Friday, August 20, 2010

Time to step up: Rick Nash

  • Left wing (but more often plays right wing)
  • Captain
  • 26 years old, 8th year in National Hockey League
  • $7,800,000 cap hit 
  • 13.1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2017-2018
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 76 games played, 33 goals, 34 assists, 67 points, -2, 58 penalty minutes, 20:56 avg. time on ice
Before I dig in (thank you, Mr. Hitchcock, for the term), let me qualify everything you read below with this statement: I really, really, really, REALLY like Rick Nash as a hockey player.  The guy clearly is something special on the ice, a world-class superstar entering the prime years of his professional career.  Remember, he is capable of plays like this:



Or this:



Of course, there's always room for one of these (It's the playoff-qualifying goal from 2009, if you didn't know already...): 



When he wants to be, he can be hockey's equivalent of the Human Highlight Reel.  I cannot speak highly enough of Rick Nash's hockey skill.  Period.



But then there's the rest of the story.  Let's start with this:



That, my friends, is the current salary structure for the Columbus Blue Jackets (as I type this on August 19, 2010).  In case you were curious, the "Other" players include Jared Boll, Andrew Murray, Duvie Wescott's buyout number, Derek Mackenzie, Mike Blunden, Derek Dorsett and Grant Clitsome.  

My stats class professor says that every graph needs to tell a story of the statistics that it presents.  What's the story here?  How about, "It takes a lot of other players' contracts to equal Rick Nash's."  

It also is a telling statement about everything I dislike about the economics of professional team sports.  Simply put, you can be one of the greatest players in the world, play pretty darned well, and your team can still be sub-par.  Yet you get paid like you're winning championships twice a season.  I have a general understanding of Adam Smith and the laws of market economies, but it's totally out of whack in team sports.  By investing so much money in one player, you're short-changing your overall talent pool.  And the one rich player's performance is directly impacted by having (relatively) sub-par talent around him.  Madness.

(Digression: The mad scientist in me would love to see a team where every player is paid roughly $2.7 million - the average salary on a 22-man roster with a $59.4 million salary cap.  Do you think a team that has nothing but $2.7 million talent top to bottom could win a Stanley Cup?  Think about it.  And then move on.)

But the Jackets DID pay Nash that much money.  So, if talent is equivalent to money, Nash is worth roughly two R.J. Umbergers or Antoine Vermettes, 3 Fedor Tyutins, 6 Kris Russells or 11 Jared Bolls (Hmmm...Boll comparison might be accurate...).  He's good, but is he that good?  Is anyone that good?

Which brings me to the on-ice performance.  I know that Nash is only one player on a team of 20+.  At the same time, his financial position with the Columbus Blue Jackets is such that he has put himself under the microscope on every shift, every game, every season.  The team's investment in him is too high for anything less.  He's a great player, but he needs to be even better.  He needs to score more, check more, lift his fellow players' games and, yeah, outright win a disproportionate number of games by his skill alone.  

Lastly, there's the leadership matter.  In my opinion, Nash was appointed captain of the Blue Jackets for all the wrong reasons.  I will grant that the "C" probably influenced his interest in re-signing with the Blue Jackets (after they made him the sixth highest cap hit in the NHL).  Past that, however, Nash has not appeared to demonstrate the leadership necessary to take a reasonably talented team out of a fall-winter '09 tailspin that cost Ken Hitchcock his job.  It is mind-blowing that Scott Howson has to keep running out to the marketplace to bring in "leaders" like Chris Clark and Ethan Moreau when he has a superstar player who should be the leader for the team under long-term contract.  Yeah, over $4.5 million invested in shoring up Rick Nash's leadership shortcomings.  If I was Nash, I would be embarrassed by this recurring development.

So let me suggest what we probably have is a fantastic player who has been miscast as a leader of men.  Some people have it, some don't.  To date, I haven't seen it out of Rick Nash.  I'm not in the locker room nor on the team plane, so I can't say that my impressions are fact; Scott Howson's personnel moves, however, lend credence to my opinions.  

So this is Nash's career challenge.  He took the mantle of uber-highly paid superstar, captain of the team.  There's no one else to blame if things don't happen on this team.  It's a high bar, but he set it when he accepted the "C" and signed the deal.  As such, Nash needs to take it as a personal responsibility - no, a personal obligation - to get this team into the playoffs and do some damage while there.  Anything less, and we have reason to discuss whether his time in Columbus was less than successful.  Time to step up.

2 comments:

  1. You think Columbus could get a Top 20 player for less than that? I doubt it. Rick took less money than he was offered so the Blue Jackets had enough left over to build a team around him. I'm curious what that graph would look like on other teams. Most likely the same or worse. I don't think your research and article hold much weight.

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  2. Who said I wanted Columbus to have a top 20 player?

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