Rick Nash will enter his third season with the New York Rangers in October, and the 30-year-old winger will look to put his past playoff failings behind him. During the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Nash only managed to score three goals while adding seven helpers for 10 points in 25 games.
It was the second consecutive postseason in which Nash’s overall performance was underwhelming, as he failed to get the job when the Rangers needed him most.
It didn't help that he only tallied 39 points in 65 games in the regular season, and fans were very quick to make him the target of their frustration.
The 2014-15 season is a fresh start for Nash, and it is a season in which he will look for redemption as well as a chance to move forward as a New York Ranger.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather eagerly pursued Nash at the 2012 trade deadline, but failed to strike a deal with Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. It proved to be a costly misstep by the Rangers.
The Blueshirts went on to lose the Eastern Conference Final in six games to the New Jersey Devils, and their fatal flaw was a lack of goal scoring. Therefore, on July 23, 2012, Nash was finally acquired by the Rangers because of his ability to score goals.
After adding Nash to the ranks, management thought it finally had its guy to help the Rangers win the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1994.
The Rangers did break their 20-year Stanley Cup Final appearance drought this past season, but they failed to win the ultimate prize partially because of Nash’s inability to score a big goal in a key moment.
While it seems that is has been all gloom and doom for Nash, it hasn’t been all bad for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 NHL draft.
QuantHockey.com indicates Nash is currently seventh among active players with a goals-per-game average of 0.43, which equates to 35 goals per season. In fact, Nash has only had one season throughout his entire career in which he failed to score 30 goals or maintain a 30-goal pace.
Last season, Nash finished with 26 goals in 65 games—a 33-goal pace over the course of an 82-game season.
Throughout his Rangers career, Nash has maintained a goals-per-game average of 0.43—the same number he posted with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In that respect, it is fair to say Nash has produced, but not at the level the Rangers expected.
Before Nash was traded, fans often said, “Imagine if Nash had the chance to play with a real center and competent linemates."
The thought was that since Nash was a one-man show in Columbus, his potential was being held back.
Doug MacLean, Nash's general manager in Columbus, said that was the case back in 2012 when the Rangers acquired the 6'4" winger.
"Where do you find a 6-4, 235-pound guy with hands, who can skate, is entering his prime, with limited miles on him -- although every night he was the No. 1 focus, tightly checked, man-on-man, because teams knew if you shut down Rick Nash, you beat Columbus?" he told Steve Zipay of Newsday.
While that may be true, Nash has not been able to elevate his game since coming to the Rangers. He has potted big goals every now and then, but he hasn't been able to consistently come through in the clutch.
He has also been plagued with injuries, and that appears to be the root of his major issues.
A concussion limited Nash to 65 games last season, although he was not himself after returning to the lineup. There is the possibility that the injury had Nash playing scared. As a result, he was trying to be a perimeter player to protect himself.
There is nothing concrete to prove this, but it certainly would explain his inability to play a power game when the Rangers needed him most.
In the final 23 games of the season, Nash scored eight goals and recorded 12 points. He then entered the playoffs, and it took until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens' backup goalie in a blowout game for Nash to score his first goal of the playoffs.
It wasn't a lack of effort on Nash's part, as he recorded 83 shots in 25 playoff games while only finding twine thrice.
Due to this inability to come through in the clutch, some think the book on Nash has closed and he will never be what the Rangers expected him to be.
While the postseason failings have been frustrating, Nash deserves to have the 2014-15 season to redeem himself.
He is still a very talented 30-goal scorer who has solid size at 6'4" and 219 pounds and a decent amount of speed to his game. Nash may not be an "elite" winger in the eyes of some, but at the very least he is still an above-average goal scorer that would be a welcome addition to the 29 other teams in the league.
Nash understands head coach Alain Vigneault's system and will most likely be playing with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider next season. That is something that should greatly benefit him and allow him to get off to a quick start.
Last year's trade-deadline addition of Martin St. Louis will also take some of the pressure off him in terms of leading the team in scoring, while the natural maturation of youngsters like Stepan, Kreider, Carl Hagelin and various others can only help both Nash and the Rangers.
All of these variables should—the key word being should—enable Nash to have a bounce-back season that makes fans forget about his past playoff struggles.
With that said, fans will be quick to voice their displeasure if he fails to come through in the playoffs again.
In baseball, you get three strikes before you are called out. At this point, Nash is standing in the batter's box with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth.
A successful season should take him away from the hot spotlight that is the ire of the fans, but a flop could certainly force the Rangers to reconsider their stance on keeping the winger until his contract is up in 2017-18.
Unless otherwise noted, stats via Hockey-Reference.com.
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