By Sean Hartnett
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Rick Nash is heating up, and so is his market value as the NHL trade deadline looms closer. Even though the Rangers’ season is crashing and burning, the 33-year-old alternate captain is leaving fans with a positive impression as his days with the club are likely dwindling.
One week stands between Monday and the Feb. 26 deadline. Once the deadline has come and gone, Nash will likely be preparing for life with a new franchise that is eyeing a Stanley Cup playoff berth.
Any team fortunate enough to win the Nash sweepstakes would be gaining a multifaceted wing who excels across three zones and in all situations. He is a goal-scoring wing who drives offense and is a factor on the power play and penalty kill. Whichever team comes away with Nash would get a rare talent who might be the final piece that helps spark a Stanley Cup run.
Nash has tallied 10 points (nine goals, one assist) in the last 16 games. He is tied for third in the NHL in goals over that span. His 18th goal of the season was scored on a fancy forehand-to-backhand effort. Right now, Nash is hot – but every goalscorer goes through his share of peaks and valleys.
The constants in Nash’s game are many – a no-quit work ethic, responsible play across 200 feet of ice, a big frame that lends itself to dominant puck control and the ability to force turnovers and lead the rush down ice. Nash’s 50 takeaways are tied for 12th best in the NHL.
Though spectacular, his goal Sunday was only a footnote in a game in which the Rangers put in a defensively deficient performance in a 7-4 loss to the rival Philadelphia Flyers. Now holding a 27-28-5 record, the Blueshirts have lost four consecutive games and were outscored 13-7 in a weekend back-to-back against the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia.
“I thought offensively we had some good looks. Defensively, they got a couple opportunities there,” coach Alain Vigneault said following Sunday’s defeat. “Our guys battled. They tried hard. In the third, I mean, no excuse, but we were running on fumes there a little bit with five games in seven days. Guys came out and tried to bounce back from our game yesterday and came up short.
“This is definitely not a pleasant time for us,” he added. “But again, you have to keep doing your jobs, both players and coaches, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Rangers have days off scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. They will return to practice Wednesday prior to Thursday’s away game in Montreal. The time off allows the Rangers to focus on their trade-deadline strategy. Nash, winger Michael Grabner, defenseman Nick Holden and center David Desharnais are all in their final contract years. Captain Ryan McDonagh has reportedly submitted a list of 10 teams that he would not accept a trade to.
Once the next seven days have passed, Rangers fans will see a lot of familiar faces leave town and get a taste of the organization’s designs to overhaul a roster that has not produced an Eastern Conference finals appearance since 2015.
“As we approach the trade deadline later this month and into the summer, we will be focused on adding young, competitive players that combine speed, skill and character,” general manager Jeff Gorton and team president Glen Sather said through a statement earlier this month.
A highly altered version of the Rangers will emerge for their first post-deadline game in Vancouver on Feb. 28. It will be the dawn of a new era.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey