Leafs should go for Nash
Winger would be costly, but worth it
MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Rick Nash must have felt like a horse with a jockey riding on his back.
It was the gold medal game of the 2007 World Hockey Championship and Canada was nursing a narrow 3-2 lead over the Finns.
With the clock ticking down and the Finns pressing in the Canadian zone, Nash suddenly was sprung loose by a breakout pass and chugged his way toward the opposition’s net.
In a last-ditch effort to slow him down, one Finnish defender clamped on to the back of Nash’s 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame in a futile attempt to slow down the Canadian forward. Didn’t work. Instead, the Finn came along for the ride and had the perfect view as Nash, passenger in tow, made a nifty little move before scoring the gold-medal clinching goal in a 4-2 championship victory for Canada.
For Edmonton Oilers captain Ryan Smyth, known as Captain Canada for all his appearances in international competitions, it is a memory he’ll never forget.
“It was one of the most special goals I have ever seen,” Smyth said on Wednesday.
Heady praise from a guy who has seen a lot of goals in his time.
In fact, if you go to YouTube and look up the top Team Canada goals of all-time, you’ll find a replay of Nash’s magnificent moment alongside the heroics of guys named Crosby, Lemieux and, of course, Paul Henderson.
In the end, what the goal showed was Nash’s special combination of skill and strength, a rare mixture that arguably makes him the top power forward in the game along with Anaheim’s Corey Perry.
And it’s a prime reason why the Maple Leafs should make a strong run for him.
As was explained in this space yesterday, it won’t be easy. Nor will it be cheap.
Then again, commodities like Rick Nash do not come around every day.
We’re not talking about the Ilya Kovalchuks of the world here, ridiculously talented players that suddenly disappear during the post-season when the checking increases and open ice decreases.
In Rick Nash, you have a guy that can plough through and/or over opponents when attempting to get from Point A to Point B, a rare gem when spring hockey comes around.
Look at how effective guys like Boston’s Milan Lucic and Philly’s Scott Hartnell have been in past playoff runs. Might means right in the post-season, and Nash has plenty of it.
Yes, he does have a big ticket contract, one that runs through 2018 with a cap hit of $7.8 million US per season. At the same time he still is just 27, meaning he’ll be in his early 30s when the deal expires, an age when many players remain in their prime.
This much is certain: If Brian Burke somehow wriggles Nash out of Columbus, don’t expect there to be the $5 million-plus a year in the pot that Mikhail Grabovski is looking for in a new contract.
Interestingly, those here in Edmonton that know Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson from his days in the Oilers organization claim he will demand smooth-skating defenceman Jake Gardiner as part of any package involving the Leafs. Whatever Howson lands for Nash, it likely will involve at least three or four high-end prospects, young players and/or picks.
Burke’s one concern is that such a deal could wipe out a lucrative cache of young talent it has taken him three years to stockpile. It is a risk, sure. But for a rare talent such as Nash, there are those of us who feel it is worth it.
Then again, there are other teams that likely have more to offer. Given the Jackets’ goaltending woes, Cory Schneider could be offered as part of a package by the Vancouver Canucks, who certainly wouldn’t be pushed around as easily as they were by the likes of the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final with Nash in the lineup. The Los Angeles Kings, who are starving for offence, could use Jonathan Bernier and defenceman Jack Johnson as trade bait for the big winger. The Bruins, Wings, Sharks, Flyers and Rangers are also expected to be in the mix for the Brampton native.
The bidding war will be intense and costly, sure.
But for a guy like Rick Nash, it probably is worth it.
Just ask Ryan Smyth.