Rangers hope Nash is final piece to Stanley Cup puzzle
by Elliot Olshansky/Correspondent
It may have taken the New York Rangers the better part of six months to land Rick Nash, but as the negotiations went on this summer, there was a certain inevitability that the Rangers would complete the mega-deal, as they did on the afternoon of July 23.
"This quality hockey player doesn't come along very often," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "You don't have a chance to make this kind of a deal. This is a very important deal for our hockey club."
It has to be an important move for the Rangers, as landing the All-Star winger from the Columbus Blue Jackets required the Rangers to give up forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, two of the driving forces behind the Blueshirts' grinding, hard-working style, plus defenseman Tim Erixon, who is ranked by The Hockey News as the organization’s top prospect.
While the Rangers gave their fans a pleasant surprise by acquiring Nash without giving up Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh or Chris Kreider, the package they sent to Columbus was a significant one.
In Nash, however, they landed one of only four NHL players to score 30 goals or more in each of the last five seasons. For a Rangers team that was eventually undone in the Eastern Conference finals by a lack of offense, losing a six-game series to the New Jersey Devils, the addition of a goal scorer like Nash is exactly what the team was looking for this offseason.
"We're happy to have a five-time All-Star on our team and a 40-goal scorer," Sather said. "He's 28-years-old and he's one of the better goal scorers in the National Hockey League. He'll help us immensely."
As much as the Rangers felt they needed Nash, however, Nash may need the Rangers just as much. The native of Brampton, Ontario, arrives in New York having played in more All-Star games (five) than playoff games (four), as the moribund Blue Jackets advanced to the Stanley Cup playoffs just once during Nash's nine years in Ohio. He comes to Broadway with a reputation as a talented player who was unable to elevate a team, and that's a reputation that he's eager to shed.
"I'm looking forward to this opportunity," Nash said on a conference call, hours after being traded, "and being part of something that's pretty special, what they already have going on with the Rangers."
By most accounts, Nash knew all along that the Rangers were the kind of team he was looking for, as the Blueshirts were one of six teams he was willing to waive his no-trade clause for (the others were Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston and San Jose). Nash didn't address the existence of that list directly, but he did make his admiration for the franchise quite clear.
"I just thought the Rangers were perfect," Nash said. "I think they've got an amazing team. Last season, they were obviously one of the best teams. I think it was just a great fit for my style."
There will be questions, of course, as to just how good a fit Nash is with the Rangers. Under coach John Tortorella, the Blueshirts have built an identity as an aggressive forechecking team that does the dirty work to get goals. A sniper like Nash is bound to be questioned as to how well he can fit into that system, but Sather has no such concerns.
"I haven't a worry in the world about that," Sather said. "You look at the record that this guy's had over his career; he's got a tremendous record as being an excellent hockey player. When he played in the Olympics, he was one of the better players on that team. Tortorella has coached against him, not only in the NHL, but at the Olympics, and knew very well what his style was. (Tortorella) knew that he'd fit in well with us. Everyone in our organization was after this guy."
Similar questions have been asked about Marian Gaborik, of course, and there have certainly been a few uncomfortable moments along those lines during the Slovakian speedster's three years on Broadway. However, Sather is more focused on what the combined threats of Gaborik and Nash can do for the Rangers once Gaborik is done healing his surgically repaired shoulder.
"I think that once Gaborik gets together and Nash gets together, we've got some pretty good offensive players on our team," Sather said. "This changes the complexion of our team. It's not going to change the way we play, but his ability … he's a world-class player and was very excited to be coming to New York."
For his part, Nash is eager to line up alongside Blueshirts captain Ryan Callahan (Rochester, N.Y.), who epitomizes the hard-nosed style that the Rangers have embraced under Tortorella, and is unquestioned in his leadership of the team.
"From everything I've seen and heard about him," Nash said, "he's done a world-class job. I'm sure it's a lot harder doing it in an Original Six city. I'm impressed from sitting back and watching what he's done as a leader, and I think he's got good players around him that have been leaders on other teams that he can bounce things off of."
Overall, Nash is just happy to be joining the Rangers and become part of a team that's built to contend.
"I think they already are one of the top teams in the league," Nash said, "and with the players that they have there, it's pretty impressive, from goaltending to the defense, right up. I'm happy to part of the organization and the whole city."
And, if Nash can bring his goal-scoring ways to Broadway and give the Blueshirts the scoring they need to complete their Stanley Cup quest, the city will be just as happy to have him.
Rick Nash was one of several new Rangers to join the team this July, as the Rangers signed forwards Arron Asham and Micheal Haley on the first day of free agency. With his Rangers debut, Asham will have played for all five teams in the Atlantic Division. ...
The Rangers also signed forwards Jeff Halpern, Taylor Pyatt and Brandon Segal, and depth defensemen Sean Collins and Logan Pyett, and added an undrafted free agent prospect when they signed Kyle Jean out of Lake Superior State University. ...
The Rangers traded forward Casey Wellman to the Florida Panthers for a fifth-round draft pick in 2014. Wellman, acquired from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline for Erik Christensen and a seventh-round pick in next year's draft, never played for the Rangers, but had nine goals and 13 assists in 31 games for the AHL's Connecticut Whale.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.