Is Rick Nash Realistically Tradable?

Earlier today I had a fun & engaging twitter debate with the one and only Ellen Etchingham  (@theory_of_ice) of Backhand Shelf @ The Score about the return Scott Howson is asking in exchange for Rick Nash. She got me thinking: Why aren’t teams willing to pay up to get a consistent 30+ goal scorer (with a potential for much higher numbers) in Rick Nash?

Lately it seems that fans of 29 other teams are getting upset with #CBJ GM Scott Howson for not rushing to get a deal done. There appears to be a pseudo-outrage at his asking price for Rick Nash. The idea seems to be that Howson holding out on a better deal for Nash is causing other teams to delay their team’s free agency moves and teams/fans are growing impatient. As a #CBJ fan I say “So F’ing what?”

We’re not talking about your average trade here. We’re talking about the face of this franchise. For 8 of the last 11 years, Nash has been “the guy” in Columbus. Note: those are the only 11 years in franchise history; and by “the guy” I should say “the only guy”. Should Howson really be expected to lower his asking price and take the current best deal available on the player who almost single handedly made #CBJ hockey relevant? At this point, I say: Absolutely not. In my opinion, Howson should hold out as long as possible. Hold out until he’s gotten the absolute best offers he’s going to get from all interested teams, regardless if they are on the list or not. After evaluating all options, if nothing is suitable then he should re-evaluate his asking price and decide if he’s willing to come down on the price. If not? Well, I’ll get to that at the end.

So, what exactly is Howson asking for? I have no idea. No one else appears to either. The general consensus is that he’s asking for younger forwards or ‘blue chip’ offensive prospects. But even the general consensus seems to change frequently. First we heard that he wanted two roster players, two prospects and a draft pick. Shortly after we heard that there was no set formula. Every time we hear about Howson asking for a specific player a few days later we hear that that specific player was never part of the talks. No one seems to know what he’s asking for but teams seem to be unwilling to part with the most of their roster players or quality prospects. Why?

As one reddit.com/r/hockey user pointed out: perhaps it’s because Nash is, for the most part, suitably paid for his production. I looked at the list of the top 25 player salaries for 2012-13 and grabbed the stats of the top 18 forwards (sans Crosby for reasons explained below):

Player 2012-13 2011-12
Name Salary GP G A Pts Pts/GM $ per Goal $ per Assist $ Per Point
Steven Stamkos $8,000,000 82 60 37 97 1.18 133,333.33 216,216.22 82,474.23
Evgeni Malkin $9,000,000 75 50 59 109 1.45 180,000.00 152,542.37 82,568.81
Joe Thornton $7,000,000 82 18 59 77 0.94 388,888.89 118,644.07 90,909.09
Jason Spezza $8,000,000 80 34 50 84 1.05 235,294.12 160,000.00 95,238.10
Marian Gaborik $7,500,000 82 41 35 76 0.93 182,926.83 214,285.71 98,684.21
Marian Hossa $7,900,000 81 29 48 77 0.95 272,413.79 164,583.33 102,597.40
Jarome Iginla $7,000,000 82 32 35 67 0.82 218,750.00 200,000.00 104,477.61
Henrik Zetterberg $7,750,000 82 22 47 69 0.84 352,272.73 164,893.62 112,318.84
Rick Nash $7,600,000 82 30 29 59 0.72 253,333.33 262,068.97 128,813.56
Ilya Kovalchuk $11,000,000 77 37 46 83 1.08 297,297.30 239,130.43 132,530.12
Alex Ovechkin $9,000,000 78 38 27 65 0.83 236,842.11 333,333.33 138,461.54
Eric Staal $8,500,000 82 24 46 60 0.73 354,166.67 184,782.61 141,666.67
Danny Briere $7,000,000 70 16 33 49 0.70 437,500.00 212,121.21 142,857.14
Mike Cammalleri $7,000,000 66 20 21 41 0.62 350,000.00 333,333.33 170,731.71
Zach Parise $12,000,000 82 31 38 69 0.84 387,096.77 315,789.47 173,913.04
Brad Richards $12,000,000 82 25 41 66 0.80 480,000.00 292,682.93 181,818.18
Mike Richards $8,400,000 74 18 26 44 0.59 466,666.67 323,076.92 190,909.09
Vincent Lecavalier $10,000,000 64 22 27 49 0.77 454,545.45 370,370.37 204,081.63

Why did I choose to go with actual salary versus cap hit? Mostly because some players (like Nash and Ovi) signed their contracts before the extremely long front-loaded contracts like Kovalchuk’s became popular as a way to drive down cap hit. Why did I use next year’s salary? Because we’re discussing where Nash will be next season and some of these players just signed new contracts based on last year’s performance. I didn’t pre-pick these numbers because I knew it would skew this in Nash’s favor. I was actually expecting Nash to be one of the more expensive dollars per points players. Note: I also didn’t include Crosby due to his smaller number of games played.

Based on these numbers, Nash’s $128K per point falls right in the middle of the pack of these top paid players. He’s not a steal like Stamkos at $82,474 per point but he’s also not one of the guys costing $190,000+ each. So Nash’s contract, while expensive, is for the most part not completely unreasonable when compared to similar contracts. The problem is he’s not out-performing it. The team taking on his contract won’t be getting more for their money. So Nash’s contract isn’t really helping things out but it’s not entirely bad. What other factors could be at play?

One possible reason is that his stats have declined year over year. His point totals have gone from 79 in 2008-09 to to 67, 66 and then 59 in the next three years. Another, albeit less relevant reason, could be that he’s not getting any younger.

If you’re the Carolina Hurricanes and you’re looking to acquire Rick Nash from the #CBJ and Scott Howson says “Sure, but I’m going to need Jeff Skinner” you’re probably going to say no pretty quickly. Skinner, age 20 and the 2011 Calder Trophy winner, put up a 31-32-63 stat line in his rookie season. His stats for last season (20-24-44) dropped off a bit but he only played in 64 games compared to 82 the year before. How much is Skinner set to make in 2012-13? $1,400,000. Would you trade your Calder Trophy winning player that’s got the potential to match Nash’s stats but is 8 years younger and makes over $6 Million less? I wouldn’t either.

The same scenario applies to guys like Chris Kreider in New York (age 21, 5-2-7 in 18 playoff games, $1.33M next season) or Logan Couture in San Jose (age 23, 31-34-65 last season, $2.87M next season). The issue is these are the type of players that have the potential to equal Nash’s offensive as early as next season but can also be had for $4-6M less per season and are 4-8 years younger than Nash. Simply put, there’s nothing to gain for teams to trade these guys for Nash. They would be taking on more money and an older player for similar production. If not these teams, then who could use Nash?

The ideal team, in my opinion, for a Nash trade is one that is offensively inept and in need of a consistent 30+ goal scorer and/or in need of some star power to get people in the doors. Columbus is looking to trade a 30+ goal scorer for younger, proven goal scoring and there’s just not enough incentive for teams to make that trade. A more likely scenario would have the  #CBJ trade Nash to a team that’s loaded on defense but is in desperate need of some offense (like Nashville, but please don’t trade him to Nashville). The problem here is that Columbus doesn’t need defense. Next year’s D corps is looking to be the best the #CBJ have ever had and could be one of the best in the league. Columbus is stuck in a situation where they are trying to trade older, expensive, possibly declining offense for younger, cheaper, up & coming offense while the teams most in need of offense only have defense to give, which Columbus doesn’t need. So what now?

A crazy idea could be to find an offensive heavy team (like Edmonton) that is in need of Defense and swing a 3-team deal that sends Nash to the D-heavy team, a D or two to the O-heavy team and some younger offense back to Columbus. I don’t know when the last time a 3-team trade was done effectively in the NHL but I’ve seen it done in the NBA before. I’ll have to think on this idea a bit more (maybe a future post?).

If a deal cannot be reached with one of the approved teams that matches what Howson is willing to accept and some crazy 3-team deal doesn’t happen… then what? I say keep him. He agreed to sign an 8 year deal with the Blue Jackets. Howson is under no obligation to trade him. Sure things might get a little messy but if I am in Howson’s shoes come mid-August and something still isn’t done I go to Nash and say “Sorry, we just couldn’t make a deal work, we’re going to need you to report to camp in September. Who knows, maybe things turn around here quickly or one of your desired locations has injury issues or just isn’t getting the offensive output they were looking for. Maybe they up the offer mid-season and then and we can make something happen then.”

If you follow any NFL news you might have seen that a couple weeks ago that a Minnesota Vikings player, Percy Harvin, requested a trade. The team being under no obligation to trade him simply said “No” and he reported back to camp shortly after. I’d like to think that Nash is the kind of player that would be willing to set aside his differences and focus on his game if that were to happen.

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