to completely outdo himself as a professional hockey player if the Rangers are finally going to escape the event horizon and take home a title.
The team will need to do a lot of things right and catch some lucky breaks in order to win it all, but Nash, operating at 100% capacity for 100% of the regular season and through the playoffs absolutely needs to be the dynamic energy source turning it’s offensive engine.
If you are one of the people who believe Nash gave us the best full season he has in him last season, you are wrong.
What we got was an amazing 70% of a season followed by “meh.” That is not a speculative statement, there is underlying factual data to support it.
On February 20th of this year, the Rangers played game #57 of the 2014-15 season on the road against the Bufffalo Sabres. They won the game 3-1, giving Mackenzie Skapski a win in his NHL debut. They lost something much more valuable, though, very likely to the excessively rough touch of Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian, who basically yoked up and rag-dolled Nash in front of his own net late in the third period of the game.
Nash’s 37 goals at that point had him scoring at clip of .649 goals per game (GPG). Over an 82-game schedule, that projects to a 53-goal season. He was in close pursuit of surging Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals, at the time the gap was a single goal. Following that game, which marked the 70% mark of the regular season schedule, Nash’s scoring dropped off markedly.
In the Rangers’ remaining 25 regular season games, Nash scored only five goals. Higher math is not necessary to derive a GPG average of .20 for that stretch. That represents a delta of -.45. That translates into just shy of a 70% reduction in his goal-scoring pace. Overnight.
Barring obvious and explicable factors influencing a player’s season (injury, trade, impactful personal issues), it is rare to see that kind of production drop occur at a so specific a point.
Whatever happened to Nash that night, whether it was Bogosian’s rough touch throwing off some internal gyro and re-activated post-concussion symptoms (neither Nash, nor the team reported any injuries from the play), the equipment manager left Rick’s favorite stick in a Buffalo snow bank, or he just had a bad bowl of Lake Eerie crab bisque, it affected him pretty negatively.
It’s entirely unlikely that Nash decided to just ease back and let the other kids score the goals after that night. Speculation is a waste of time, but those numbers aren’t made up. What that leaves us with is the glaring fact that we did not get 100% of a season out of Nash last year. Logically, it follows that we should expect more out of him this season. There’s encouraging history in his career that supports such an expectation, too.
Nash has posted successive seasons of improved numbers before. He amassed 69 points in 2007-08 (matching his ’14-15 points total) and his encore act the following season produced the second of his three 40+ goal seasons and a career-best 79 points.
If prior performance can indicate the likelihood of future results, we can optimistically expect another career year out of Nash to bookend last year’s overall effort, similar to the consecutive season outputs he strung together from 2007-09. His goal totals as a Ranger have been 21, 26 & 42. What’s next?
Currently the New York Rangers’ most high profile offensive player, Nash is also the most expensive among that group at an annual cap hit of $7.8MM/year through 2018 per spotrac. If he is fully healthy then as a professional he owes it to his teammates, the organization and the fans of this city to deliver 100% of a season, not 70% of it. If he is not healthy, or gets injured, he needs to say so.
Per the current CBA (Section 50.10(d)) that cap hit comes off the cap total if he hits the long-term injured reserve (LTIR ) list and the Rangers can do something positive with it in his absence. A recent example of how that can work out works resides with none other than the current NHL champs, the Chicago Blackhawks.
On February 24th of last season, the ‘Hawks Patrick Kane suffered a broken collarbone, on the ice – not fighting with a cabbie or hanging out at Skybar, and was immediately put on LTIR. His cap hit was was concurrently voided and the Blackhawks were able to go out and acquire necessary pieces with the extra cash (center Antoine Vermette, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and winger Andrew Desjardins.)
Kane was able to magically recover and played every playoff game in the tournament. Such is the power of juggling the injury bug and the cap. Nash isn’t Patrick Kane. He’s not going to go out and score 11G/23P in a Stanley Cup tournament (he hasn’t come anywhere near that. Ever. That’s a whole different topic for another article), but he should know by now the value of not playing hurt when doing so prevents the team from pursuing a productive alternative course of action.
Bottom line: The New York Rangers need more out of Nash. He’s a great two-way player, defensively responsible, rangy, good on the penalty kill (he’s 5th in the NHL amongst active players in +/-) – yes all of that – but he has to do more, still.
Nash has not delivered his pièce de résistance to-date. The Rangers need it now, they need it all season and if his body won’t give it to him, what they need is the full truth about the matter – not 70% of it.
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