Rangers Can't Count on Nash This Postseason

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 commanding 14-point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently hold the second and final Wild Card (WC) position in the East, one thing is for certain—for the seventh straight season, the Rangers will make the playoffs. According to SportsClubStats.com, not only are the Blueshirts guaranteed a 100% chance of qualifying for the postseason but they also have a 94% chance of entering them in the first Wild Card position they currently occupy.

Great news, right? It is. In fact, despite their precarious blue line, sputtering power play, and middle-of-the-road penalty-kill, a WC1 berth is arguably the best case scenario for a Rangers team which could theoretically still ride a potent, league-leading road wins record (26) and high-octane offense deep into April, May, or even June.

But the Rangers blue line, power play struggles, and average penalty-killing aren’t their only problem. In fact, there’s an elephant in the room this year. The same 212 lb. elephant who has become synonymous with the Rangers’ postseason shortcomings since he was acquired in 2012.

His name is Rick Nash.

The Long Slow Fall

Since the new year, Nash has played in 29 of a possible 33 games for the Blueshirts. He’s scored just five goals and eight assists for 13 points in that span—a 0.45 P/GP pace. While the sample is small, that extrapolates to just 14 goals and 37 points over 82 games.

Despite averaging 16:26 TOI/G, which is good for sixth in even-strength ice time among Rangers forwards this season, he has just one goal in his last ten games and two in his last 16. All while averaging more even-strength ice time than the Rangers leading scorer, J.T. Miller (16:22) and leading goal-scorer, Michael Grabner (14:01). Miller also trails Nash in average power play time on ice even though he is out-scoring him in goals, points, and P/GP this season.

Contrary to years past, he appears less willing to drive through traffic to get to the tough areas of the ice, particularly the slot and the top of the crease, is knocked off the puck easier, and seems to be playing a more passive, conservative game.

And all of this is coming with a $7.8M price tag every season.

Pitiful Playoff Performances

In 65 total playoff games, he has 12 goals and 36 points, which is equal to a 0.55 P/GP pace that compares somewhat favorably to his 0.78 P/GP regular season career average. There’s a drop off there, yes, but few players don’t experience a relative production dip when the ice tends to get smaller and the competition ratchets up as each new round begins. It’s not uncommon for a player’s playoffs shooting percentage to take a dip, or his scoring pace to take a small step backward, but in Nash’s case, his goal-scoring regression specifically has been especially stark over the last three years.

Including the Rangers run to the Cup Final in 2014, in which he scored just three goals in 25 games, zero of which occurred during the Kings’ five-game Final curb stomping, Nash has scored a total of ten goals in 49 games (0.20 G/GP). He has 28 points in that span (0.57 P/GP), which aligns well with his playoff scoring average, but his goal-scoring—the thing he is most relied on to do—falls short of the mark for a player of his caliber.

Patrick Sharp (35) and Jeff Carter (32), two top-six players of similar age, salary, and stature, who compare favorably with the kind of player Rick Nash is, are both examples of the kind of postseason scoring production the Rangers should be getting out of him but aren’t. Over the same 2012-2015 time frame, Sharp has 20 goals (0.30 G/GP) and 41 points (0.63 P/GP) over 65 games, and Carter has 18 goals and (0.37 G/GP) 40 points (0.81 P/GP) in 49 games.

Though five years older than Nash, if we also look at Chicago’s Marian Hossa over the four-year period (2008 to 2011) from ages 30 to 34 where he played a comparable number of postseason games, he too outperformed Nash by a sizable margin. In 72 playoff games over that span, he scored 23 goals (0.32 G/GP) and 62 points (0.86 P/GP).

To put this in an even wider perspective, Carl Hagelin, a middle-six player who played most of his time with the New York Rangers on the third line has actually scored more playoff goals (12) from 2012 to 2015—years he and Nash shared with the Blueshirts—in just seven more games played (56).

If you pull back to also include the 12 playoff games played in 2012-13, the season Nash was acquired, in which the Rangers were bounced in the second round by the Bruins, the goal-scoring production is still just as bleak. He had one goal in those 12 games and just five points. He also shot at a hilarious (in the laugh so as not to cry variety) 2.4%. That’s no typo. You read it right. Two point four.

The shooting percentages only marginally improved in the following seasons in which he shot 3.6% and 7.2% respectively. While this helps to explain the poor goal totals, it doesn’t explain why he performs so miserably when the games matter most.

His shooting percentage actually dropped precipitously in all of his first three seasons with the Rangers. In 2012-13, he shot 11.9% in the regular season and 2.4% in the postseason—a 9.5% drop. In 2013-14, he shot 10.1% in the regular season and 3.6% in the postseason—a 6.5% drop. And in 2014-15, he shot 13.8% in the regular season and 7.2% in the postseason—6.6% drop. His last season, these past playoffs, he finally bucked the trend by actually increasing his shooting percentage by just shy of ten percentage points (20% up from 10.1% in the regular season), but this all occurred in only five first round games (in which he scored two goals and four points). Games the Rangers were emphatically embarrassed in by the eventual Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins who outscored the Rangers by a combined score of 21-10 in the series.

The fact of the matter is, Nash was a reliable two-way player who provided respectable possession play in his first three seasons on Broadway. Seasons in which he averaged a 53.4 CF%, and a 53.8 FF%. In some ways, he still is a reliable two-way player. But age has not been kind to him, and the soon-to-be 33-year old is ill-equipped to fight off the ghosts of postseasons past himself. His last two seasons in New York have seen his production fall, and his analytics numbers follow it over the same cliff. His CF% has fallen every season in which he’s pulled on the Rangers sweater, crashing to a career low 45.6 this season, as have his FF%, which have fallen to his second-worst career low of 47.1 this season.

Luckily for Nash, the Rangers are possibly staring at a gift regarding their potential to sidestep the Metropolitan division perhaps directly through to the Eastern Conference Final. That path will likely ride on the backs of superior goaltending, thanks to a well-rested Henrik Lundqvist, and reliable depth scoring from a collection of forwards not named Rick Nash.

Perhaps a reduced role and the fact that Nash may not need to be relied on to individually lead the charge could give way to a magical resurgence in scoring, but with just ten games remaining in the regular season, his best chance at quelling these turbulent waters this Spring is to hope that the Rangers especially deep group of young forwards this season make up the ground history tells us he will likely give up when the playoffs begin. That the team has success in spite of, not because of, his play. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Rick Nash isn’t likely to be among that collection of heralded playoff warriors. It just doesn’t seem to be in him.

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