The Return of Rick Nash

Rick Nash

Rick Nash has been the only good thing about the Rangers this season. Sure, the season is only four games old and we are just 4.9 percent of the way through it, but while the defense looks like it’s playing in the Wednesday night 10 p.m. beer league and the Rangers’ goaltending is putting up Rick DiPietro-like numbers, Nash has provided six of the team’s 11 goals and is on pace for 123 goals this season.

I don’t really think Nash is going to not only beat, but completely shatter Wayne Gretzky’s 1981-82 record of 92 goals by 31 goals by averaging 1.5 goals per game for an entire 82-game schedule because that is never, ever happening. Never. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ever. Not for Nash, not for Sidney Crosby, not for Alex Ovechkin, not for Steven Stamkos, not for anyone. But I do realize when something special is happening. I realized after one episode of Friday Night Lights that I was going to spend the next five days watching 50 episodes of a TV show. I realized after hearing Pearl Jam’s “Sirens” last fall for the first time that I was going to listen to it 1,519 times in the next year. I realized after reading The Bobby Orr Story for my summer reading book in middle school that I was going to keep reading it and using it for every summer reading and every book report through junior high school. When I sense something special coming around, it usually happens a lot, and it’s happening with Rick Nash scoring goals.

In 2011-12, Nash’s first season with the Rangers, he didn’t score his sixth goal of the season until the 17th game of the season and last season, he didn’t score his sixth goal of the season until the 15th game. But on Tuesday night against the Islanders when nothing was going right for the Rangers during an absolutely embarrassing third period, Nash scored his sixth goal of the young season after having scored his fifth in the first period.

Six goals and seven points in four games are the numbers I expect from Rick Nash. Well, maybe not “expect” since they project out to be insane figures (123-21-144), but then again, if anyone could score 123 goals and have only 21 assists, it would be Nash, whose entire career has been about having more goals than assists. And that’s what I mean by these are the numbers I expected from Nash. Columbus Nash scored more goals than he had assists in seven of nine seasons and that’s the Rick Nash I expected in New York: at least 30 goals on the low end and 40-plus on the high end. He has nearly given the Rangers that in his first two years when you project his 21 goals in 44 games in 2012-13 and his 26 goals in 65 games in 2013-14 out over 82 games, you get a 39-goal season in 2012-13 and a 33-goal season in 2013-14, which would have been the third- and fifth-best goal seasons of his 11-year career. Unfortunately, there isn’t an asterisk we can put aside his 2012-13 and 2013-14 numbers to denote Gary Bettman’s latest negotiation disaster and concussions as a result of head shots for why Nash didn’t achieve those projected goal totals.

Nash has played 113 regular-season games for the Rangers, scoring 53 goals in those games. That looks like steady production at .47 goals per game and without watching him you might think he is a model for consistent goal scoring in the NHL. But Nash has been anything but consistent as a Ranger, which actually makes him the perfect Ranger.

Let’s look at Nash’s 2012-13 regular season:

In seven games from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31, Nash had one goal (.14 goals per game).

In 12 games from Feb. 2 to March 8, Nash had eight goals (.67 GPG).

In eight games from March 10 to March 24, Nash had one goal (.13 GPG).

In eight games from March 26 to April 8, Nash had seven goals (.86 GPG).

In nine games from April 10 to April 27, Nash had four goals (.44 GPG).

And let’s look at Nash’s 2013-14 season:

In 11 games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 10, Nash had six goals (.55 GPG).

In 11 games from Dec. 12 Jan. 4, Nash had one goal (.09 GPG).

In 11 games from Jan. 6 to Jan. 26, Nash had 11 goals (1.00 GPG).

In 15 games from Jan. 29 to March 16, Nash had two goals (.13 GPG).

In seven games from March 18 to March 30, Nash had five goals (.71 GPG).

In six games from April 1 to April 12, Nash had one goal (.17 GPG).

Nash has admitted he’s a streaky goal scorer and over this first two years with the Rangers, he has owned up to his self evaluation. He scores in spurts and when he does, they aren’t usually in short spurts like the current four-game stretch to open the season. They are usually for a couple of weeks. While his current pace is league-leading and also impossible to keep up, his tendencies over the last two seasons do hint at the idea that this patented Rick Nash hot streak isn’t over yet.

But even if Nash joins the 50-goal club or gets back to his old home in the 40-goal club, ultimately, what he does in the regular season won’t matter for his legacy. Yes, his usual production is needed for the Rangers to actually reach the postseason, but until they get there, nothing Nash does will really matter to those who still don’t believe Henrik Lundqvist can lead a championship team even if he single-handedly carried the Rangers through the Eastern Conference playoffs and did everything but score in overtime in Games 1, 2 and 5 of the Final to prove he is the best goaltender in the world. Nash’s legacy won’t begin to once again be evaluated until the first game of the second season. With a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (2003-04), two Olympic gold medals (2010 and 2014), a shoe-in for 400 career goals and on a solid pace for 500 career goals, the only thing left for Nash to do is to have one of his patented hot streaks in the playoffs, prove himself in the postseason and hope that the year he finally puts it together in the spring is part of another Rangers’ Cup run.

I have waited six postseason series for Nash to come around. He didn’t score in seven games against the Capitals. He scored once in five games against the Bruins. He didn’t score in seven games against the Flyers. He didn’t score in seven games against the Penguins. He scored three times against the Canadiens. He didn’t score in five games against Kings. He scored in one of 12 playoff games in 2012-13 and in three of 25 playoff games in 2013-14. I would say somehow the Rangers went 18-19 in the last two postseasons with their best offensive player only scoring three goals in those 27 games, but that “somehow” is Henrik Lundqvist.

I have waited for two-plus years for this Rick Nash, Columbus Rick Nash, the Real Rick Nash to be a Ranger. And after not letting his extended slump negatively impact the rest of his game during the playoffs, he has started off this year better than I or anyone could have imagined or hoped for.

I have waited for that Rick Nash to show New York why I was willing to trade Chris Kreider and the whole farm for him at the 2011-12 trade deadline and now he’s arrived.

Welcome to New York, Rick Nash. It’s good to finally have you here.