Sunday morning, the hockey world got word that the long-rumored Bruins interest in Rick Nash had passed into reality.
Boston gave up five pieces to get Nash — and simultaneously clear half of their obligation to Matt Beleskey off the books going forward — as a guy who will fill out their top-six forward group. It was a kind of big move just in terms of assets, but the Bruins had assets to give and if you’re gonna swing for the fences this is the year to do it.
Anyone could see for a while now that the wing is a place where Boston, elite though it may be as a team, clearly needed an upgrade. As much as you might think Jake DeBrusk has a nice future ahead of him as an NHLer, teams don’t often win championships with guys like DeBrusk — best defined as “perfectly okay” — when they’re going to have to probably go through three of the six best teams in the league just to get to the Cup Final; they’re all but guaranteed a date with Toronto in the first round, then Tampa in the second, and at this point it’s looking like Pittsburgh in the third if things shake out as expected.
Then you probably get one of Nashville or Winnipeg in the Cup Final. So yes, adding up front was a necessary move for the Bruins, and they probably got the best player available at this deadline to suit that need. Which is to say, there aren’t any better winger options out there than Rick Nash, and even if the price was maybe a little steep — cerainly it wasn’t outrageous — that’s now the price you gotta pay if you’re the Bruins.
Put simply, Don Sweeney had to push all his chips in on this season, and one imagines he’s not done yet. Patrice Bergeron is likely never going to be better than he is right now, going through the best season of his career in his early 30s. Zdeno Chara is past 40, still playing great hockey, and a pending UFA. Brad Marchand might still have a season or two like this up his sleeve, but at 29, he’s a depreciating asset as well. David Krejci, well, he needed more help than the Bruins were giving him but he’s probably a perfectly okay No. 2 center option. And the fact that both Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have been well above average this year? All that necessitates the Bruins become heavy buyers, irrespective of what anyone else in the East might have done before this deadline.
Nash, of course, brings plenty of goalscoring prowess to the table, and that Krejci line badly needs a finisher. Among skaters with at least 500 minutes played this season, Nash’s individual goals per 60 at 5-on-5 is tied for 24th in the league, with Vladimir Tarasenko and a few other guys, despite a fairly low personal shooting percentage.
That tells you two things: He’s a volume shooter (fourth in 5-on-5 shots per 60 this year) and he’s had a bit of bad luck. What it doesn’t tell you is that he’s had little help in generating points, as his teammates have an even lowershooting percentage when he’s on the ice than he does; while he’s shooting 9.8 percent, a bit low for him historically but about what he did last year, his linemates in New York shot just 4.7 percent this year.
There’s this idea out there, fostered in no small part by a few Rangers crash-and-burns in the playoffs, that Nash is past it. Certainly his days of scoring 30 a year are gone now, but the idea that he’s washed up because Mats Zuccarello can’t finish or something is a bit silly on its face. Over the last three seasons, Nash has 1.41 primary points per 60 (that is, scoring himself or directly setting up another player) at full strength, a number that ties him with Max Pacioretty, Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, and a few others. Moreover, he’s one hundredth of a point behind Bergeron in that category. Seems fine to me.
That’s a guy you have to give up something to get and frankly, the Bruins’ first-round pick is the most valuable piece in this trade going forward. Otherwise the deal is built around Ryans Spooner (a clear NHLer for whom the Bruins had little use, rightly or wrongly) and Lindgren (a low-scording 20-year-old defenseman in his second year at the University of Minnesota). “Five pieces to give up” sounds steep, for sure, but apart from the pick in the late 20s (probably) this year, these are a bunch of assets for which Boston would have likely had no serious need.
Again, Boston needed Nash (or a player like him) all along — I’d been joking about this exact trade since January — but they really and truly needed him given what’s going on with the rest of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams. New Jersey added Michael Grabner, who gives them some of the goalscoring punch they obviously needed. Then Pittsburgh added Derick Brassard, a low-end No. 1 center having a not-good year on a sinking ship, to be their No. 3 center, which should strike terror into the hearts of all future playoff opponents. Rumors also remain persistent that Tampa is leading the way on an Erik Karlsson trade that is reportedly and increasingly likely to happen before the deadline.
So in a way, even if you weren’t a big believer in Nash or the Bruins (and you’d be making a mistake in either case), the Bruins had to do something. This is a guy who tangibly improves their offense, especially if they get him away from the net-front on the power play — that’s David Backes’s job! — and let him shoot the damn puck. And they’re going to need all the help they can get; maybe they need to go get even more help, though now obviously it becomes harder without that first-round pick. Nash seems to have set the market at “first, lower-end rostered NHLer, and good-but-not-great prospect” with a salary dump included, so where we go from here will be interesting.
It’s a wild time in the NHL because of how aggressively elite teams are pursuing top-end help, and with alleged turns of events like Karlsson and Max Pacioretty asking out of their situations, there will be plenty of opportunity for even lower-end playoff teams to add elite talent.
The Bruins did everything they reasonably could to get better in a volatile market. Nash should be a strong addition to their offense. And it looks like they’re gonna need it.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: I know it’s one of those things where Bob Murray only feels like he should make a trade if his team “earns it” or whatever but the Ducks not making any sort of semi-significant trade basically means they probably won’t make the playoffs.
Arizona Coyotes: I’m still trying to wrap my head around that Darcy Kuemper trade because it seemed like Chayka sold awful low on Tobias Rieder for a guy who’s, like, an okay backup.
Boston Bruins: This basically doesn’t matter at all. Gionta a No. 14 forward. Nice to have the Leadership, I guess. Whatever.
Buffalo Sabres: Yeah honestly it would have been nice if, at any point during the rebuild, the Sabres developed one defenseman who can play the position. And please don’t come to me with this Ristolainen stuff. Can’t listen to that.
Calgary Flames: I guess having David Rittich and Jon Gillies playing real well while Mike Smith is out is… somehow not ideal??? Not sure I get the logic there. Not-trading for Antti Raanta or Robin Lehner seems like it’s pretty okay, to me.
Carolina Hurricanes: Just horrible, horrible news.
Chicago: Really can’t wait for some veteran on this team to have a full-on meltdown about this season.
Colorado Avalanche: I love the rise of third-party teams that help facilitate trades to get a few assets. Every team with cap space and no plans to add at the deadline should absolutely do that. Why didn’t we think of this when salary retention first became a thing.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Really like this Letestu trade for Columbus. They didn’t give up much and got a guy who can for-sure play on their special teams in particular. And hey, their big issue is that their special teams suck, so…
Dallas Stars: Yeah I don’t see much point to Dallas adding something big. Clearly the third-best team in their own division at best, and pretty likely to make the playoffs with their current group.
Detroit Red Wings: The “right price” for the Red Wings is “anything anyone will give us for almost any player on the roster” so don’t get that twisted.
Edmonton Oilers: I don’t want to do spoilers but the first five words of this headline should win a Golden Globe for best comedy.
Florida Panthers: Seems like we’re gonna have to listen to a lot of “the Panthers might make it!” talk in the next few weeks. They entered Sunday five points out. They won’t make it. Thanks.
Los Angeles Kings: Well if it can’t be good, at least the Pacific is interesting.
Minnesota Wild: This is a bummer.
Montreal Canadiens: I like the Plekanec trade for the Habs especially in light of the reported trade demand from Max Pacioretty. If they’re not officially rebuilding yet (and with four second-round picks this year, they probably are), they will be when Bergevin gets canned this summer.
Nashville Predators: This is the best team in the West without equivocation. Might be that no one’s particularly close. What a club.
New Jersey Devils: I wonder what the Devils realistically think they can do in the postseason. If I’m them, I don’t want any part of the newly center-deep Penguins and probably not the Caps either. Philly, maybe. I can see that going either way. But at best, this looks like a second-round team that gets routed, right?
New York Islanders: Is Brandon Davidson best friends with John Tavares or something? I mean, he can play a little bit and all that, but this is what you give up a third-round pick for? Okay.
New York Rangers: People are really overestimating Ryan Lindgren in all this, I think. You can get guys like Lindgren on the NCAA free agent market every summer. Ryan Spooner is fine, Beleskey is a salary dump. I mean, nice to get five things for a rental, I suppose, but the only piece of real value here is the 27th overall pick or whatever it ends up being.
Ottawa Senators: Truly, I cannot believe any of this is happening.
Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah if I’m New Jersey I don’t even want to play these guys.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Honestly, Crosby-Malkin-Brassard is the deepest 1-3 in the cap era, and I’m not sure it’s even close.
San Jose Sharks: I’m not in love with a Karlsson trade for the Sharks but it would certainly make the Pacific race crazy down the stretch.
St. Louis Blues: “Not terrible” to stand pat? Buddy did you see that Predators game? They’re out of the playoffs and just got waxed. They gotta try to get some kinda help here.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Dawg, if this team gives up, like Sergachev, a first and a few other pieces to get Erik freakin Karlsson, that’s as close to a cure-all as you can get in this particular sport. C’mon now.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Yeah if your four centers are Matthews, Kadri, Bozak, and Plekanec, you’re in good shape against anyone in the Atlantic, probably.
Vancouver Canucks: “Kids in spotlight” is an interesting approach for a team that’s supposed to be rebuilding.
Vegas Golden Knights: Are the Golden Knights good and interesting because people can bet on them right next to the arena? Absolutely that’s why, yes.
Washington Capitals: Yeah I can’t believe this Ovechkin 600 stuff. He’s amazing. What a blessing to us!!
Winnipeg Jets: Pretty quiet 30-goal season from Laine, huh?
Play of the Weekend
Goals like this one are both the light of my life and a perfect encapsulation of the Senators season.
Gold Star Award
Olympic hockey was more interesting and fun than I thought it would be, but I guess that’s what happens when no one has competent goaltending.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
I haven’t been able to get to HFBoards all day. It’s deadline season baby!!!!
Uh huh… What region?
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)