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Nash: 'I've got to be better' for Rangers

Forward setting sights on scoring 30 goals in final year of contract

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Rick Nash is approaching a crossroad, one he has never reached in his NHL career.

"I don't have a contract for next season," the New York Rangers forward said Monday, "so that's what I'm playing for."

Nash has never gone into an NHL season without the security of being signed for the next one. He has never been an unrestricted free agent. He might be July 1 because he is going into the last season on the eight-year, $62.4 million contract he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 3, 2009, when he had one year remaining on a five-year contract.

Nash is 33 years old and fully expects he'll have to take a pay cut after this season because that's just how it works in the NHL now for players in their mid-30s who need a new contract.

The way he sees it, the size of the cut, how big or small, is on him and how he plays this season.

"The ball is in my court," Nash said. "It's no secret, it's a huge season for me personally."

What he does with it will have an enormous impact on the Rangers. Nash is one of their most important forwards and arguably their best two-way power forward even with the emergence of Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller.

Video: CAR@NYR: Nash roofs a backhand for spectacular goal

He scored 38 points (23 goals, 15 assists) in 67 games last season. Those numbers tell only part of Nash's story. The other part is how important he is for the Rangers in the defensive end, in shutting down the opposition, sometimes going against the opponent's top forwards.

Nash has 416 goals in his NHL career, but as he's gotten older his play away from the puck has become as vital as his presence around the net.

"He scored 23 [last season], but he was one of our most effective players at both ends of the rink," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I do expect a lot from him. He's one of our veteran players. He's one of our strong voices in our dressing room. He's a great example. I expect a lot from him at both ends of the rink, goal scoring and defensively."

Nash expects a lot of himself too, meaning more than 23 goals.

"I've got to be better," Nash said. "I shoot for 50 every year, but 30 is a great number, personally."

Nash has hit that milestone once in his five seasons with the Rangers, scoring 42 in 2014-15. He has scored 26, 23, 21 and 15 in his other four seasons in New York. He scored at least 30 each of his final five seasons with the Blue Jackets (2007-12).

"It'd be crazy to think he couldn't do it," Miller said of Nash scoring at least 30 goals. "He shoots the puck more than anybody on our team, and he always goes to the net. Would it surprise me? There's no surprising me if he scores 30 or more."

Scoring 30 would be one way for Nash to stop talk about his game deteriorating with age. He's surprised his age has even become a talking point.

"That's what everyone says, that I'm old," Nash said. "I had one guy ask me if this is my last year? I'm like, 'What, is this my last year? What?' It's crazy."

Maybe, but Nash is the Rangers' oldest skater and their second oldest player behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is 35. Calling him old might be a reach, but talking about his age isn't ridiculous, especially since he could be a 34-year-old unrestricted free agent.

Video: NYI@NYR: Nash kicks puck to skate, chips in goal

"I feel young," Nash said. "I feel like I'm still in touch with the guys. I feel like my game is young."

Nash said he stays that way because he gets to go out to dinner with the young guys, hang with them, talk with them and pull pranks with them.

"He's not an old guy," Miller said. 

But he is old enough to be 11 games away from 1,000 for his NHL career. The next closest Rangers skater to 1,000 games is defenseman Marc Staal at 689 (Lundqvist has played 742). The next closest forward is Michael Grabner at 473.

It's just another thing that sets Nash apart and makes his age come up in conversations.

Nash is on target to play in his 1,000th NHL game Oct. 26 against the Arizona Coyotes at Madison Square Garden. He will be the 312th player in League history to reach that milestone. 

He has 416 NHL goals too, which has gotten him thinking about the potential to score 500. Forty-one players have scored 500 goals and played 1,000 games in their NHL career. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals is 79 games away from becoming the 42nd player to do it.

"That's crazy," Nash said. "For me to be a kid that loved hockey growing up, playing road hockey, pretending to achieve these things, it's pretty amazing to think that I'm close to achieving it."

He said he'd like nothing more to achieve all of it with the Rangers, to re-sign with them, avoiding unrestricted free agency if possible, and stay in New York for the rest of his career.

Except Nash doesn't know what's next, where he'll be next season, or if the Rangers will even want or be able to afford him beyond this season. 

"We'll see," he said. "There are two or three guys every single year that are in this situation. Now it's my turn."

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