Is Nash the right fit?
WITH NASH, REWARD FAR OUTWEIGHS RISK
It's clear the Rangers feel this is their window. Not just to contend this season, but to position themselves as an elite team for the next four or five years.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been absurdly dominant, Marian Gaborik has been tremendous and even Brad Richards, who has experienced his ups and downs, leads the league with a remarkable seven game-winning goals.
What do those players all have in common? With Gaborik's birthday last week, they all are 30 years old or older. That's not to say players cannot win past a certain age, but the case must be made that all three are in the prime of their careers. A promising core and a collection of stars can one year seem destined for success only to crumble soon after.
The Rangers' pursuit of Rick Nash means the front office must believe two things to be true: (1) The team, as currently comprised, is still at least one piece shy of a Stanley Cup and (2) the team has a very real chance of contending for the Cup if an offensive player of Nash's caliber is added.
Any Rangers fan who thinks the team should not sell the farm is right -- it shouldn't and it won't -- but putting together a championship team ultimately means parting with assets in addition to acquiring them.
Also, understand: If the Rangers do not pull the trigger on Nash, they will doggedly pursue coveted winger Zach Parise in free agency this summer. If Parise doesn't reach free agency, they'll be courting one of Nashville's defensemen -- Ryan Suter (unrestricted free agent) or Shea Weber (via trade). Either way, they'll be big players this July, as they always are.
Both players likely will require a similar financial commitment to Nash, perhaps a lower annual average value but probably longer in term. The big difference? Nash will be 34 years old at the expiration of his eight-year, $62.4 million deal. Parise and Weber, assuming they can command 10-year deals north of $70 million, will be 37 and 36, respectively.
The Rangers have salary cap room this season to trade for Nash, or the flexibility to add Parise or Weber the next. The Rangers will need to sign young cornerstone players Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh the following season, but both will be coming out of their entry-level deals with no arbitration rights. A one-year deal for the two players until Gaborik's contract expires gives the Rangers some maneuverability.
For all the Nash naysayers? The former first overall pick has posted four straight seasons of 32 goals or more with little offensive talent around him in Columbus. And if anyone can elicit the maximum potential from a player (see Gaborik, this year) it is coach John Tortorella, whose efforts this season could very well earn him the Jack Adams Award.
This trade carries inherent risk, no doubt. But it also portends a huge potential reward.
RANGERS ARE ROLLING. WHY MESS WITH SUCCESS?
Look, I know New York's sports landscape has seen its share of guarantees, but acquiring Rick Nash guarantees precisely nothing when it comes to the New York Rangers and the Stanley Cup.
A trade for Nash would be a gamble and, in my estimation, a sizable one. How could an All-Star goal scorer not pay dividends? I'm thinking Marian Gaborik circa last season could provide a hint or two.
The New York Rangers might (might) be an improved offensive team with Nash changing from Blue Jacket to Blueshirt, but the Rangers are far from goal-starved with the 11th-best goals-per-game mark in the league (2.77).
Ask yourself a question: How did the Rangers get here? How did they build a nine-point lead in the Eastern Conference?
This is a team built on character and chemistry. Why mess with that? This formula is working, and there's no reason to get greedy and drastically change the look of this franchise.
The Rangers' Stanley Cup window has only just opened. The defensive unit has seen a leap forward with the emergence of Ryan McDonagh and the renaissance of Michael Del Zotto. Of course, those two players are frequently linked in trade rumors with Nash.
Why should the Rangers break up their biggest strength to chase a one-dimensional goal scorer with a huge salary cap hit as he begins the downslope of his career?
Such a cap hit would greatly complicate a new deal for Del Zotto this summer -- assuming he's not dealt -- not to mention those of McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer in two years' time.
As it stands, the Rangers sit atop the Eastern Conference. They didn't get there by accident. New York also enjoys a plethora of prospects and young NHL talent that should keep it near the top of the league for several seasons to come. That's no accident, either. It was a smart strategy that is just now paying dividends.
Veer away from that thinking now, and those young assets won't be around to help down the road when the Rangers really need them -- either on the ice or on the trading block.