The New York Rangers have acquired Rick Nash, and in so doing they have once again affirmed that star power drives their bus and money is no obstacle.
On the surface, the casual fan will name the Rangers as the big winner by a landslide in this supposed "fleecing" of the Columbus Blue Jackets of their captain and franchise face. Yet a closer look reveals a much trickier story, fraught with risk and of course money. Always, gobs and gobs of money.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather can call the salary cap commitments "a wash" all he wants, but the fact remains he has acquired one arguably declining star as his top-paid player -- Yes, the Rangers added someone who makes more than Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards! -- in exchange for two very useful top-six players, a top prospect and a first-round pick.
Nash at age 28 carries a $7.8 million cap hit and even higher actual salary for the next six seasons, but money is never a concern for the Rangers, who are paying Wade Redden a cap hit of $6.5 million to be AHL All-Star Wade Redden. Nash is a perennial 30-goal scorer -- though his numbers have inched downward each of the last four seasons as he approaches age 30 -- so he'll fit in perfectly with the Rangers other recent splurges in Gaborik (two more years at $7.5 million per) and ($6.66 million on the cap through 2020).
Giving up top defensive prospect Tim Erixon -- ironic, considering he engineered his own trade to the Rangers just a year ago -- is a loss of an asset, but the Rangers are quite solid on their blueline for years to come. The victory here is that they did not part with defenseman Ryan McDonagh, himself a prized return after Sather Fausted his way out of a previous contract albatross in Scott Gomez.
But Erixon and the first-round pick are somewhere off in the future, a land where the Rangers seldom worry because money fixes things. Giving up Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, however, is very much a concern for the present. Add it all up and this trade isn't anywhere near the lopsided deal it would initially appear.
Dubinsky is three years younger than Nash and coming off what will probably prove an outlier of a bad season in New York. His two-way abilities are still underrated, and though he is sometimes a fan whipping boy in New York -- wait, Broadway fans being fickle? Shock! -- assuming young Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider will fill the void is an assumption based on small shaky samples and cushy offensive zone starts.
Anisimov, never a favorite of Rangers coach John Tortorella, is himself just 24 and should easily improve on his 36-40 points if given three or four minutes of ice time per game over the 15 he was getting with the Rangers. His underlying numbers show him to be a strong two-way player along with Dubinsky, and though there's nothing sexy or "30 goals!" about good two-way players, history shows they help win hockey games. The Rangers have now lost two of them.
None of which is to say the Rangers didn't get the best player in this deal -- they better have, considering it was essentially a four-for-one deal (a token minor leaguer and a third-round pick from Columbus notwithstanding). But Nash at a $7.8 million cap hit through 2017-18 carries his own risk, and it's amplified by the presence of fellow "franchise salary" players Richards and Gaborik up front. Even leaving Nash's own two-way questions aside, one can't help wondering how much value they'll get out of $7.8 million per year.
It's fine to go top-heavy up front if you have the cheap talent around you to compensate, and the Rangers have that both on the blueline and, in theory, with some of their up-and-coming young forward prospects. But the Rangers have gone all in with this deal: They need a payoff from Nash, Richards and Gaborik in the next couple of years -- while they're "young" -- because next contracts will be due for top defensemen Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and McDonagh over the next four summers as Nash and Richards age.
The Rangers have gotten better in recent years about realizing the future isn't just something you can disregard while signing the latest shiny thing on the market. In dragging out trade talks with Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson for months, it's likely they hung on to their most prized young assets, McDonagh in particular.
But in giving up two pieces of the future and two pieces of the present for Nash, they've shown once again that the pricey, trendy window display jewel is the true route to their heart. If the payoff is a big win in the present -- like, Stanley Cup-level win -- then the risk is a no-brainer. But if they end up no better than they finished last season, Manhattan's team will have once again fallen victim to the allure of glitz over substance.