The news of Rick Nash’s retirement hit me particularly hard on Friday, in a way that sports-related news hasn’t in a while. In my experience, age has brought with it a true understanding of the famous Seinfeld axiom about rooting for laundry. Emotional attachment to individual athletes is something that has mostly receded from my sports fandom in recent years. But Rick Nash was an exception to that rule.
Watching Rick Nash play hockey was simply fun. His game was a unique blend of power and finesse, cerebral hockey sense and brute force. His most famous goal, scored almost exactly eleven years ago to the day for Columbus against the Coyotes, was a total anomaly. In many ways, one of his last goals for the Rangers was actually the purest distillation of the player, and perfectly encapsulated what made him great.
This is a goal that is beautiful because of its simplicity. There’s no pretty deke or passing play that precedes the finish. It’s a goal that happened simply because a great athlete executed the fundamentals of his craft to perfection. Notice Nash’s body and stick position and his ability to read the play. Then, the seamless transition from defense to offense. Even the shot itself is so perfectly placed, yet doesn’t jump off the screen the way a top corner snipe does. A bullet to the low blocker is just as effective, and often just as hard for a goalie to stop. This attention to detail is something he brought with him to every single game.
There were 145 goals in all scored by Nash as a Ranger (plus another 14 in the playoffs, by the way), most of them in the vein of the one detailed above. A lot of them were game-winners. At the peak of his abilities, Nash was dominant, and in 2013 you could argue that he was the best athlete playing in New York at that time, in any sport. I couldn’t wait to watch him play, and I feel lucky to have seen him live and in person.
When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash, he was meant to be the missing piece to a Stanley Cup contender. That never came to fruition, and Nash certainly shares in the blame along with every member of the organization. He turned into a natural scapegoat because of the expectations that preceded him, of course. However, the lack of a championship should not detract from his legacy. Would the Rangers have even been in position to make those memorable Cup runs without Nash? No way.
The reason Nash’s retirement struck a chord with me was because of how quiet it was, and how little acknowledgment it was given outside of deep hockey circles. He deserved more recognition, both from New Yorkers and the wider sports world. More importantly, this player deserved to leave the game on his own terms, which he didn’t. He made the right decision to value the quality of his life over his desire to compete, but it’s one he shouldn’t have had to make.
Many people will remember Rick Nash as the avatar of missed opportunities for the Rangers. That’s a cynical view, and one I certainly don’t share. Rick Nash was a hell of a hockey player, and he deserves to be remembered as such. I hope the Rangers do the right thing and honor him with a pregame ceremony (not a number retirement) at some point in the near future. It would be a small gesture that the man probably wouldn’t want but he would fully deserve.