Thursday, July 5, 2012

Defining Rick Nash's Trade Value

This piece is something I think about every day and see people talk about on twitter. I rarely chime in because a) I'm biased and b) the conversation seems fruitless, usually devolving into an argument with neither side feeling satisfied that they've defined anything or convinced the other party of any points they want to have made.

So let me make this clear: I'm not trying to pick an argument by writing this little piece. If you don't like it then write your own.

Value is defined by the market which is to receive an item, with the highest price someone is willing to pay being that object's ultimate value. If you're selling whiskey and trinkets to aboriginals, those objects have value. If you're trying to convince a dog that gold is more precious than steak, you'll have a hard time. The market for Nash is pretty much any team in the NHL, as long as he will eventually agree to go there. The list makes the market tighter than all 29 other teams, but there can and should be some gray area for discussing his potential trade destinations.

I'll give you this dead fish if you promise not to throw it on the ice in Nashville.

Nash was selected 1st overall at the 2002 draft in what was probably the best move of Doug MacLean's  career. At the time he was an awkward, big teenager who was scoring in droves for the London Knights. He was the best player drafted that year, and we were all soon going to find out why.

Rick Nash wasn't just some big dope who could pound the opposition into submission. He was more savvy and cerebral. Every single tool he had was well above average, many of his attributes reach the elite level. He has size: 6'4" and weight ranging from 210 to maybe 240, depending on the year. He has an amazing reach and uses his size advantage for some of the best puck-protection in the league. It was not often you'd see him laying out punishing hits, but he had the ability to use his torso as a shield, his arms and long stick allowing him to keep stick handling with two guys checking him at the same time. His stick handling was excellent. His shot has always been excellent- great accuracy, quick release, great timing. His foot speed was above average, which is extremely rare for a guy his size. After a few steps, he could blow by defenders on open ice. He went to the net recklessly at times, and although he didn't have the Ryan Smyth kind of nose for loose pucks in the crease, he could score dirty goals with regularity. Nash's vision was also excellent; his playmaking skills are something he wasn't born with and he's evolved into a more nuanced player that can make plays as well as finish them. Under Hitchcock, Nash even developed into a more well rounded player who could play on the PK and improved his presence in the defensive zone. Here is a link to a sample of his better work. I don't endorse the soundtrack though. If you find the person who chose this music, kindly garrote them on sight.

Over time, Rick developed. In ways, he improved. In others, he regressed. At first, he was a mildly overweight kid who was overzealous and took a ton of chances, but with great success for his offensive numbers. His second season, he scored 41 goals (dead puck era maurice richard trophy) which was tied with Iginla and Kovalchuk for the most in the league. At this point, his game was similar to Kovalchuk: stay in the offensive half of the ice, don't worry about back checking. When Hitch came along, there were some long days for Nash full of lessons on responsibility and playing Hitch Hockey. Nash didn't adapt quickly, but he did eventually. Here are Nash's stats over his NHL Career.


Ultimately, he's a guy who averaged .812 points per game over the past decade in the NHL and topped 40 goals twice. He managed this playing against the top defensive units in the western conference, and he's done it while being pretty consistent and not missing many games.

You'll also notice that last year was pretty bad by his standards. No doubt, his -19 leaves a sting. If you're thinking it's because "he's getting old", I'd ask you to keep in mind the mustard gas that was in the air at nationwide arena until Arniel got canned. I'm also going to ask you to keep in mind that highly skilled offensive players with few injury concerns don't spontaneously "get old and worthless"after age 30. Feel free to track Jarome Iginla's stats.

His time working on Team Canada and overseas in Switzerland during the lockout afforded him the opportunity to play with great teammates and centremen such as Crosby and Thornton. He was wildly successful at times on these teams, although he was nearly invisible in 2006 in Torino.

Another important point is that, although he plays a relatively aggressive style (not exactly Lindros, not exactly Lidstrom), he hasn't had any major injury concerns. He's also 28 years old and entering his prime.

And he's got quite the pushbroom.

In the past few seasons since I've moved to Columbus, I've had the pleasure of watching him about a dozen times a year in person. It's a sight to behold. He is a dominant winger who looked like he was putting the team on his back a lot of the time. There were nights where it looked like man against boys. If you're reading this, you have to remember the goal against Phoenix. The Goldwater Institute must have been at that game.

The great detractor about Nash has been his work ethic and reputation as a leader of men. Nobody really knows what goes on behind the scenes but offhand remarks from former Blue Jackets and people familiar with the dressing room seem to leave a foul odor. Nobody is saying he doesn't work hard. Nobody seems to say he doesn't want to win. Maybe he's doing some sneaky shit and not respecting veterans. Maybe once the microphones are off and the locker room doors close, he tells everyone they're garbage and not worth playing alongside. Nobody seems to be willing to go on the record to say what is wrong with Nash as a leader. But the gist most of us who follow the team seem to get is, this isn't something that Nash wants to do. He wants to get his points, cash his paychecks and enjoy his life. He is polite to the media and professional, but you really get the sense there are a lot of places he'd rather be. In his earlier years, it looked like he wanted to be at a buffet.

Y'all got crab cakes?
Ultimately, most who are familiar with him and the organization will tell you that Nash will do better outside of the spotlight and scrutiny that a major leadership role will bring. He's a guy who can behave in a professional manner and he's not a dressing room cancer per se, but you probably don't want him as captain at this point.

He's currently locked up long-term on a deal that will pay him an average of 7.8 million until 2017-18 (

Most CBJ fans can tell you that he's never had a good center to play with. I find this to be true. In order for Nash to be effective offensively, he needs to have some help on the defensive side so he can cherry pick a bit. He also needs someone who can get him the puck in prime positions. Hockey is driven by systems and an entire team effort to win games. This is where relative value becomes a key component.

Let's say you're a GM with a world class first line center. If you're thinking about adding a piece like Nash, you have to look at how many goals he can add to your top line over the weakest winger on it currently. If you take his stats from last year and assume they will stay the same, then of course you will balk at trading Jeff Skinner for Nash. But if you take into account that he will be playing first line minutes with a real live first line center and he won't literally have to heave the swollen whale carcass of the CBJ onto the playoff platform, it would be reasonable to expect a bump in his numbers. How much of a bump? Well it depends. Nash put up good numbers playing with Thornton in Davos, but those won't really translate to NHL standards. Let's say he's playing alongside a guy like Claude Giroux. Scott Hartnell scored 37 goals and 30 assists playing most of his time alongside Giroux last year and we know for a fact that Nash is better than Hartnell. Otherwise, Hartnell would have been discussed at some point as a Team Canada candidate. Anyway, I would guess using Nash's earlier stats, hartnell's current ones and adding a few points for the eastern conference defensive match ups that he would be able to put up anywhere from 40 goals, 40 assists to 45 goals, 45 assists. I still think his ceiling is over a point per game, if you surround him with the kind of talent that will allow him to play his game.

I know you ate my burrito!

So the question then becomes, how valuable is it to have a guy in your organization for the next five or six years who you can expect to put up those kinds of numbers? If you're looking to win the Stanley Cup in that timeframe and believe you have the pieces to augment Rick Nash's performance, then it's time to ante the fuck up. Young guys with the upside of being the best second line center in the league don't really match up to guys like Nash, who are once in a lifetime players. Plenty of second line centers come and go every UFA season. Truly valuable players are unique in the combination of skills they bring to the table and the only comparable player to hit the market in the last decade has been Kovalchuk. Nash isn't quite "on the market" like Kovalchuk was but you're probably not going to find another player like him in another two decades.

Ultimately, I see this ending with Howson getting a king's ransom for Nash but still losing the deal because he's letting go of the best player. If the team receiving Rick is smart, they'll throw as many first round picks in the deal as they can, because it will probably be an all-in gamble and they'll want to make sure those picks end up in the 25-30 range. If Howsoon is smart, he will end up getting a talent back that won't come around for another 20 years.


  1. Every other saturday I let fire ants nip at my gooch. It makes me feel so alive that I forget how bad my life is.

  2. gooch fire ants are hard to come by these days. Every thursday morning I go to Lowe's and ask them for gooch ants and the guys at the counter just give me a weird look. They must be all sold out that early. Weird, right?

  3. I harvest my own. It's both cost effective and convenient.