Rick Nash

An appreciation of the underappreciated Rick Nash

1 Comment

Rick Nash announced his retirement from the NHL on Friday, officially ending a 15-year career that was far better than it was ever given credit for being while it was happening.

He is a perfect example of how team success drives the narrative around an individual player, and just how difficult, if not impossible, it can be for one player to alter the path of an entire organization — especially in a sport like hockey where one player can never carry an entire team on their own.

When you look at what he actually did in the NHL, he was outstanding. He was one of the best goal-scorers of his generation and a constant force when he was on the ice. He could drive possession, he became one of the league’s most dangerous and effective penalty killers, and he had immense skill that produced some breathtaking plays with the puck, such as this goal that happened nearly 11 years to the day.

Still, his entire career seemed to be dogged by criticism for what he didn’t do, as opposed to what he was doing.

And what he was doing was scoring a hell of a lot of goals and at a level that few other players during his era ever reached.

He spent the first nine years of his career (and his best years in the NHL) stuck on a fledgling Columbus team that could barely get out of its own way and seemed completely incapable of building anything around him.

[Related: Concussion issues force Nash to retire from NHL]

Anytime a player is taken No. 1 overall (as Nash was in 2002) there is always going to be an expectation that they are going to be the turning point to help lead a franchise stuck at the bottom of the league out of the darkness they are in.

In the NBA, one superstar can do that because of how much they play and how much of an impact one player can make due to the size of the rosters and how much the best players handle the ball.

In the NFL, a quarterback can do that because of the importance of the position and the impact it has on every game.

But in the NHL the best players only play, at most, a third of the game. When they are on the ice the puck is probably on their stick for about a minute of actual game time … if that. That is not enough time to carry an entire team.

Not even a player like Connor McDavid is capable of lifting a team on his own.

Just consider what Nash did during his time in Columbus.

During his nine years there he scored 289 goals, a number that put him among the top-eight players in the entire NHL. That’s an average of more than 32 goals per season, and the only two years where he didn’t score at least 30 were his rookie season and the 2006-07 season when he scored 27 in 75 games.

He won a goal-scoring crown in his second year in the league at the age of 19. Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk (nine each) were the only players to have more 30-goal seasons during that stretch. In the end he did what was expected of him. The problem is that during those nine years there was nobody else on his team that was anywhere close to him, or anything close to being an impact player.

Only one other player in a Blue Jackets uniform scored more than 90 goals (R.J. Umberger scored 94) during that stretch, and only other other (David Vyborny) scored more than 80. With all due respect to Umberger and Vyborny, both of whom were solid NHL players, if they are the second and third most productive goal-scorers on your team over an entire decade then things are probably not going to go well for your team.

There was never anybody else that could help carry the load offensively.

For his career, he ended up tallying 437 goals, a number that was topped by only three players during his years in the NHL (Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, and Patrick Marleau).

He was not only an outstanding player, he was one of the most underappreciated players of his era.

He was one of a handful of players from his era that were better than they were given credit for during their primes.

Among them…

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau — These two were the foundation of the San Jose Sharks organization for more than a decade and both put together Hall of Fame worthy careers. The thing is, they spent most of their time together being more of a punchline because the Sharks were never able to get over the hump in the playoffs. As the best players on the team, they were often the ones wearing the target for the criticism when things went wrong in the playoffs.

By now you have probably seen the stat that was circulating around last week regarding Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin having the same number of points from the start of the 2005-06 season when they both entered the league. It was impressive, and awesome, and a testament to their dominance in the league.

What stood out to me was the fact that Thornton was third on that list. Despite those years all coming in the second half of his career when he should have been, in theory, significantly slowing down. He never really did. He just kept dominating.

As for Marleau, well, just consider that he has scored 72 postseason goals in his career. No player in the NHL has scored more than him during the duration of his career. Even if you take into account that his career started way before many active players, he is still in the top-four since the start of the 2005-06 season.

Tomas Vokoun — In the 10 years he spent as a starting goaile between 2002-03 and 2012-13 there were only four goalies in the NHL that appeared in at least 200 games and had a higher career save percentage than him — Tim Thomas, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, and Pekka Rinne. Vokoun wasn’t just underappreciated, he was legitimately one of the best and most consistent goalies of his era. There is an argument to be made that Luongo also falls in this category, but he’s been around long enough and accomplished enough that I think the league has started to appreciate him for how good he has been. But Vokoun never really got the recognition, mostly because he spent the bulk of his career as a starter stuck on a bad Florida Panthers team. The only three times he had an opportunity to play in the playoffs, he was just as outstanding as he was during the regular season.

During the 2003-04 postseason in Nashville he recorded a .939 save percentage in a six-game first-round series loss to a heavily favored Detroit Red Wings team. During that series he allowed two goals or less in four of the six games … winning only two of them. In 2012-13, when he was a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh, he took over early in the first-round of that postseason and helped backstop the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Final with a .933 save percentage. That postseason run ended very similarly to his 2003 postseason by playing great for a team that could not give him any offensive support.

Patrik Elias — Elias’ career was fascinating because he spent the bulk of it playing in one of the worst eras ever for offense, on a team that was synonymous with defense, and yet … he was still one of the most productive players of his era. And everyone outside of New Jersey just kind of forgets that he existed. He played 1,200 games in the NHL, he topped 1,000 points, and he was a top-15 player in goals and total points during his career.

He is one of just 56 players in league history to have played in at least 1,200 games and record at least 1,000 points. Out of that group, 37 of them are already in the Hall of Fame and over the next decade there are probably quite a few more that will join them (Jaromir Jagr, Thornton, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Jarome Iginla).

Given all of that Elias had a borderline Hall of Fame career, especially when you factor in the fact he was a top player on two Stanley Cup winning teams, and he is mostly just kind of … forgotten.

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.

Concussion issues force Rick Nash to retire from NHL

4 Comments

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.

————

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.

The Buzzer: Bruins score eight while Hall makes it 23 straight

Getty Images
5 Comments

Players of the Night:

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: In a game that featured 12 goals, it was Krejci who stood out, scoring his first hat-trick in four years as the Bruins doubled up the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-4.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers: Barkov scored his third game-winning goal of the season in a two-goal game as the Panthers knocked off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. The win put the Panthers to within three points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Barkov also pushed his personal point streak to four games.

Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators: There’s no quit in these cats. The Predators won their sixth straight game and Arvidsson played a big role, bringing the Preds level at 2-2 in the second period before scoring the game-winner at the 14:52 mark of the third period. Nashville now leads the Winnipeg Jets by six points for the Central Division lead.

Highlights of the Night:

The question is starting to become, will Taylor Hall ever not put up a point again?

Connor McDavid is a cheat code on an old NES Game Genie:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Panthers 3, Devils 2

Hurricanes 4, Flyers 1

Bruins 8, Penguins 4

Lightning 5, Stars 4 (OT)

Predators 4, Oilers 2

Coyotes 5, Wild 3

Sharks 7, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Blue Jackets 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Should Winnipeg Jets stand pat at trade deadline?

Getty Images
5 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang

There are whispers that the Winnipeg Jets could stand pat at the trade deadline and get away with it.

It’s not necessarily the most popular opinion, but one that has gained a small following given how their season has shaped up to this point.

The growth of rookie forward Kyle Connor, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Sunday, has been impressive. Connor went from a mediocre training camp that saw him begin the season in the American Hockey League to play a vital role on Winnipeg’s top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

Jack Roslovic began the season in the AHL and was only called up recently to fill in the gaps as Winnipeg’s health began to deteriorate. Now, Roslovic, a dynamic player with speed and play-making ability, has performed so well that he likely won’t see the minors again.

The Jets are also anticipating the return of towering center Adam Lowry (out with an upper-body injury) and defenseman Jacob Trouba (out with a lower-body injury) by the time the playoffs roll around, turning into quasi-trade deadline additions.

The Jets, who have scored 13 goals in their past two games, are as good as any other team in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. A recent adjustment to their lines — one that included putting 20-plus goal scorers Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on the third unit — has diversified Winnipeg’s top-nine to a scary extent.

The Jets have three lines that are capable, at the moment, of putting up a lot of points on any given night. So the argument that the Jets don’t need to add someone to their top-six, or even their top-nine, has some merit.

That said, as the old sports cliche goes: there’s always room to improve. The Jets could still use some depth on the fourth line. Matt Hendricks, while a good presence in the room and a decent penalty killer, isn’t the quickest player on the ice. Joel Armia shows flashes of brilliance and then goes on long stretches where he’s mostly invisible. The return of Brandon Tanev from injury will be useful in that regard. But adding a budget center could be the shrewd move general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to solidify a solid fourth-line combo.

On defense, Ben Chiarot has played admirably in place of Trouba but he may be a surplus to requirements when Trouba returns. One wonders what Cheveldayoff is thinking when it comes to Toby Enstrom, however. The diminutive defenseman had a tough outing in the physical department during the Jets last playoff appearance — their only visit since returning to Winnipeg — during the 2014-15 season. And his injury history should have the Jets thinking about at least shoring up that possibility.

The Jets could turn to Chiarot’s size and physicality in a similar scenario or could turn to the trade market for another option.

This is a good headache for any general manager. The Jets are one of the top teams in the NHL without having made a trade thus far this season.

Their goaltending has been spectacular, their power play has been lethal and their penalty kill is up near the top. Bell MTS Place has become a place teams go to die and the Jets, at the moment, would have home-ice advantage in the first round.

It makes for an interesting week leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.

Here’s a look at what the Jets could be/are considering:

Forwards

Rick Nash: A pricey rental player that would add size and scoring to the Jets top-six. But pricey is the key word here and it’s unlikely the Jets want to dig into the farm to own a guy for a couple months.

Mike Hoffman: Skilled and quick with the ability to score. He would be a good fit for the Jets, but as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the weekend, Hoffman has a limited no-movement clause and Winnipeg is on the list. With term left on his deal, the price wouldn’t be cheap either.

Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu: Two depth forwards that would bolster Winnipeg’s bottom end. Maroon isn’t the fastest guy around, and he’s not scoring 27 goals like he did last season playing with Connor McDavid. But a fresh start after not getting a contract in Edmonton might be just what Maroon needs to get his confidence up and running. Letestu, meanwhile, offers bottom-six depth up the middle. Matt Hendricks, currently occupying the fourth-line center role, didn’t play in last year’s playoffs for the Oilers. He could make way again depending on what the Jets do at the deadline. These would be cheaper options.

Ryan Hartman: It would be odd for the Chicago Blackhawks to trade a 23-year-old budding forward to a divisional rival, but stranger things have happened. Hartman had 19 goals in his rookie season last year and is playing on a very poor Blackhawks team this year. The price tag is likely high on him as well.

Mats Zuccarello: The New York Rangers announced they were holding a yard sale, and Zuccarello is a name that’s been thrown around when it comes to the Jets. Zuccarello is a good penalty killer and plays a game, not unlike Mathieu Perreault, who the Jets covet. Zuccarello also comes with an extra year on his contract. and could help the Jets beyond this season.

Defenseman:

Nick Holden: Continuing with the Rangers fire sale, Holden could be an option. He’s a left shot defenseman that could fill in for an injury to Enstrom. Holden’s possession metrics don’t jump off the page, but he’s a serviceable third-pairing guy who can play bigger minutes in a pinch.

Jan Rutta: One player the Blackhawks may be willing to part ways with is defenseman Rutta, who is on a one-year entry-level deal that’s set to expire at the end of this season. Rutta shoots right and has better possession metrics than Holden.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Connor McDavid drops four on the Lightning

Associated Press
3 Comments

Players of the Night:

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Oilers haven’t had much to smile about this season. Lacklustre play, lacklustre results and a season likely devoid of the playoffs. But on Monday, they got a chance to flash a grin. McDavid went into McJesus mode and dropped four goals and five points on the Tampa Bay Lightning. McDavid now has 21 goals and 40 assists on the season. Smile, Edmonton, even if only for a while.

Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators: Fiala must like New York. It seems New York likes him. Fiala scored twice on Monday against the Islanders, two days after he put up a brace against the Rangers on Saturday. Fiala is now up to 17 goals on the season, six more than he had in his rookie season last year. And there’s lots of time left to keep advancing that number.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both scored twice, both added an assist and the Maple Leafs won a shootout 7-4 against the Anaheim Ducks.

* Honourable mention goes to Corey Perry, who recorded an assist on each of Anaheim’s four goals in the game.

Highlights of the Night:

Stoned:

Dan Hamuis getting his due on Monday night:

McJesus:

If you think McDavid’s hat-trick goal was filthy, check out this one:

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 7, Ducks 4

Predators 5, Islanders 4 (OT)

Stars 2, Rangers 1

Oilers 6, Lightning 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck