As a general rule, it’s easier to be selling the big pieces than buying them at the trade deadline.
Consider the Sunday morning deal that sent Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins – one that might fairly be labelled a blockbuster even though it’s centred around a 33-year-old winger playing out an expiring contract.
The New York Rangers did very well here. They have started a rebuild after a prolonged stretch of success – “we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character,” the organization told fans in a letter earlier this month – and managed to net a player for today (Ryan Spooner), a prospect for tomorrow (Ryan Lindgren), a 2018 first-round pick and 2019 seventh-rounder in exchange for Nash.
They also assumed 50 per cent of Matt Beleskey’s deal while retaining 50 per cent on Nash – a significant aspect of the trade from Boston’s perspective because the Bruins are pushed up against the ceiling of the salary cap.
There is next to no risk in this transaction for the Rangers. They’re not even sacrificing offence given that Spooner has outproduced Nash over the last three seasons (.573 points per game compared to .545), albeit while largely being deployed in more favourable offensive situations.
What Boston is buying is Nash’s bonafides – the big-game experience from Olympics and Stanley Cup playoffs past, not to mention a big body who still gets around the rink well. It is counting on him bringing better balance to the top six, with a spot on the second line beside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk to start, but also the possibility he could be moved up to the No. 1 unit and allow David Pastrnak to be reunited with Krejci, if necessary.
There is a risk with all rentals that the fit might not be right. There’s not much time to figure things out. We have just 43 days left in the regular season – the Bruins are due to play a hellish 23 games in that time – and the playoffs could be over in less than two weeks.
But Boston is gearing up for a spring that could alternatively stretch on for two months. This trade was made with the belief that Nash strengthens its chances of emerging from a top-heavy Atlantic Division that may see it have to face Toronto and Tampa Bay in the opening two rounds.
“We really have to be pretty target-specific,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney told reporters Saturday, when asked about his deadline plans. “We’ve got a long way to go here in March. You’d like to think that the group can continue along the path that they are. But if you can add to it and help it – the rental market depends on what you’re going to give up, and what the impact of the player’s necessarily going to be, and how he’s going to fit into the group.”
The Bruins have built up a strong cache of prospects and decided they could afford to sacrifice future assets to try and catch lightning in a bottle. It worked for the Los Angeles Kings four years ago when they brought in Marian Gaborik at a similar stage in his career to where Nash is today, and saw the Slovak winger score 14 playoff goals on the way to winning a Stanley Cup.
Of course, the list of instances where this kind of bet didn’t pay off is long.
In a window so tight, a player might even perform well and see shooting percentage fluctuations hamper his effectiveness. Nash himself has been the victim of that in the past, with just 14 goals scored in 73 playoff games as a member of the Rangers – a .19 goals-per-game mark that pales in comparison to the .32 he’s averaged over 1,049 total games in the regular season.
Sometimes the puck just stops going in.
That’s why it’s more comfortable to be on New York’s side of the equation in a trade like this. The Rangers can easily achieve their aims while in an aggressive stockpiling mode – they now own two picks each in the first, second and third rounds in the upcoming draft, and have more high-quality assets like Ryan McDonagh still to sell.
Hey, they might even be able to bring Nash back when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.