Gauging Returns on an Inevitable Trade - Will Rick Be a Nash-ville or Star?

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
Phil Kocher
@ me

With a fire sale on the way, the New York Rangers have 18 days to find new homes for many of their valuable trade chips. Perhaps none—at least among their Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)—will command a bigger return than Rick Nash. The 33-year old was asked to provide the Rangers with his no-trade list on Monday, which he obliged them with. Since then, the hockey world has been abuzz pondering his possible landing spots. A Darren Dreger update might just shed more light on that:

Neither Nashville or Dallas should come as much of a shock if these are indeed number 61’s preferred destinations.

The Predators are widely considered a favorite to come out of the West, where they are currently tied for the second best overall record. Adding a player as versatile as Nash, who they coveted in the past, would seriously bolster an already formidable forward group which is home to players like Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris. Nash wouldn’t even need to be their second or third-most relied upon skater. Chances are he’d step in to help the Preds’ third line where he’d give Nashville the kind of scoring depth they sorely lacked during their injury-riddled Cup Final appearance last season. This would also bump Scott Hartnell down to the fourth line, spreading scoring throughout their lineup.

The Stars, on the other hand, could not only use the extra scoring punch to spread their offense beyond the NHL’s most productive trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alex Radulov, but are also lead by Nash’s former Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss, Ken Hitchcock, under whom he saw some of his most productive years. Nash—then in his fourth professional season—saw his scoring totals dip to 27 tallies in his first year with Hitch, only to rebound to 38, 40, and 33 goals in each of his successive years. His 40-goal, 79-point 2008-09 season, in fact, was his most productive of his career. If Dallas were to pull the deal off, Nash would likely be tasked with stepping onto their second line beside Jason Spezza and Mattias Janmark, bumping 23-year-old Devin Shore down.

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The big question isn’t whether either team is a natural fit, though. It’s what the Rangers can expect from either club in return. Based on TSN’s Bob McKenzie’s report that the Rangers are currently asking for “a first-round pick, a top prospect, and another lesser player or prospect or pick”, let’s explore what that might actually look like:

Nash-ville

If it’s Nashville for Nash—a ready-made PR gift for Preds’ Director of Communications, Kevin Wilson—then a package including Music City’s 2018 first-round pick, one of Dante Fabbro or Eeli Tolvanen, and a lesser pick or prospect would suit the Rangers’ ask.

Fabbro—currently playing for Boston University—was Nashville’s first-round selection in 2016 (17th overall). The 19-year old right-handed defenseman is seen as a mobile blueliner with a good frame.

As TheHockeyWriter’s Ryan Pike notes:

“He’s not huge, but he uses his frame well and is a very mobile player. Scouts have noted that he has a very good “floor,” in the sense that the things he does well such as his passing and general situational awareness will translate well to the higher levels of hockey. He’s not a player that relies on sheer force or size to be effective, and that’ll be key moving forward. He’s a great positional player and is almost always in the right place at the right time and has good instincts in terms of when to take risks and when not to. He’ll need to bulk up a bit and work on the physical aspects of his game, but he’s already a consistently strong player in most areas of the ice.

The only “big” question about Fabbro is if he can consistently do what he did in the BCHL against more talented players. He’ll have a few years at Boston University to figure that out. In the meantime, he has the raw attributes that most NHL teams would love to have in their organization.”

For a Rangers’ pipeline bereft of impact rearguards, Fabbro would instantly become their best blue line prospect since the club drafted Brady Skjei 28th overall back in 2012.

Or if David Poile were to balk at Fabbro, then perhaps he’d be more amenable to moving Tolvanen – the Preds’ first-round pick (30th overall) taken in 2017. It was a draft he fell precipitously in due to a combination of poor grades not allowing him to make right on his commitment to Boston College (BC) and questions about his overall game.

Still, what Tolvanen does well—really well—is score. Currently playing for Jokerit of the KHL—a club lead by still Rangers’ property Nicklas Jensen—Tolvanen’s 17 goals and 34 points this season have given him sole possession of the best under-19 season in league history. It’s an accomplishment that’s been held by some of the most esteemed players to come out of the KHL – most notably, Evgeny Kuznetsov (17 goals, 32 points in 2010-11), Vladimir Tarasenko (13 goals, 24 points in 2009-10), and Pavel Buchnevich (7 goals, 18 points in 2013-14). Tolvanen also received a KHL All-Star nomination earlier this year.

Beyond this, there’s plenty here for the Rangers to like as Poile himself spoke to The Tennessean about:

“I think simply he’s living up to (how) our scouts described him when we drafted him,” Poile said. “He’s a pure goal-scorer. He loves to shoot the puck. He can score from a lot of different places. He’s lethal on the power play, and it certainly has translated on a high level.

“If you believe that the KHL is the second-best professional hockey league, I would say Tolvanen is faring very well, especially at his age. That’s what we were looking for, and that’s what he’s delivering.”

The Predators nearly brought Tolvanen over to the NHL this past season, so it stands to reason that, should they acquire him, given the Rangers’ impending rebuild, he’d be a leading candidate among the youngsters expected to make their 2018-19 opening night roster.

Big Rick to Big D?

If not Nashville, then perhaps it’s Nash’s backup plan – Dallas. If so, The Rangers should look to pry out the Stars’ first-round pick this year, Riley Tufte, and another later-round pick or lower-end prospect.

It’s important to note that the Stars might be a bit of a long shot given the reports that their general manager Jim Nill doesn’t appear interested in dealing his team’s first-round pick for a rental:

Regardless, that’s not a reason for the Rangers to lower their asking price. If the Stars don’t want to pay, another team will. If they want to play ball, however, it’ll be on Jeff Gorton’s terms.

Assuming they do come around, Tufte would be the gem of this scenario. The 19-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth forward was the Stars’ first-round pick in 2016 (25th overall). At 6’5, 205lbs, it’s hard not to notice him on the ice.

Ahead of his selection, Joseph Aleong of TheHockeyWriters had this to say about his potential:

“Tufte’s imposing size is the first thing scouts notice, as the forward casts quite the shadow at 6 feet 5 inches and weighing in around 200 pounds. However, it’s not just his size that has NHL teams dreaming on his potential — Tufte potted an astounding 47 goals in just 25 games in his high school season, and added 10 more in his 27-game USHL stint. Tufte’s size, skating ability and lethal shot are all weapons that could turn Tufte into a consistent 25-plus goal scorer in the NHL. For such a tall young player, Tufte exhibits strong all-around skating ability and balance, albeit with room for improvement when it comes to top-end speed. His long reach is also quite the asset when protecting the puck in cycle situations and when driving to the net, and he uses his size effectively along the boards to muscle smaller opponents off the puck.”

Should he be brought in, it’s possible the Rangers could push the youngster, in his second year in the NCAA, to make a decision about his professional career sooner rather than later. That would be a similar situation to how they convinced Chris Kreider to forego his final year with BC to join the Rangers in the playoffs in 2012.

The market for someone as widely respected as Rick Nash will undoubtedly be larger than two Western Conference clubs, even if a landing in the West is preferred. Regardless of the team or the conference it plays in, Jeff Gorton is in the unique position of shopping a highly desirable commodity. One he can’t afford to deal away for an insufficient return. If Jim Nill balks there will be no shortage of suitors behind him who will be willing to meet the Rangers’ demands. It’s incumbent upon Gorton to remember this, even if it means sending Nash to a team lower on his list of desired destinations. Whether he likes it or not, the Rangers’ GM is now tasked—by his own design—with maximizing the value of all his returns. Bungling this situation, especially in the case of Nash, wouldn’t just set the Rangers back as a franchise – it might even cost him his job.

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