In my previous column I mentioned Aaron Portzline‘s “61 Thoughts” post he wrote yesterday on all things Rick Nash (and I mean all things. It checks in at just under six thousand words), and it’s finally time to sift through the 15 most interesting and elaborate (10 wasn’t enough). The selection process was not easy, so you should probably go read the rest when you’re through here. Assuming you have some time, of course.
Let’s not waste time here, and hop right in:
No. 2 = But he wasn’t the perfect captain, not for the situation. Nash always played it safe. He allowed himself and those around him to get too comfortable. He was very ‘Columbus’ in that respect. This city doesn’t yet know what it’s like to have a major-league franchise in town. The kids clubs, the autograph signings, the classroom visits, and naming of koalas at the zoo are all great, and please don’t read this and think we’re suggesting otherwise. But the root of pro sports is the game, the competition, the on-ice drama. It’s about rivalries and passion and watching the team that represents your city go toe-to-toe against other cities. It’s about gut-level pride, not public relations. Nash always carried himself in a way so as not to offend anybody, his real thoughts and opinions buried deep beneath his sweater. That’s exactly how this team is operated at times. Every ounce of energy is invested in making things look good. But you can’t ever escape the bottom line: winning. That’s pro sports.
I picked this “thought” for the same reason I did a few of the ones below – they involve Rick Nash’s personality. It befuddles me.
The other day I tweeted that I think Rick Nash is exactly what Phil Kessel would be after a single glass of wine (slightly more comfortable), because I was just thinking about what I really know of Nash. Everything Portzline had to say about him confirmed exactly what I thought: I know nothing.
What that means is Nash is either going to have a Tiger Woodsian fallout at some point (seems unlikely), or he’s just a really, really boring guy. A nice guy and a good person, just…dull. Pretty clearly it’s the latter, yeah?
No. 4 = Wonder which line Nash will play on with the Rangers? Most expect him to step in with Brad Richards, a playmaker extraordinaire. My hunch is he’ll fit best with Derek Stepan, but – as a guy who sees the Western Conference almost exclusively – I’m not entirely keyed in on Stepan’s game. Nash needs the puck to be successful. He doesn’t find space in the offensive zone and rip one-timers; he hauls it to net. This will be interesting.
This is a good observation – a set-up guy is best utilized when he can play with a guy like Stamkos, who can find the soft spots and mash away. But I think Nash will still work with Richards because they could be so dangerous in transition. Nash is a threat when he gets those big stems going, and I think Richards should be able to get him the puck for more (or better) rush opportunities.
No. 5 = I firmly believe that when Nash started to play in All-Star Games and the Olympics — when he began to meet and befriend the biggest stars in the game – he started to realize the view beyond his own fenced yard was pretty cool, too. And in most cases, it was better. There were instances last season, before the trade stuff started, when other NHL players were directly advising Nash to leave. One player tells The Dispatch: “I skated over to him before a faceoff and just told him ‘you have to get out of here. Put your agent to work and get it done.’” Many were surprised last February to learn that Nash had asked to be traded. From what I can glean, players around the league were only shocked that it took him so long.
I don’t remember ever playing in the NHL, but if I did and just can’t remember, that was probably me. Hell, I’ve been writing “free Rick Nash”-style posts for some time now.
The funny thing about the idea that going to the Olympics and All-Star Games was part of the reason he left is that if you wanted to keep him, you would’ve had to chain him up in the basement of Nationwide Arena, feed him occasionally, and only bring him up for games. Bag his head en route to road games. DON’T LET HIM NOTICE THAT EVERY SITUATION IS BETTER THAN HIS CURRENT ONE.
No. 9 = The goal in Phoenix was amazing.
Yes, yes it was.
Great goal call too.
The most meaningful goal, though, was the one Nash scored in Chicago more than a year later. It was April 8, 2009, and Nash scored with 5:30 left in regulation to tie the score vs. the Blackhawks. That single point was all the Jackets needed to clinch their first Stanley Cup playoff berth. His celebration made it clear how special the moment was to him, and he mentioned afterward how he thought of founding owner John H. McConnell, who passed away the previous summer. I’ll never forget how a few Blackhawks players were seen tapping their sticks at the Blue Jackets’ joy. I’ll also never forget the torrent of emails we received the next day after asking Blue Jackets fans to share their thoughts regarding the first playoff berth. Whenever anybody doubts Columbus as a hockey market, I’d like to show them that pile of emails. Special.
As a consistent teaser of Columbus, I’ve learned this myself. Y’know how people make the jokes about places like here in Phoenix (“Did their fan go to the game last night?”)? It’s amazing to find out how many people care when your comments get a little bit more airplay, as mine do here at theScore. I know every crack I make at teams like that are going to raise the ire of a few people, and get me a few terse @mentions.
No. 15 = Said for years that the Blue Jackets would be a good team when Rick Nash is their second best player. Never happened, of course. But look at the situation he’s stepping into in New York. He’ll get lots of attention early this season because he’s the new guy. But Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and even Ryan Callahan probably will draw a bigger share of the spotlight than Nash. And we haven’t even mentioned goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers will be picked by many to win the Stanley Cup. In so many ways, Nash has landed in a new galaxy.
I gotta outwardly disagree with Portzline here – there is no chance Ryan Callahan will draw a bigger share of the spotlight than New York’s shiny new bauble. None. He might be a bigger name than either Richards or Gaborik too. I don’t know if Nash will be the best player on the Rangers next year, but I have to believe he’s going to be the center of attention.
No. 17 = Going to make a bold prediction that Nash will return to the 40-goal, 80-point plateau. Won’t be surprised if he has some early-season run-ins with Tortorella, because Nash’s ‘good’ won’t be good enough in MSG. But I think Nash will be a beast again. Call it Tort Reform.
I will do no such thing.
Personally, I’m not sure where to place my expectations for Nash’s output. He failed to crack the 60 point plateau last year, and has never eclipsed 80 in his entire career (isn’t that bizarre?). He’s always been counted on to score, which he still does at a great rate, hitting 30 last year but I dunno…I just can’t see a 20 point increase on last season.
I’ll call Nash to finish with exactly 70 assuming he plays the whole season, 32 of which will come in the form of goals.
No. 22 = Nash has referred to a “media blitz” when he plays in Canada, and his trips to Toronto were a sight to behold. Asked him on Monday why he didn’t have any Canadian clubs on his list of six preferred teams, but he wouldn’t answer directly, wouldn’t discuss the list. This is a guy who likes to put his feet up now and then. He likes to play his golf in peace. He likes to be left alone, to put hockey down when he’s not at the rink. That’s easier to do south of the Canadian border, even in a city the size of New York. There are the Mets, the Yankees, the Giants, the Jets, the Knicks … unless you’re not a super-superstar or a lightning rod (Sean Avery), you can get by with minimal stress, as long as you perform.
“He likes to put his feet up every now and then.”
While that’s not something you like to hear about a guy you have on a long-term contract (you’d prefer “can’t keep this guy away from the rink!”), you never know – Madison Square Garden and the Rangers might be the kick in the ass he needed. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t go the gym a couple extra times if you suddenly found out you’re answering to the New York media.
Again, this dude has a tough-to-pin down personality, as attested by my attempt many months ago to assess his beerability.
No. 23 = Nash’s name dominates the Blue Jackets’ record book. That’s obvious proof of what he’s meant to this franchise. Look a little further, though. The stunning lack of talent surrounding Nash, and the revolving door on the dressing room, is brought into focus when you look at the gap between Nash and the No. 2 guy in most categories. Nash played 131 more games, had 161 more goals, 54 more assists, 230 more points, 47 more power play goals, 27 more game-winning goals and 1,358 more shots on goal than the guy behind him. And the guy behind him in every instance was right winger David Vyborny.
That last sentence is something, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have guessed “David Vyborny” as holding the number two spot in every CBJ record category if you’d given me unlimited guesses. “Espen Knutsen, maybe?”
Nash has been so synonymous with that franchise that I hope they treat him well when he comes back to town. He gave all he had to give, it was just time to play for a contender.
No. 25 = Only four players have scored 30-or-more goals in each of the last five seasons: Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash are the four. No, Nash isn’t in the Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos stratosphere. But he’s definitely in the conversation among the NHL’s top 10-15 forwards.
One thing that advanced stat fans love to do is completely blow your mind by going against the grain of general public perception. “Oh, you thought Player X was good? Wait to you see his neutral zone crossover rate per 60!” The latest “big reveal” is that Rick Nash isn’t that great hockey player. Well, he is.
He may be too highly regarded, he may be slightly overpaid, but goal-scoring is an elite skill, and he’s doing it. Like, quite often.
No. 29 = I’ve been asked a million times through the years: ‘What’s Rick Nash really like?’ The honest answer is … I don’t know. We spent lots of time together, but always maintained the line of reporter/subject, never buddy-buddy. We got along very well professionally through the years, never had so much as a squabble. He was always a bit uncomfortable when praise was heaped upon him, like around All-Star time or when he was closing in on a big number. On the flip side, he understood tough questions. He recognized why they needed to be asked, and he never held it against the questioner. But very few people in the media – myself included – ever got beyond the surface with him. He’s a friendly but private guy. Please don’t read this as a complaint.
Back to his personality.
It’s odd to me, that a guy so consistently described this way would choose New York, so maybe he’s more comfortable in his skin than we think.
No. 36 = I have a theory, and it’s a bit harsh. I believe we reveal our true identities as people and as professionals – distinctly different categories – by how we respond in those instant moments of life for which we cannot prepare. It can be a crisis, but it doesn’t have to be. I suppose these are called regrets. Anyway, one moment stands out in particular for me with Nash as a professional, as the club’s captain. Three seasons ago, Los Angeles defenseman Rob Scuderi low-bridged Jackets winger Jason Chimera as Chimera carried the puck into the zone. The hit was well outside the norm for Scuderi, but it could not have been dirtier. Nash was the first guy to arrive at the scene, and he simply put his glove-covered hand on Scuderi’s shoulder. That’s the moment where the score and situation don’t matter, where the first order of business is stepping up for your teammate. It needed to happen instantaneously. It was an opportunity lost, and it wasn’t the only time that happened with regard to Nash not physically sticking up for a teammate. Nobody in the room was willing to talk about it in the days that followed – this is the captain, says the code – but believe me: they all took note.
Torts isn’t going to love that aspect of Rick Nash’s game. After the honeymoon period is over, I could see Nash frustrating the shit out of Tortorella, Torts bumping him down lines at times, sitting him in the pressbox here and there, and just generally pulling out all the “old school” motivational tools he loves to use.
No. 43 = During his time with the Blue Jackets, Nash played with an endless string of different centers. The list includes, but is not limited to, Andrew Cassels, Mike Sillinger, Todd Marchant, Manny Malhotra, Alexander Svitov, Sergei Fedorov, Jan Hrdina, Michael Peca, Jason Williams, Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger, Derick Brassard, Jeff Carter, Mark Letestu. Of that group, Cassels probably gets the nod as the most skilled playmaker. Malhotra gets credit for the most consistent success next to Nash. Fedorov was probably the player who did the most work for Nash.
Man, Columbus really hasn’t seen a ton of great players, have they?
While Nash may have had a decent center here and there, he really has been stuck with a lot of 2nd liners. I’d be concerned that that’s forced him to become too single-minded, and maybe not use his teammatess enough. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if he adapts once some trust builds with his new lineys.
No. 51 = Nash wanted to wear No. 13 when he was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League by the London Knights, but the Knights wouldn’t allow it on the basis of superstition. So he asked for No. 16, but No. 16 was currently taken by a Knights’ veteran. Nash told the trainers if he couldn’t have 16 he didn’t really care which number they gave him. The next morning, No. 61 was hanging in his locker.
This is insane to me. I would never, ever say “whatever you give me is fine.” I really think some numbers are just terrible – to me, a forward should rock a double digit number that starts with a one, preferably an even number. I’d have got there then next day and been like “61? Am I at a prospects camp?”
No. 55 = Been asked a few times if Jeff Carter’s desire to leave Columbus helped plant a seed in Nash’s head, if it didn’t convince him once and for all that this is franchise is isn’t close to winning. Honestly, I don’t believe that’s the case. Nash said repeatedly that this decision was made by him, nobody else. Further, I don’t think Carter and Nash were all that close. Nash tried to play the role of diplomat, taking Carter to Ohio State games, having him over for dinner, etc. But I don’t think the two ever became buddies. By the end of Carter’s run in Columbus, I don’t think too many guys in the dressing room cared for him.
What a miserable arrangement – “Hey, you guys are both good players, go be buddies!”
What’s interesting about guys like Carter is how much their value changes on the ice when they’re in a situation they’re happy with. I mean, LA, with Richards, after winning a Cup? I’m calling Carter to have a huge year next year. 40+ goals.
No. 57 = The number that best explains Nash’s run in Columbus is this: he played in five NHL All-Star Games and four Stanley Cup playoff games. That speaks to his individual success and his team’s struggles.
Uggghhh, that’s some ugly stuff, isn’t it? Poor guy.
I hope Columbus can pull it together and take a run at the playoffs, and soon, but man…they needed to set that guy free. It was a merciful move.
No. 61 = No matter where you choose to place the blame for Nash’s departure – management or player – trading the franchise player is a sad day for any franchise. It’s not the end of the world, and certainly not the end of the franchise. But it represents the end of an era in Columbus, one that held such promise but never quite delivered. Over the last few days, more than a few people have reached out via email or Twitter to say that their family members – sons, daughters, moms, etc. – actually cried last Monday when he was traded. Most hardcore sports fans will understand that type of emotional response to sports (especially if you root for the Browns). The sun will rise again for the Blue Jackets. In fact, it already has risen, with the arrival of three promising players and a first-round draft pick. But Nash is moving on, and a few young hearts are hardened. The lost generation of Blue Jackets fans has now lost its guy.