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Rick Nash: An Ideal Rental For The Stars?

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With his no-trade list submitted to the Rangers, would Nash make sense for the rising Stars?

New York Rangers v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Sean Shapiro, of The Athletic, confirmed on Monday morning that New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had submitted his no-trade list to the team’s front office. While this is not a sign that the Rangers will trade the power forward and former 40-goal scorer, it certainly started the conversation of a potential move for him before the trade deadline.

The news has fired up the NHL rumor mill and arrived at a time when the Rangers came limping into the American Airlines Center for their face-off against the Stars on Monday night. They were 3-7-0 in their last 10 appearances going into Monday’s game, and walked away with another in the loss column after getting beat by the Dallas Stars 2-1.

The victories against the Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild kept the Stars in the top Wild Card spot in the tough Western Conference and within distance of the St. Louis Blues for third in the Central Division. The win versus the New York Rangers helped give them a bit more cushion on the teams vying for Wild Card spots behind them in the standings.

Despite recent success, the Stars have struggled to generate scoring depth beyond the first two lines of the roster consistently. A need for middle-six scoring players has spurred conversation that Dallas will be in the market for a right wing, such as Nash, as the traded deadline approaches.

One caveat to note: It is unclear yet if Dallas is on the trade or no-trade side of Nash’s list. It doesn’t hurt to explore the possibility of his joining the Stars roster, though, on the chance that he’s available to Dallas at this point.

With that said, let’s take a brief look at the type of player the 33-year-old Nash currently is and what he could provide the Stars through the remainder of the season (and a potential playoff run.)

The first item to note about Rick Nash is his large size. He is a massive presence on the ice, measuring 6’4” and weighing in at 220 pounds. Nash uses this advantage to lean on opposing defense both in neutral ice and in front of the net. His height also gives him a longer reach which, coupled with his gifted puck handling abilities and world-class shot, makes him extremely dangerous in front of the opposing net. When faced with the long-limbed bulldozer that is Rick Nash, the best thing a defenseman can do is get out of his way.

NHL: New York Rangers at San Jose Sharks
Nash uses his height and weight to scramble defense in front of the net.
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to his looming size, his ability to score goals consistently makes him an ideal rental option. Nash has been a steady goal producer for most of his career and he’s scored more than 40 goals in two seasons. He’s recorded over 30 goals a season seven times and only under 20 just once in his career. In 52 games this season, he has so far produced 15 goals, which could pace out to 25 goals by the end of the season due to his current shot percentage of 9.3%.

As of February 4, Nash has tallied 431 goals in 1,041 games played. Currently, he is ranked third in overall active goal scoring. These consistently impressive numbers are why Nash will be a hot commodity at the deadline and during the free agency period this summer.

There is also a documented connection between Nash and Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Nash played under Hitchcock for four seasons in Columbus and was captain for two of those seasons. This prior experience would be ideal for the Stars due to the fact that Nash already understands Hitchcock’s style of play and would fit well with his current approach to coaching the team. This past work with Hitchcock would make for a faster integration for Nash into the Stars lineup once the team has moved past the deadline and into the game-heavy weeks that follow.

Despite his physicality, illustrious goal-scoring seasons, and prior connection with Hitchcock, Nash does have some negatives in his game that have become evident in the past few seasons.

Nash is not an overly physical player for his size and he has a documented history of injuries that have slowed him down. At the beginning of his career, he skated well for a player of his size, but this grace and agility has slowed as knee, groin, and back injuries have taken their combined toll on his bigger frame.

This has created a drop in production during the past few seasons and is evidenced by the dip in his numbers. Nash’s overall goals scored fell from 42 goals in the 2014-15 season to just 15 in 2015-16 - a season when injuries limited him to only 60 games. His total goals scored rebounded with 23 goals last season through 67 games. As mentioned above, he is on track to achieve near the same total by the end of the 2017-18 season.

Nash is also what is known as a “streaky scorer”, which is both good and bad news for the team that would acquire him. On the one hand, Nash’s scoring streaks are highly productive, such as his streak of seven goals through five games in January 2014. However, the streaks of games without goals can be just as long, as evidenced by a twelve-game goal drought that spanned most of December 2017 to the middle of January this year.

Based on the numbers, it’s fair to state that Nash is a dominant player, but in doses.

NHL: New York Rangers at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the hot-and-cold streaks, the Stars would benefit from securing a player like Nash before the deadline. The Stars already boast three 20-plus goal scorers with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. However, those three play most games on the same line, making the team extremely top heavy when it comes to goals scored. The Stars would benefit from an addition of depth and experience down the lineup as they move into the tight schedule after the trade deadline.

With the addition of Nash, the projected new forward lines of the Stars might look similar to this:

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Rick Nash
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Tyler Pitlick
Devin Shore - Martin Hanzal - Brett Ritchie

This lineup would present a threat for opposing teams in the latter half of the season and potentially into the playoffs. Not only would the Stars have the dynamite top line of Benn-Seguin-Radulov, but the Spezza line would benefit from the addition of Nash. His larger frame and proven sniper ability paired with Janmarks’ speed and Spezza’s playmaking would make for a dynamic and vital second line.

As a result of this shuffle, Hanzal would center an equally large and speed-driven line with Ritchie and Shore. The third line would demonstrate a shift upward in hits and shots on goal with Roussel and Pitlick on either side of Faksa. With the Seguin line still producing the highest amount of goals through the roster, Nash would not be expected to be the focal point of shot generation for the Stars, unlike his current position with the Rangers.

Despite all of the reasons stated thus far to add Nash to the Stars, the salary cap expectations will play an important role at the trade deadline for the team. Nash’s current salary is listed on CapFriendly as $7.9 million through the end of the 2017-18 season and he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

With a daily cap hit of $41,935, Nash would cost approximately $1.7 million at the trade deadline. CapFriendly has the Stars with approximately $1.8 million in cap space at the trade deadline, so they might be able to fit Nash’s contract under the cap ceiling. However, that tight of a fit would leave the team hamstringed if a player got injured as they may not be able to fit a call-up under the cap, so it’s likely that any deal for Nash would need to have salary cap space either retained on the Rangers’ side or salary traded to New York from Dallas’ side.

Stars fans should also keep in mind that Rick Nash would most likely be a rental for the team as they grind through the rest of an increasingly difficult schedule. In a perfect world, this move would be a win for the Stars and could serve as an energy boost to Nash and the bottom six of the Stars lineup. Depth scoring would likely see an increase and some shot generation pressure would be lifted from the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line.

The Dallas Stars are first in the wild card race with 66 points (five points above Minnesota with two more games played) and they are one point out of third place in the Central Division behind the St. Louis Blues (with the same number of games played).

At this point in the season, each game at the American Airlines Center feels similar to a playoff game for the team and its fans, and each home game is vitally important to the race for the playoffs. The possible addition of Rick Nash would be a boost to the team’s push to the finish line.