By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Rick Nash Trade should really be known as a tale of two players.
One player, acquired from New York and making his Bruins debut on the same day, was an impressive (and seamless) fit to the right of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci. He consistently generated chances at five-on-five (and on the power play), collecting three goals on 41 shots and totaling six points in 11 games. The other player, meanwhile, likely rushed his way back from a concussion, got bounced around the lineup in the first round, and had goals in just two of his 12 postseason games.
These players are both Rick Nash, in case you haven’t figured that one out by now. And the Bruins, led by general manager Don Sweeney, have been left to ask themselves which one they’d like to make a decision on between now and July 1.
And unlike the Anton Khudobin situation, the decision to re-sign or walk away from Nash is going to be anything but easy.
Start with the most concerning fact if you’re the Bruins: Nash suffered another concussion this past season. His history in this regard is not encouraging, and the almost month-long absence this last one came with should be cause for concern. Nash wore a tinted visor and still dealt with some side effects upon his return, as well, which is not exactly what you want to hear.
“It’s unfortunate he got banged up near the end of the season there, and it really took him a while to get back, and I don’t think he was himself,” Bruins president Cam Neely said. “He said that during the exit meetings, that he wasn’t quite himself.”
…But even at less than 100 percent, Nash still created chances. In fact, only seven players created more all-strength scoring chances than No. 61 did through the first two rounds of postseason play. He also used his puck-protection skillset to draw five penalties (third-most among B’s). Given Boston’s effectiveness on the power play in the postseason, that was something that the B’s happily accepted and why Nash was rolled out there at such a high frequency despite his scoring struggles.
If the puck goes in just two or three more times, this postseason is an entirely different story for both Nash and the Bruins.
But that’s sorta been the story of his entire career at this point. Among the 32 forwards with at least 60 playoff games since 2013, Nash ranks 19th with 43 points in 85 games. That 85 games are the seventh-most among that group of 32, though, and Nash’s .51 points per game rank him 22nd out of those 32 skaters. Nash has also fired 287 shots on net over that span (the second-most among the 32), but his 5.9 shooting percentage is the second-worst over that span.
In other words, what you saw this postseason is pretty much what Nash has done throughout his postseason career.
Expecting it to somehow change at this point would be a bizarre gamble to spend significant money on if you’re the Bruins.
The 33-year-old Nash completely understands the difficult job that comes with evaluating his play in Boston, too.
“It was disappointing with having a concussion, and having some effects during it, and only playing a certain amount of games, and then coming back for the playoffs,” Nash offered at break-up day. “But everything was positive. The organization was great, guys were awesome, so it was a great chapter here and hopefully it can continue.”
The one thing working in Nash’s favor? The Bruins do not have a set plan — or find themselves necessarily loaded with viable options — on the right side. David Pastrnak is an elite winger that can play on the superhuman line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron or slide back down with David Krejci to re-establish the Bruins’ Discount Double Czech duo. Anders Bjork, whose first pro season was cut short by shoulder surgery, is expected to be ready for the start of the 2018 season. Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato are also among those that could be asked to play their off-wing somewhere in the B’s top six.
Sweeney made it a point to say that there’s no guarantee that Bjork and/or Donato have an NHL spot to begin next season, though, meaning that the Bruins are still very much exploring their options on the right side.
To make this Nash-Bruins relationship continue, though, there needs to be some sort of concession on the part of Nash.
For one, he’s not going to get a long-term deal from the Bruins. The Black and Gold can’t afford that right now, nor would it be wise to devote even more of your available cap space to another mid-30s talent, especially with the insane number of second contracts looming over Sweeney and the B’s. If there’s a deal to be had between the Bruins and Nash, it’s likely with a discounted one-year deal — likely similar to what Jarome Iginla signed with the Bruins in 2013-14, but without the games played bonuses — that allows Nash and the B’s “one more run” to see what he can deliver to the club when at 100 percent.
But believe it or not, barring an extension signed between now and July 1, this will be Nash’s first jump into the open market.
He signed his second extension with the Blue Jackets (an eight-year deal worth over $62 million) a year before he was set to hit the open market, and finished the final year of that extension split between the Rangers and Bruins. 15 years into his NHL career, it would almost be ridiculous of Nash not to test the open waters and see what’s out there. And if the trade deadline pursuit ultimately won by Sweeney and the Bruins told us anything, too, it’s that there will be interest from other teams.
That alone should price the Bruins out of retaining Nash.
Which may be for the best given the largely unknown return Nash would come with both in terms of production and health, and for a team already featuring too many postseason question marks on their roster.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.