Why Rick Nash could be a deadline fit for the Maple Leafs

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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

Last night, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet made reference to a certain angle that the Toronto Maple Leafs might take at this year’s trade deadline; specifically, the idea that they take on some short-term salary from a more competitive team in an attempt to get some asset windfall out of the transaction. The Leafs, of course, aren’t far off from the cap ceiling themselves, but if they’re not too worried about seeing a little bit of overage from rookie bonuses spill into next year’s totals, they could activate up to $13.5 million in Long-Term Injured Reserve buffer via Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul, and Stephane Robidas. Here’s how Johnston put it in a follow-up piece this afternoon:

Here’s the real kicker: Given their current situation, the Leafs are arguably incentivized to convert that LTIR room into something tangible. They’re facing a significant 2017–18 overage either way and the $750,000 extra hit they’d take for going above the cap now could theoretically be offset by what they get in exchange for doing it.

At this stage, adding an $800,000 depth player in a deadline trade would have the same long-term impact on Toronto’s cap picture as acquiring someone who makes $4.25 million or even $7 million. They could even fit in all three of those hypothetical players, assuming each is on an expiring deal.

That puts the Leafs in position to take a problem contract off another team’s books – for a handling fee, of course. It’s a similar strategy to the one they employed last season when they added picks and prospects while assuming the unwanted contracts of Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Raffi Torres. It makes them both buyer and seller — a luxury they won’t enjoy for much longer.

Johnston lists six players the Leafs could go after, three they could move, and places himself firmly on team “Don’t trade William Nylander”. He seems to believe the Kevin Shattenkirk gossip has some legs. I really do suggest reading his article to get a good idea of where the Leafs stand heading towards the deadline; there’s a lot of good stuff in there.

But there is one player that I think could get a bit more discussion than given credit for in this piece.

Rick Nash is a name that would’ve turned a lot of heads a few years ago. In fact, many considered him to be a sure thing to come here years ago, to turn around his local franchise. Of course, only a handful of those gossips are ever even serious enough to get to the “he’ll have the talk” stage, let alone pen to paper, and Nash wasn’t one of those; he was signed to an eight-year, $62.4 million contract by Columbus just two days after he was able to negotiate an extension, and traded following the second year of the deal to the New York Rangers in a blockbuster.

Given Columbus’ frequent basement status at the time, many expected Nash to blossom into one of the league’s premier players. He’s had a couple of great seasons there, but that’s never quite materialized, which leads us to the present day.

This year, Nash sits in year seven of that contract, still making his $7.8 million per year. He’s currently sitting eighth among Rangers forwards in scoring, though missing eleven games hasn’t helped him much. What’s interesting is his relative lack of ice time; this year, he’s averaging just 16:25 a game, on what appears to be a year-by-year trend for him on Broadway, and the lowest share of time he’s received since his rookie season in 2002/03 (13:57).

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That’s not to say that he isn’t still a good player. He produces like a first liner, he drives offence like a first liner, and plays more of a back-and-forth game than his peers on the team. He’s not going to make the into a structured and responsible unit, but he’s very good at playing “Leafs Hockey”

That also aligns with the eye test. We know that Nash is big, has soft hands, and has a nose for picking up the puck. Zach Hyman and Connor Brown have been great linemates for Auston Matthews, but how much more of a fit would a Nash type player be? Even if you were to keep him away from that line, it could also give the Leafs a bit more room to instigate a James van Riemsdyk deal with another team. Or maybe even to this team; the slight upgrade from Nash to Van Riemsdyk while shedding $3.5 million would probably lead to some significant supplementary assets being thrown in.

The question, of course, is whether the Rangers are willing to move Nash, and what he would cost. The fact that the Leafs have an ability to use their cap windfall certainly helps them; even pro-rating for the deadline and including LTIR gives just 13 teams in the league that could afford to bring on Nash with nothing going back for just this year, let alone next; and with a flat cap, even more of them won’t be able to commit to them next year, which dramatically changes the bidding war when gunning after a 45 point forward with one of the league’s highest cap hits.

This includes the Rangers. As it stands, they’re projected to have $9.85 million in cap space going into the summer, though that can fall to $7 million with the right performance bonuses being hit. With that money, they’ll have to find extend restricted free agents Mika Zibanejad, Brandon Pirri, and Jesper Fast, among others. Nash and Kevin Klein are their only players making more than even $2.5 million (Klein is at $2.9) that are free agents. If Nash isn’t a focal point of the team’s core moving forward, getting out now to better adjust the cap landscape for later could work to their benefit; especially if New York wants to make a different type of splash in the next few weeks to give themselves a shot at winning some playoff rounds.

Another benefit to acquiring Nash could come in June; if he doesn’t work out in the spring and he were to keep his No-Movement Clause waived, Toronto could expose him to Las Vegas in hopes of shedding that least year of his salary.

Would I say that this is a slam dunk, sure thing, going to happen move? Probably not. The type of players that fit Johnston’s description are probably hiding on teams closer to “in the mix” than all out “going for it”; the Mark Fayne’s, Valtteri Filppula’s, David Desharnais’, and Kevin Bieksa’s of the world will be the ones teams will try to shed.

But I wouldn’t rule this one out. The Leafs have a lot of money this year and next year, Nash is a player who would fit their style well, and the Rangers are about as close to broke as the rest of the league is right now. If they present the right pitch at the right time, this could be a good opportunity for Toronto to strike on.

  • Dsd Dsd

    There is no way the Rangers trade Rick Nash especially if they have to pay to do so. They value him as an asset. In addition they cannot afford to use up his cap this off-season, they need it for next season when, JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei, Jimmy vesey, Michael Grabner, and Nick Holden all need new contracts.

  • LukeWarmWater

    Well one thing I learned from this article is that if it has any credibility it means that the Rangers are giving up on a playoff run. I heard one of the chatting Cathies talking about how they had invested a new state of the art device at hockey central trade dead line. This expensive item of technology according to Mr. Chatting Cathie does an outstanding job of removing the numerous cob webs forming around traded day central table as the crickets take over in the noise department.

    The particular individual actually made a lot of fun about how utterly boring the day has become as fewer and fewer significant deals are made on the trade dead line with more minor deals made before the trade dead line. But heh time needs to be filled, so any obscure suggestion like some distant comet returning for a visit around the sun will be analysed to death. On the positive you got insomia , well watch the boys at trade table center truly cure your insomia.

  • Stan Smith

    I’m sorry, but there are a lot of potential deals out there that make much more sense than this. Nash would not be part of the long term plan, and would just be an expensive “detour”. Plus As Glen said he goes MIA in the playoffs. Take his pts. per game as an example. Regular season he is .79 per game. In the playoffs he is .37 per game. Less than half.

    If the Leafs want to bring an aging veteran to help the youngsters, at least bring in a winner. Someone like Justin Williams. Here is someone that scores .66 in the regular season, and .67 in playoffs, has 3 Stanley Cup rings, and a Conn Smythe. Now there is someone that knows how to win.

    If you are thinking ,but he is two years older than Nash and has to be slowing down more, think again. He is averaging .58 pts per game this season, while Nash is .61, and he is doing that making 3.25M a year, much less than half of what Nash earns, plus is a free agent at the end of this season. If the Caps were willing to part with him, which they probably aren’t, he would come a lot cheaper. On the other hand I am sure the Rangers would love to unload Nash.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      I am not much in favour of bringing in a top nine forward. I like the
      guys we now have. Together they are our best feature. I feel all of our top nine will continue to improve with Babcock’s coaching.
      Defence is our main need. Size and strength could also use a boost. I am
      not sure how valid this “JVR is going to become a problem” is. He is signed
      for next year. After January 1st the Leafs at that point are allowed to contact
      his agent and find out what sort of contract they feel JVR is worth.
      Common sense tells me that they would like to be paid fair market value.
      If for some reason they ask too much then at that point the Leafs have
      plenty of time to trade him. In the end if you are not prepared to pay
      top dollar for top players then you will never be a cup contender.

      • Stan Smith

        I am in complete agreement with you on bringing a player in that isn’t part of the long term plan.

        As for JVR I would compare him to Marian Hossa on the Blackhawks. Hossa signed one of those front loaded, long term contracts that are illegal now. End result is that he is getting an average of $5.275 M over 12 years. The Hawks got what they wanted out of it in Stanley Cups, but are now starting to pay the consequences in troubles with cap space, and continually shipping off good players because they can’t afford them.

        Thankfully the rules don’t allow the Leafs to get themselves in that same type of bind. I’m thinking someone is going to pay JVR $50M over 7 years. The Leafs have the advantage of spreading that over 8 years, to lessen the blow a little. Question is how much money are Matthews and Marner going to get once their ECL’s are done. I’m thinking if they maintain their level of play, and even grow, they would be looking at $10+M a season. And then you have Nylander. How much is he going to be worth. You can say the Cap will grow, but with the economies of both the US and Canada in the turmoil they are in, can you count on it growing?

        I don’t pretend to even think I know the answers, but these are some of the hard questions the Leafs have to ask themselves.

        • LukeDaDrifter

          I think those $10+M a season contacts are being fazed out by NHL teams. Stamkos being unable to easily get one last year has me thinking GM’s are starting to realize they completely handcuff the team when signing them. This is part of the what the NHL owners intended when insisting on the salary cap. It just took awhile for it to sink in. Mind you some strange things do happen when teams get close to having a real top contender. Revenue wise I wonder how much extra money winning the Cup brings in to a team’s bottom line? If it is one million a game then 20 playoff games should bring in around $10+Million.

          • Stan Smith

            Yes but don’t forget that Stamkos’ deal is the equivalent of a $10M + deal anywhere else in the NHL other than Florida.

            I’m not saying the Leafs shouldn’t sign JVR, just that I think they have a lot of consideration to make once the renewals for all the young players comes due.

    • rush89

      It’s all about the assets. He isn’t a long-term solution and worst case is he’s here for 2 years. With some talented line mates I’m sure he can still put up some decent numbers. JVR can turn into a problem for us in the future and the trade market seems like it can be at a stand-still right now. If we think this is the best bet to move on from him at least we get a similar (yet downgraded) version of him but we will get a bunch of picks and/or prospects out of the deal.

      Overpaid – Yes. The Leafs have room for it right now so it won’t hurt us.

      Under preforming – Yes. But that’s because he shouldn’t be making 7.8/year. But that is okay because as stated, his salary won’t hurt us. We have the room and it’s not like we are re-signing him for that money. We either still want him and re-sign in 2 years for a reasonable amount or he goes.

      MIA in the playoffs – Sure. But he isn’t here for a playoff push. He is here to 1) somewhat replace JVR short term while, 2) alleviating the problem JVR can create on our cap situation and, 3) get us some valuable assets for the future (which can also potentially be spun into established players), 4) disappear the sunset with a thank-you note.

      Fix a cap problem. Get a roster player. Get good assets. Determine how to proceed with Nash in the future (obviously not another massive contract but probably just let him go).

      Not saying it’ll happen but why is that so terrible?