In my daily perusing of pending free agents on bad teams, I came across Riley Nash of the Carolina Hurricanes. The 25-year-old center is in the final year of his second contract, one that pays him at a $575,000 cap hit. Basically peanuts. This year is, for all intents and purposes, Nash’s second full pro season. On paper, Nash is a 52% faceoff guy who put up 10-14-24 in 73 games last year. He has 4-6-10 in 13 games this year.
A few things jump out at me about Nash. He’s a right-handed shot (hooray!) who is putting up solid numbers thus far on an awful Hurricanes squad (and he wins faceoffs). His 18% shooting rate won’t last, but he’s been an 11% shooter over his NHL career. That’s actually pretty good. The uptick in goals this year is a combination of the unsustainable SH% and his willingness to shoot the puck more. Regression is expected (he’s not going to be a 75 point guy), but he will certainly eclipse his career highs this year.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Nash’s game this year is the incredible improvement at driving puck possession. He’s one of the top possession forwards for the ‘Canes at a 54% FF (4.65% relative) while getting 54% of his starts in the offensive zone. I’d be a bit concerned about his WOWY’s over his two-year sample size, but this year has been a major improvement for the young center.
Nash would fill an immediate hole in the lineup as the 3C. Kevin Hayes would benefit from time in the AHL, and Dominic Moore really needs to be the club’s 4C. Nash plays in all situations too, averaging 13:30 at ES, 2:27 on the PP, and 2:15 shorthanded. He would be the ideal trade candidate for the Rangers.
Therein lies the problem: Nash is second in TOI for the Canes behind Jiri Tlusty. The Canes know how successful he’s been this year. I’d expect that Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal would be ahead of Nash too, if not for the injuries. But that still puts Nash in the top-six in terms of ice time. Teams just don’t trade players like this for nothing.
Nash is a guy that the Rangers would need to package a solid prospect to acquire. It wouldn’t need to be a Pavel Buchnevich/Anthony Duclair type, but it would need to be a notch below. Someone like J.T. Miller, a kid with first-round pedigree would need to be included. The Canes would also need an NHL ready defenseman, since their blue line isn’t exactly one to write home about. Conor Allen comes to mind, as does John Moore. But neither, even when packaged with Miller, gets the job done here.
To acquire Nash, the Rangers would be looking at a package of Miller or McIlrath, Allen or Moore, and then a sweetener for Nash and probably a mid-late round pick. It’s a lot to pay for a kid having a career season on a contract year, but it’s the risk you take when you’re looking to fill holes for another Cup run. He’s only 25, so it’s not like he’s an aging vet. The odds that Carolina parts ways with him are slim, but hey, crazier things have happened.
Plus, would be cool to see if they distinguish the names on the ice with Riley and Rick.