The Rick Nash saga is heating up, and will likely not die out completely if he remains in Columbus until mid August with a slight lull during the playoffs, and a sharp spike after the Cup is raised.
But what is he worth? When Ilya Kovalchuk was traded he had one year left on his contract, had hit fifty goals twice, had three other 40 goal season, and was either the best or second best left wing in the NHL. Rick Nash was the first overall pick in the draft a year after Kovalchuk, and has put up very good numbers playing at one time or another both center and wing, but not quite on Kovalchuk’s level. When the Thrashers traded Kovalchuk to the Devils, he went with Anssi Salmela, who can probably be described as a AAAA defenseman, and a second round pick. The Devils sent back, a 1st round pick a 2nd rounder, NHL defenseman Johnny Odouya, and some peripheral prospects. Kovalchuk had one year left on his deal
Nash, has six full season left on his contract. This is both a gift and a curse. Teams wanting to mind their budget and long term projections on who they can afford to retain have cost certainty with the deal. What can’t be guaranteed is performance in relation to contract. He could play at or above the .81 points per game he’s maintained in his career if he’s healthy, and in a compatible system. Equally an injury, incompatible system or a coach with a bias could squash his productivity and leave a team with a Reddenesque deal on their hands.
So what type of return should the Blue Jackets get if they do indeed trade him? If they go just for picks and try and restock and build through the draft, it should be two first round picks for teams expected to finish in the bottom 15 or so, and probably at least one second round pick. If they want to build depth, and get useful special teams and leave offensive production primarily to Jeff Carter and whoever they draft in the lottery this year, they could pick up two or three players who could help their 21st ranked powerplay and their 30th ranked penalty kill. Arguably getting one first round pick and those three or four role players with a couple years left on the deals will make the team more competitive than one or two second tier stars would. If in the, highly unlikely, situation they opt for a simple superstar for superstar trade arguably Eric Staal is the perfect candidate. He was drafted 2nd in 2003, and was part of a cup run. While neither is exactly a raging extrovert, Staal has a bit more force to his play, and may just need a change of scenery.
Going purely off number Staal for Nash isn’t great upgrade, and Staal is justifiably paid more, but Staal has spent most of his time at center, and putting Yakupov or Forsberg on his line, while Carter, Umberger and Johansen form another line has certain appeals. Whatever they decide to do with if they do trade Nash, and can get what they are looking for, it has to help the team form an identity. I haven’t seen the team play with one in the past two seasons and it can’t stay in business without something to help build success and draw crowds. Additionally it’d be nice for someone outside the franchise to know who their All Stars are next season since they are hosting the event.