Rangers Reap Immediate Rewards, But Could Face Long-Term Issues After Adding Rick Nash

Rangers Reap Immediate Rewards, But Could Face Long-Term Issues After Adding Rick NashFor the immediate future, the Rangers couldn’t have asked for a better result from their extended courtship of Rick Nash.

After months of pursuit through the trade deadline and draft weekend, New York finally landed the high-scoring forward in a trade with the Blue Jackets on Monday. And the Rangers did so without having to surrender any of the key young players Columbus had coveted. Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan will all now become teammates of Nash rather than trade chips needed to acquire him.

The Rangers are now loaded up front with Nash joining the likes of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Kreider and Stepan in a formidable top six. Add in some solid role players like Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin, Arrom Asham, Mike Rupp, Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt for the bottom six, a defense led by McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto and reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist in goal and New York has the makings of a tough team to get past in the East. For this year anyway.

The Rangers even have more than $13 million left in cap space for the upcoming season, with only restricted free agent defensemen Del Zotto and Anton Stralman left unsigned. That could give them the chance to add even more this offseason. They remain in contention to sign free agent forward Shane Doan, who recently visited with the team and would really upgrade the size, skill and experience up front in conjunction with Nash.

But this year isn’t the issue. It’s New York’s long-term prospects that could tip this trade from a huge win for the Rangers to a more complicated result. Despite their ample cap space at the moment, Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit through 2017-18 could cause some complications as the Rangers’ other key players come due for new deals in the coming years.

Those key assets they kept out of the trade will still cost the Rangers, with McDonagh and Stepan scheduled to become restricted free agents after this upcoming season and Kreider’s entry-level deal up after next year. That summer of 2014 will also see Lundqvist, Gaborik, Callahan and Girardi become unrestricted free agents, while Staal is a UFA in 2015.

That’s a lot of big contracts to hand out in the next couple years, especially if changes in the new collective bargaining agreement currently being negotiated end up lowering the cap or eliminating the ability to store bad contracts in the minors to escape the cap hit. That latter issue could be particularly troublesome for the Rangers, who have kept Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit in the AHL the last two years. That contract runs through 2013-14, so it could come back to haunt them in the near future if such loopholes are closed.

Nash’s team-high $7.8 million cap hit could become an albatross as well, especially if his production declines as he gets into his 30s. Nash, 28, has already shown some signs of that, with his numbers declining slightly in each of the last three seasons. He’s dropped from 40 goals and a career-best 79 points in 2008-09 to just 30 goals and 59 points this past season. Some of that decline could be the result of his dissatisfaction with his situation in Columbus and the lack of talent around him, but it’s also possible that the wear and tear of nine seasons in the NHL as a power forward is taking its toll as well and that trend could continue even playing for a contender in New York.

That $7.8 million a year price tag won’t be too appealing if Nash’s goal totals slip down into the 20s and that cap hit keeps the Rangers from being able to retain all of its rising young talent.

That’s a problem for tomorrow though. Today, the Rangers stand to be a better team with the addition of Nash without the loss of any of their key foundation pieces. And if Nash can push the Rangers over the top, they’ll gladly deal with the long-term consequences if and when they come.

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