I imagined that this saga would be over following the draft. I guess not. Now it’s time for the second (and hopefully final) installment of NashWatch! This time we even have a logo!
As this off-season has progressed, the non-trade of Rick Nash continues to loom over the Blue Jackets. But just as importantly, the eventual removal of Rick Nash creates (in a vacuum anyway) a serious lack of offense on a team that has so often lacked scoring. Thus (and justifiably so), it would make sense for forwards to be part of the return for Nash. But much has been made about prices being too high or unrealistic, or perhaps that other GMs aren’t really serious if they’re unwilling to give up significant assets to acquire the Columbus forward. But to what end are the demands too high or the refusals unrealistic?
Of course, all particular offers are total speculation, but let’s play “You’re the GM.” I’m going to describe a few scenarios and we’ll look at what you would do.
Scenario 1: You’re the GM of a team with a 20-year old forward who has averaged 0.35 goals per game and 0.73 points per game over his career. He has a year left on his entry level deal and will become a restricted free agent after the season is over. You’ve just received a phone call from another GM who would like to trade you a 28-year old forward who has averaged 0.39 goals and 0.80 points per game over the same time span. Cap space isn’t a huge concern right now. Would you trade your 20-year old player straight-up for the 28-year old?
Let’s consider: your 20-year old is likely to keep his production constant or improve. The 28-year old you’re looking at is likely past his prime in terms of offensive production. The average prime for a player tends to be around 25 as noted by Hawerchuk and recently discussed by Jesse Spector in his discussion of the Sidney Crosby contract. Ignoring all other factors, it doesn’t seem like you’d be immediately interested in a guy on the down-swing who, even right now, isn’t a massive improvement over the player you’re being asked to trade away.
But then let’s consider the contracts while we’re here anyway. Even without cap hit as a concern right now, it doesn’t make sense to hurt your team’s ability to improve or otherwise acquire players in the future. That 20-year old is going to become a restricted free agent, but he’s probably not a flight risk. Let’s say he has a massive breakout season this year. Even then, the body of his work wouldn’t push him into the Steven Stamkos salary range. Let’s go to the high-end of what a RFA might look for; let’s give the 20-year old a $6 million contract for 5 years. It’s probably a bit too high, but let’s go with it for now.
Here is where the deal becomes significantly less attractive to you: that 28-year old (not a massive improvement over your still-improving 20-year old) has a cap hit of $7.8 million for this coming season and the five after that. And to make matters worse, his contract is structured so that you’re actually paying him more salary at the end of the deal (eventually getting to a $8.2 million total in the final year).
So instead of getting a player in his prime for a hypothetical $6 million per year, you’re getting a worsening player for $7.8 million per year (and more than that in actual salary).
And to make matters worse? The GM of the other team is actually looking for your 20-year old and more. He wants that player plus draft picks, other roster players, or prospects. If you’re the GM of the team with the 20-year old, do you really want to send him and other assets to acquire a slightly better offensive producer who might be worse by the end of his contract?
Scenario 2: You’re the GM of a team with a 23-year old player who has averaged 0.36 goals and 0.76 points per game over the past two seasons. You also have a 27-year old player with 0.33 goals and 0.81 points per game over the same span. You’ve been contacted about trading one of these two players for a 28-year old forward who has averaged 0.39 goals and 0.80 points per game during these same two seasons. Cap space will be a bit of a concern for your team if you acquire the other player. Would you trade either of your players for the 28-year old?
At this point we don’t need to go through the same depth as with the Skinner example and it’s totally obvious that the second choice is, in fact, Rick Nash. But humor me and follow along a bit.
The 23-year old is nearing his prime and is likely to improve. His current contract has him signed this coming season and next season for a cap hit of $2.875 million and he’ll be a restricted free agent after that. The 27-year old is in a similar age/production expectation to Rick Nash but is a lesser goal scorer. He’s signed through the 2013-14 season with a cap hit of $4 million each year and will be an unrestricted free agent after that.
If you’re the GM here, it’s hard to expect moving the 23-year old. Even considering cap inflation, he’s going into his prime and will still be an RFA at the end of his current contract. It’s hard to imagine this guy taking on a $7.8 million deal when he’s done, and the boost in current scoring isn’t all that big (and seemingly less significant if Nash declines and the 23-year old improves).
Moving the 27-year old might be more realistic if you expect Nash to improve slightly due to a change in scenery (or playing alongside a better center). Both players are on the other side of the prime player standard from Hawerchuk, and Nash would be a boost in pure goal scoring (even if not in point totals). Particularly if cap inflation continues, a net cap change of +$3.8 million isn’t quite as painful as the +$4.9 million boost from a trade of the 23-year old.
But much like in the Skinner case, comparing production and cap hits make it hard to justify surrendering more assets than just the 27-year old in a trade (and even more ludicrous to move the 23-year old and more). Thus if you’re San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, it’s tough to even consider trading Logan Couture for Rick Nash and unless you’re particularly high on the idea of Nash + Joe Thornton becoming a force, it’s also tough to believe in moving Joe Pavelski + more.
Scenario 3: You’re the GM of a team with a 25-year old player who has averaged 0.55 goals and 1.24 points per game over the past two years. You’ve been offered a 28-year old forward who has averaged 0.39 goals and 0.80 points per game during these same two seasons in return for your 25-year old. What would you do?
You would promptly laugh, ask for a ransom of assets (at lest a few first draft picks and Ryan Johansen) and hang up the phone. There is no way Rick Nash is worth even a fraction of Evgeni Malkin, so it’s not even worth talking about.
What have we learned: if these prices are really the ones that Columbus has set for Rick Nash (barring of course the facetious Malkin option; and by all accounts the Jeff Skinner price was real), it’s no surprise that Rick Nash hasn’t been moved. Yes, you have to give to get, but Columbus management needs to be realistic about the player they’re moving. Deals with Carolina or San Jose that involve good, young, roster players are non-starters.