Every season a handful of trades are made in the days before the NHL Trade Deadline that have a significant impact on the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the deadline approaching Feb. 26, a trade for New York Rangers forward Rick Nash could be one of them.
Nash was asked this week to submit the list of 12 teams to which he would be willing to accept a trade, a provision of his contract. The Rangers can work with any of the teams on that list to trade the 33-year-old, who is in the final year of an eight-year contract and scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Nash may be best known for winning the Rocket Richard Trophy at age 19 after leading the NHL with 41 goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003-04. He scored 40 again in 2008-09 with the Blue Jackets and an NHL career-high 42 in 2014-15 for the Rangers.
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marian Gaborik of the Los Angeles Kings are the other active players in the League to score 40 goals at least three times in the NHL.
Nash may no longer be a threat to score 40, (he has scored 54 since the start of the 2015-16 season, a stretch of 181 games), but he remains a versatile top-six power forward who can play either wing, on any line, and help in any game or manpower situation.
Video: BOS@NYR: Rick Nash opens scoring on nice wrister
With 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) in 54 games, Nash is on pace to score 35 points and finish with fewer than 40 for the fourth time in the past five seasons. His scoring at 5-on-5 scoring has been consistent. This season, he is averaging 1.79 points per 60 minutes and is within a range of 1.73 to 1.83 for the fourth time in the past five seasons , according to the calculations at Corsica Hockey. That ranks 113 of 411 forwards to play at least 200 minutes.
His scoring rate and even-strength usage strongly suggest he is most comfortable in the role of second-line forward. He averages 13:08 of ice time per game at even strength, which ranks fifth among Rangers forwards.
But, he is far more responsible away from the offensive zone than his reputation as a scorer suggests. He is coach Alain Vigneault's first choice against top opponents; his most frequent opposing forwards this season have been David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (16:37), Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils (16:12); Brandon Dubinsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets (16:04); Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (15:40); and Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins (15:13), according to the data compiled at Natural Stat Trick.
The tough competition hasn't had an adverse result on the Rangers' shot-based metrics, which are virtually identical when Nash is on the ice and when he isn't. During the past three seasons, the Rangers have a 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage of 47.19 when he's on the ice, and 46.94 when he isn't.
Given his experience, versatility, and ability to handle tough minutes, Nash could be a useful addition to any contender. Plus, he can even help squeeze out a few more points in the standings in the shootout. His 32 goals (in 86 attempts) rank 15th since the NHL introduced the shootout in 2005-06.
Video: NYR@ANA: Nash knots the score on the power play
Finding Nash's ideal potential destination among the teams that could be on his list means identifying those in the tightest playoff races who have flexibility under the NHL salary cap and who are in the greatest need of a top-six wing who can play tough minutes.
One of the most intriguing possibilities is the Colorado Avalanche, who are one point removed from the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. They're a young team with lots of cap space and rank second-to-last in the NHL with 29.7 shots per game. Nash, who ranks 26th with an average of 3.13 shots per game during the past three seasons, could help boost those totals and play tough minutes with veterans Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, allowing the top line, featuring Nathan MacKinnon, to continue to focus on scoring.
Others teams that could take maximum advantage of a player like Nash include the Kings and the Nashville Predators. The San Jose Sharks could also use a top-six wing, but they already have plenty of experience, take lots of shots and have strong special teams.
If Nash is traded, statistics show that whichever team gets him will add a valuable, versatile veteran.