NHL teams spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out how to contain a six-foot-four power forward with skill and speed and strength to match. Then a concussion made Rick Nash disappear.
It’s been almost a month since the New York Rangers winger was last seen in public – dating back to the Oct. 8 game in San Jose where a leaping headshot from Brad Stuart sent him to the sidelines.
The only official injury updates from the Rangers have been that there is nothing to update. Even those close to the 29-year-old admit privately that they’ve stopped asking him if he’s making progress on a regular basis. A sense of frustration has set in as it so often does with injuries of this nature.
And so Nash must try and wait out his second concussion in less than a year. He’ll miss Wednesday’s game against division rival Pittsburgh and Thursday’s visit to Columbus, where he would have faced the team that drafted him for the first time, and more beyond that.
Exactly how many no one knows. Not the doctors or Rangers management and certainly not Nash himself.
We’ve clearly reached the point where this can be considered a serious and significant injury. Concern about Nash’s condition has grown throughout the hockey world in recent weeks – largely because so little is known about his status and that often hasn’t boded well for hockey players recovering from a concussion.
At least it appears that Nash is intent on exercising caution during his recovery. Back in February, he played two games after getting hit from behind by Boston’s Milan Lucic before sitting out the next four. That injury was only officially labelled a concussion by general manager Glen Sather after the lockout-shortened season had ended.
There were no questions about his health when the puck dropped this year and Nash put in a dominant performance against the Los Angeles Kings just 24 hours before getting hammered by Stuart. He was in full wear-down-the-opponent mode in the Oct. 7 game – controlling the puck, causing turnovers and setting up two goals in a victory by New York. He was named first star at Staples Center.
One night later everything went silent.
“The only thing I know, I was told after the first period he wasn’t coming back,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said in San Jose. “I can’t tell you more than that right now.”
We still haven’t learned very much else over the ensuing 29 days, although Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported that Nash visited with a concussion specialist at the Rangers practice facility on Tuesday. That ran contrary to speculation he had left New York.
In the absence of definitive updates, we are left to try and piece together what life must be like for a cornerstone piece of the Rangers organization who is under contract through 2018 but facing an uncertain future. The experience of others who have missed an extended amount of time under similar circumstances in recent years – everyone from Sidney Crosby to David Perron to Colton Orr – tells us it can’t be easy.
In fact, this is undoubtedly the toughest injury hurdle Nash has had to overcome since being selected first overall in the 2002 NHL draft by the Blue Jackets. Knee and ankle ailments forced him to miss 28 games during the 2005-06 season, but trauma to the brain is something altogether different.
The timing of the injury certainly won’t have made it any easier to exercise caution and restraint. The Rangers sputtered through the opening month of the season and obviously missed Nash’s presence. This is also an Olympic year and there was every reason to believe that he’d earn a third straight selection from Team Canada for the Sochi Games.
That can no longer be assumed with less than eight weeks remaining until executive director Steve Yzerman makes his final roster decisions. Nash has given so much to the national program over the years but Hockey Canada will need to be sure he is capable of contributing again to bring him along to Russia. For his part, it’s believed that Nash is willing to discuss his status with team officials so that they’re at least kept in the loop.
In the meantime, another week is in the process of slipping by without any sign of the man himself. This was supposed to be a special one for him with New York’s game against the Blue Jackets, but instead it looks just like the four others that preceded it.
Here’s hoping that Nash is back to being front and centre by the time the Rangers return to Nationwide Arena in Columbus on March 21.