Playing on consistently bad teams can sometimes have its advantages. For example, if you are a poor player, or just an otherwise good player having an off season, chances are you will face less scrutiny if everyone else around you is playing equally bad.
On the flipside, if you are a good player playing on disappointing teams, that generally makes you stand out all the more, thus increasing your perceived value to the league.
Rick Nash is the type of player that falls into the latter category. Able to carry the game on his shoulders when at the top of his game, Nash has been the sole consistent offensive leader for the Blue Jackets ever since his debut season in 2002. In fact, on some nights, he seems to be the only one trying.
Yet he does so without a whole lot of the league-wide recognition of which he is so deserving.
Nash is probably fine with that. Along with a lack of attention comes a serious lack of pressure to produce. But the problem is, he is producing. Pretty darn consistently, in fact, for a team that really has no one that even approaches his level of offense.
Players like Ovechkin and Malkin get so many goals because they are flanked by players that, while maybe not as equally talented, are at least within the same stratosphere. In Washington, Ovechkin's got Alexander Semin; in Pittsburgh, Malkin has Crosby (and vice versa).
Nash's linemates, on the other hand, have never been consistent from year-to-year; Columbus just can't find anyone to center the first line for the left winger. The Jackets thought they had found someone in Sergei Federov a few seasons ago, but we all know what a bust that deal was.
Imagine how things might have been if the Jackets could have found Nash a competent linemate any time within the last...oh...seven years he's been in the league.
Now I'm not saying that Nash should be mentioned in the same breaths as the Washington and Pittsburgh superstars. Absolutely not. But his contributions to the league, and especially to his rather woeful team, should not be overlooked.
Though he has not lived up to the 41-goal season he enjoyed in 2003-04, just his second year in the league in which he was involved in a three-way tie for the NHL goal scoring lead, he has had several excellent seasons, all with little to no recognition outside of Columbus.
His 40-goal season last year was good enough to put him at fifth, behind such lauded players as Zach Parise, Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Jeff Carter. He has also been involved in four total All-Star games as a representative for the West, including the last three in a row.
One would think, and it's completely understandable, that perhaps Nash's success has gone largely ignored due to his team's lack of success. But if that were the case, Nash's stock would be at an all-time high, following the Blue Jackets first foray into the postseason last year.
Plus, it's not like Atlanta, Kovalchuk's team, has really been a shining example of how to be a hockey club over the past couple seasons.
But what makes Nash such an instrumental part to the Columbus franchise is the fact that, as important as he is to the Blue Jackets on the ice, he is just as integral off of it. He won the 2008-09 NHL Foundation Player award for "his commitment and service to charities in his community."
Nash has, and continues to, donate both his time and his money, to local charities. He also started The No. 61 Club (named after his jersey number) that encourages students to live healthy, active lifestyles, and rewards those who do through free Blue Jackets tickets.
In short, Nash is the only constant on a Blue Jackets team that has, in the past, been full of question marks. He brings a high level of intensity to every game, even when the game is out of reach, or the rest of the team appears to be struggling. It is this ability to lead by example, rather than just words, that makes Nash one of the great underrated players of the NHL.
Anyone can talk a good game. Rick Nash consistently goes out and plays them.