Getty ImagesEarlier this week, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch updated the Rick Nash Derby (such as it is) with a definitive six-team list of approved destinations: The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.
Three Original Sixers. Two storied franchises based in the Northeast. And the San Jose Sharks.
Or, in summary: Patrice Bergeron and/or Tyler Seguin; Pavel Datsyuk; Brad Richards; Claude Giroux and/or Danny Briere; Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin; and Joe Thornton.
Nash has never had a star center. He scored 41 goals with Andrew Cassels as his center with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and meshed well with Manny Malhotra; otherwise, the Jackets have tried more options at the pivot for Nash than Senators have tried goaltenders in the last decade.
OK, he had Jeff Carter last season, so let's alter that to "Nash never had a star center who wasn't soul-crushingly bitter about his lot in life before winning a Stanley Cup with the LA Kings." Besides, the Carter experiment spoke to Nash's chemistry problem with some centers: Nash likes the puck. Carter likes the puck. There's only one puck. (Well, usually.)
So while Nash's apparent refusal to play nord of da border has gained infamy, his list also tells us what he's looking for in a roster to flourish as an offensive star.
From the Dispatch:
"To me, Rick Nash should not touch the puck before the offensive blue line," said former NHL forward Ed Olczyk, now a broadcaster with the Chicago Blackhawks and NBC Sports. "I mean, yeah, drop the puck back to a defenseman, sure, but he should not be carrying the puck up the ice, and you see that too much, in my opinion.
"His next team -- if you look at the teams on the list -- will have a distributing centerman and an offensive defenseman who can get the puck up the ice - bang! - right away. He needs to find somebody to play with -- somebody with high-end skill -- and play with them consistently, develop some chemistry and play off each other. Right now, teams scheme against him. It's just too easy to scheme against him the way he's played."
Every one of the teams on Nash's list has those two components, even if Detroit's elite puck-moving defenseman is now a scout in Europe. And as Joe Haggerty notes, at least one of the Bruins' centers would likely have to move to get Nash, and someone should tell Scott Howson is won't be Tyler Seguin.
Is it coincidental that the teams on Nash's list all have elite puck-distributing centers? Perhaps. Good teams usually do. Or Nash knows that wherever he goes, he doesn't want to be the object of affection for opposing defenses. He wants other players that can get him the puck and take the heat off him in coverage.
In theory, he also wants players — and coaches — that are going to allow him to grow as a player. Ray Ferraro of TSN had a great observation in the Dispatch about Nash having too much "junior" left in his game; as in, he tries to do too much on his own and thinks his size and power can overcome multiple player coverage from the defense, which it can't. (How very Lindrosian.) From Ferraro:
"He's not playing junior hockey any longer if he ends up in New York (John Tortorella) and Detroit (Mike Babcock), I'll promise you that. Those coaches will get it out of him in a hurry."
I still think Detroit is a fascinating destination, but don't the Wings need to focus a tad more on the blue line?