Concussion issues force Rick Nash to retire from NHL

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Rick Nash’s hockey career is unfortunately coming to an end and not on his own terms. After 15 years and 1,060 NHL games, the longtime forward announced his retirement in a statement through his agent on Friday morning,

From Joe Resnick of Top Shelf Sports Management Inc, via Darren Dreger:

Due to unresolved issues/symptons from the concussion sustained last March, Rick Nash will be forced to retire from the game of hockey. Under the advice of his medical team, the risk of further brain injury is far too great if Rick returns to play. Rick would like to thank everyone who has supported him during this difficult time period.

When Nash’s contract expired after last season, he announced in late June that he would not be signing during free agency and would take his time deciding if he would play again. The concussion he suffered after a trade to the Boston Bruins was still giving him issues, and while a number of teams checked in on him once the 2018-19 season got under way, there were no signs of a comeback.

Nash, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, finishes his career with 437 goals and 805 points. He was a six-time All-Star, won a Rocket Richard Trophy, two Olympic gold medals, gold at the World Championships, hit the 20-goal mark in all but two of his 15 seasons and reached 40 three times.

He also scored one of the more memorable goals of this era back in 2008:

Nash’s departure from Columbus still leaves mixed feelings, he wasn’t greeted too warmly when he returned as a New York Ranger during the 2015 All-Star Game, but he’s one of the Blue Jackets’ greatest players ever and still holds a number of franchise records like goals, points and power play goals.

There’s no question that No. 61 should someday hang from the Nationwide Arena rafters, and despite the feelings about Nash’s departure, we’ve seen that time can heal wounds with hockey fans.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panarin, Blue Jackets seem destined for disappointing split

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In his first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin turned out to be everything the team could have possibly hoped for him to be. If anything, he may have exceeded their expectations. After two outstanding years riding shotgun alongside Patrick Kane in Chicago, Panarin arrived in Columbus and proved that he could be an impact player while carrying his own line and not only matched his production from Chicago, he managed to improve on it almost across the board.

He set a new career in total points. He averaged more shots on goal per game. His possession numbers jumped to an elite level. He was Columbus’ best and most impactful player for the entire season. When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Blue Jackets controlled 57 percent of the total shot attempts. They outscored teams by a 61-37 margin. Without him on the ice the Blue Jackets were outshot (49 percent shot attempt) and outscored (108-111).

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

He gave them the exact type of player they had been lacking for years: an All-Star level forward still in the prime of his career that could be command the attention of every team in the league the second he jumped over the boards.

After all of that Columbus now seems like it could be on the precipice of losing him entirely, a development that would be yet another disappointing blow to an organization that has known nothing but disappointment throughout its existence.

Entering the final year of his contract, Panarin is now eligible to sign a long-term deal with the Blue Jackets, something the team would no doubt have an interest in doing. As already noted, Panarin is one of the best offensive players in the league and at age 26 is still at a point in his career where he should still have several highly productive years ahead of him. Signing to a long-term deal and making him one of your cornerstone players would be a totally logical and sensible thing to do.

The problem for the Blue Jackets is that both sides have to be willing to make that happen, and Panarin does not seem willing to sign a long-term deal with Columbus at this time. To the point where he does not want to even enter into contract negotiations with the team at this moment.

Over the weekend Panarin’s agent, Daniel Milstein, spoke with The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline regarding the current situation and none of it sounds terribly promising for Blue Jackets fans. While Milstein paints a great picture of Panarin loving Columbus, the team, and the coach, the entire thing boils down to this line: “It’s about, does he want to spend the next eight years in Columbus? That’s the only thing at stake right now. If it was a two-year deal we probably would have done it. But it isn’t a two-year deal. It’s gonna have to be an extended, seven- or eight-year deal put in place.”

Milstein also pointed out that while Columbus is trying to find a trade partner, he has not provided Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen with a list of teams he would go to and he has not asked for permission to speak to potential teams when it comes to working out a contract.

You can read the full interview here (subscription required).

This leaves the Blue Jackets in a less than ideal spot.

On one hand, they still have Panarin for at least one more season and while he is not willing to negotiate a new contract at this time, there is always a chance he could change his mind at any moment and decide that, yes, Columbus is a place he would like to commit eight years to. That would be the ideal result.

But if you are the Blue Jackets are you willing to take that chance and risk putting yourself in a position to get Tavares’d next July and lose your best player for nothing as a free agent? If you think you are one or two moves away from winning a Stanley Cup — or seriously competing for one — this season maybe you ride it out and hope for the best. But in a division that has the past three Stanley Cup champions, and in a conference where Toronto and Tampa Bay are going toe-to-toe in an arms race — and oh let’s not forget that Boston is pretty damn good, too — the odds seem remarkably stacked against Columbus in this one year.

As painful as it might be for Blue Jackets fans, a trade might be the most sensible option here.

And that would stink. For one, it is nearly impossible to trade a player like Panarin and end up coming out ahead when it comes to value (just ask the Chicago Blackhawks).

That still might be better than losing him for nothing.

Then there is the hit Columbus would take in terms of its reputation.

Despite back-to-back postseason appearances this is still a team that is fighting for an identity. After 17 seasons they have still yet to actually win a postseason series, while the few star players that have played for the organization have all moved on without much team success. They were never able to build a contender around Rick Nash, while Jeff Carter spent his half season in Columbus as a mostly empty uniform before being traded for Jack Johnson.

There has not been a lot of good here.

Last week Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella felt compelled to passionately (and profanely!) defend the organization after a perceived slight from Johnson after joining the Pittsburgh Penguins — Tortorella’s long-time arch-nemesis — and talking about wanting to be a part of a winning culture.

“This is the Columbus Blue Jackets and we’re fighting our ass off to gain respect in this league, and we’re getting there,” Tortorella told Portzline (subscription required). “We’re getting there.”

And they are! They really, truly are.

Over the past two years the Blue Jackets’ 95 wins are the fourth-most in the NHL behind only Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Given the success of those three teams (Pittsburgh and Washington won the Stanley Cup those two years while Tampa Bay was in the Eastern Conference Final this past year) that is strong company to be in.

Panarin was a big part of that regular season success this past year and would ideally be a part of the first Blue Jackets team to actually make some serious noise in the postseason. He is that type of player and could be that type of building block alongside Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

At this point, though, that just does not seem like something that is destined to happen and that one way or another his future seems to be in another city with another team.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sharks also lock up Hertl after signing Thornton, missing out on Tavares

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A day after failing to land John Tavares, the San Jose Sharks are keeping familiar faces in the fold.

Not long after inking Joe Thornton to a one-year, $5 million contract (more on that here), the Sharks announced a four-year contract for RFA forward Tomas Hertl.

The Sharks didn’t disclose Hertl’s cap hit yet for reasons, so this post will be updated when more is known about the financial terms. The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that it is $5.625M per season, which would leave the Sharks with approximately $8.2M in cap space.

“Tomas took a big step forward last season, both on and off the ice, and we feel that he is just starting to hit his prime,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “He has the ability to be a dominant player in this League and proved during the playoffs that he can take over any given game with his combination of skill and strength. His capability to play both center and the wing gives our team some flexibility, and he has one of the most infectious personalities in our dressing room. We’re excited he made this commitment to our organization.”

Hertl, 24, set a career high with 22 goals this past season while matching his career-best with 46 points. The Jagrloving, Czech-born forward already has two 20+ goal seasons to his name. He’s generally been a strong possession player for San Jose, although his numbers were more pedestrian in that regard during the 2017-18 campaign.

This constitutes most of the in-house moves on the docket for the Sharks, although Chris Tierney is still an RFA.

As mentioned earlier, the Sharks may also consider adding another piece or two. The free agent crop is already pretty shallow, however, especially with Thornton out of this mix and Rick Nash‘s future in question.

The trade route seems especially sensible, as wingers Max Pacioretty and Jeff Skinner could make a lot of sense, even just as stopgaps for San Jose. The team is structured to win now – Thornton celebrated his 39th birthday while signing his contract – so giving up futures for a longer rental could make quite a bit of sense.

One avenue that seems unlikely but interesting may also be firing out an offer sheet.

Considering how much the Senators are pinching pennies, would Wilson be smart in sending a “poison pill” to Ottawa’s Mark Stone?

While it seems unlikely, the Sharks rank as one of the only franchises that would at least consider it. As you may recall, they deployed that tactic against the Chicago Blackhawks when they unsuccessfully targeted Niklas Hjalmarsson during the 2010 summer when they eventually got Antti Niemi. That obviously was quite a while ago, but Wilson remains in the GM seat for San Jose, so it’s at least worth mentioning.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Best remaining free agents by position

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Most of the big money has already been spent in free agency. Names like John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny and James Neal have all found new homes. Although there aren’t many big names left on the market, there are still some quality players left that can help make a team better.

Here’s the best of the rest by position:

Center

Joe Thornton: Everyone expects Thornton to return to San Jose, but as of right now he’s still an unrestricted free agent. The 39-year-old is coming off a knee injury. He had 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games last season. Thornton isn’t the same player he once was, but he can still be a complementary piece on a good Sharks team.

Antoine Vermette: The veteran isn’t as productive as he once was, but there’s still likely going to be in demand over the next couple of days. The 35-year-old had just eight goals and eight assists in 64 games with Anaheim last season.

Daniel Winnik: The 33-year-old plays a very specific kind of role, as he’s an energy forward and penalty killer. Winnik had six goals and 23 points in 81 games with Minnesota last year. There probably won’t be a rush to sign the veteran, but he can still be a useful asset. He’s also capable of playing center and wing.

As you can probably tell, the center market is pretty thin.

Wing

Rick Nash: He’s the only 20-goal scorer left on the market now that James Neal has landed in Calgary. The  problem is that the 34-year-old isn’t sure if he wants to keep playing hockey. Nash suffered another concussion after he joined the Bruins, so that’s got to be weighing on him and his huge decision.

Patrick Maroon: The rugged winger split last season with Edmonton and New Jersey and he remained relatively productive, as he accumulated 17 goals and 43 points in 74 games. There probably would have been more interest in his services if he wouldn’t have had to undergo back surgery this offseason. Maroon will still find a nice landing spot in the next few days.

Anthony Duclair: Since he scored 20 goals and 44 points back in 2015-16, Duclair’s career has been a bit of a disappointment. The Coyotes gave him every opportunity to succeed after they got him from the Rangers, but things just never materialized. The 22-year-old was shipped to Chicago last season, but that didn’t help ignite his career either. But he’s still young and a team should roll the dice on his upside.

Defense

Calvin de Haan: The 27-year-old isn’t an offensive juggernaut by any means, but he’s on the right side of 30 and he’s fully capable of serving as an effective number four or five defenseman on a solid team. De Haan was limited to just 33 games last season, but he played in 82 contests the year before that.

Luca Sbisa: Like de Haan, Sbisa also missed a significant amount of time last year. The 28-year-old had two goals and 14 points in 30 games with the Golden Knights. Sbisa is a bottom-pairing defenseman that is capable of moving the puck a little bit.

Dan Hamhuis: The 35-year-old is a defensive defenseman that averaged over 20 minutes of ice time with Dallas last season. He had three goals and 24 points in 80 contests last season, which isn’t awful considering the style he plays.

Alexei Emelin: The Russian blueliner went from being Shea Weber‘s defense partner in Montreal two years ago to being a bottom-pairing defender in Nashville. Emelin doesn’t give his team much when it comes to offense or moving the puck up the ice, but he’s a hard-nosed defender that can lay people out.

Goalies

Steve Mason: After signing with the Jets last season, Mason was moved to the Montreal Canadiens late last week. The Habs, who had a ton of cap space, opted to buy out the netminder, so that’s why he’s on the market right now. The 30-year-old had a rough year in Winnipeg. He was plagued by injuries and never really settled into his new city. Some added playing time will do him some good.

Robin Lehner: At 26 years old, Lehner still has time to develop into the number one goalie many expected him to be, but he’s going to have to do it soon. He had a 14-26-9 record with a 3.01 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage with Buffalo last season. Playing on a decent team could benefit him in a big way.

Kari Lehtonen: His days of being a big money goaltender are over. The 34-year-old hasn’t posted decent numbers in a while, so he’s more of a backup netminder at this point of his career. Finding his next home won’t be easy given his recent performances and age.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Best bargains on day one of NHL free agency

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With all the money thrown around – often recklessly – in free agency, it’s probably tough to believe that you can find bargains. You know, aside from no-brainer deals like Toronto signing John Tavares.

Such a notion seems especially unthinkable during the first day of the open market, and that’s not just because the Vancouver Canucks continue to confound the hockey world with confusing contracts. It’s probably tempting for some fans to pool money for a billboard just to ask their GMs to wait until after July 1 to strike deals.

As tough as it might be to believe, there actually were a few contracts that look great, at least as of today.

(Injuries, clashes with coaching staffs, and plenty of other variables can make such praise seem silly in hindsight, however.)

These signings rank as the best of the bargain bin as free agency began.

[For a full list of free agent moves, including in the days leading up to today, click here]

Buffalo Sabres make a smart buy in net: Carter Hutton as a team’s top goalie is a risky proposition if he’s paid like a top goalie normally would be.

In the case of Buffalo, though, Hutton ranks as an expensive backup, pay-wise. Read this post for more on that.

Not a lot of cash for Riley Nash: The Columbus Blue Jackets landed a “Ri- Nash,” but not Rick Nash, on Sunday. There’s a strong chance that we’ll look back at that as a good thing.

TSN’s Darren Dreger and others report that Nash’s cap hit will be a meager $2.75 million through 2020-21. That could end up being a steal for a 29-year-old center who scored 15 goals and 46 points last season; he looked especially impressive for the Boston Bruins when he was pressed into top-line duty thanks to injuries to Patrice Bergeron.

At the moment, the Blue Jackets must feel limited in how they can spend, as both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky enter contract years in 2018-19. This signing improved Columbus’ scoring depth while leaving plenty of space for bigger names.

An affordable reunion for St. Louis: Yes, David Perron‘s bounced around the NHL quite a bit, and he didn’t end things all that well with the Vegas Golden Knights, as his offense dried up late in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to forget just how integral the 30-year-old winger was to Vegas’ success during the regular season, though. Perron managed close to a point-per-game, as he generating 66 in 70 contests. He was “clutch,” too, as three of his four game-winning goals came in overtime.

Perron’s enjoyed plenty of success before, including during his previous tours with St. Louis. Read more about the Perron signing (and the more debatable Tyler Bozak deal) in this post.

Cheap gambles on goalies: Consider aforementioned bargain goalie Carter Hutton as the ace of a class of goalies who could deliver great puck-stops for the buck.

To put things mildly, Petr Mrazek‘s experienced a bumpy road the last few years, including erratic play in Detroit and then Philly last season. There’s been some distance between his best moments and today, which explains why he only commanded a one-year deal at a cheap $1.5M.

That said, his best days showed a lot of promise, including a 2015-16 season with the Red Wings when he managed a 27-16-6 record with a strong .921 save percentage. Carolina’s been the place where goalie stats go to die. What if, instead, Mrazek could revive his career with the Hurricanes? It’s worth a shot, especially if Scott Darling‘s own struggles aren’t a one-year headache.

The Blues lost Carter Hutton this summer, but they turned around and signed Chad Johnson, another goalie who’s seen some nice moments, to a one-year, $1.75M deal.

While Johnson suffered a lousy season with Buffalo, he’s shown multiple flourishes of being the type of backup who can hold down the fort with good-to-great numbers if a starter flounders. Jake Allen‘s faced his ups and downs since becoming the Blues’ top goalie, so Johnson’s presence may be crucial to St. Louis’ hopes of returning to the postseason.

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You can make some other arguments for bargains. If you stretch the rules and count extensions, Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing for almost $3M less per season than Drew Doughty could be a big deal for Arizona, particularly since the budget team is hoping to be competitive. As strange as this sounds, Tavares at $11M per year probably stands as a relative bargain, too.

What are some contracts that stand as steals to you? Do any of the listed bargains actually count as albatross deals? Do tell.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.