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Sunday Insider: The Case for Rick Nash

  One school of thought as the NHL trade deadline approaches on the 27th is that the Rangers should avoid acquiring Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who visit the Garden tonight, and instead, fill in around the edges, with a rental forward and defenseman, and allow the team to grow and mature. 
               The premise? That this Rangers team, with 79 points, is already potent enough to make a deep playoff run, that Nash would disrupt chemistry and that his $7.8 million annual cost would damage the salary cap for years, as well as cripple the farm system. Instead, next year’s cap space could be used to target an unrestricted free agent such as the Devils’ Zach Parise, who will have plenty of suitors. No guarantees there.
                 Here’s one argument for Nash, a 27-year-old power forward who can create, carry and finish to the tune of 30 to 40 goals a year. Consider: Stars like Nash don’t come down the road every year. It’s rare in this age of clubs locking up young talent to long-term deals.
               Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts MVP, has repeatedly said that his clock is ticking: that after seven years, he badly wants to play in June, i.e., the Finals. Does Lundqvist deserve to make some serious runs at the Cup in his prime? Or will his best years---and dreams---go unfulfilled, like another great New York athlete, Don Mattingly?
               So why not spend some assets on a potential difference-maker? The Eastern Conference berth in the Finals is wide open. Lundqvist has been amazing and the defense willing to sacrifice life and limb. But is there enough scoring? Doubtful. And what happens if Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards or Ryan Callahan is injured in March, when the team plays 17 games in 30 days?   
               But the Rangers could be scary with Nash in the top six and on the power play.
               If the Rangers refuse to include top prospect Chris Kreider in any deal (understandable), they could offer Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon or J.T. Miller (whom The Hockey News poll of scouts rate as their No. 2 and 3 prospects), and a No. 1 pick in June (which likely will be in the lower third of the first round.) Or more. Perhaps Carl Hagelin or a high pick in 2013, could be dangled.
                The Rangers sent two second-rounders and prospect Roman Horak to Calgary for Erixon, who was a No. 1 pick of Montreal. But will Erixon unseat Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh or Marc Staal to crack the top 4 in the next two years? Don’t think so.
              Along with Erixon and Miller, the Blueshirts have stockpiled more prospects than they have for a decade. Punishing d-man Dylan McIlrath; Christian Thomas, son of former NHLer Steve; Swedish forward Jesper Fasth; Minnesota high school star Steven Fogarty (committed to Notre Dame);Michael St. Croix, the Edmonton Oil Kings center, a top-six scorer in the WHL, and Shane McColgan, a center for the Kelowna Rockets.
              And it’s not as if there are no youngsters currently on the roster: eight regulars are 25 or under: Derek Stepan, 21, Del Zotto, 21; McDonagh, 22; Artem Anisimov, 23; Hagelin, 23; Michael Sauer, 24; Staal, 25, and Anton Stralman, 25.
              Nash, a world-class left wing, is a huge upgrade over Dubinsky, who will have better years. And Kreider, whose speed is astonishing for a 6-foot-3 winger, could step in for Hagelin. Another improvement.  For those worried about future cap issues, like what to do when Gaborik’s $7.5 million per contract is up in two years, well, would you rather have Nash at 29 or extend Gaborik, at 32?
               The complicating issue is whether Nash, who reportedly will waive his no trade clause for the Rangers and a select few other teams, will be moved by the 27th.  Columbus has an interim coach (Todd Richards) and lame-duck general manager (Scott Howson). Does Nash want to be around for another Ohio rebuild? Or come to a contender?
Points since All-Star break (nine games)
Marian Gaborik 2-8-10
Ryan Callahan 6-1-7
Michael Del Zotto 2-5-7
Brad Richards 1-5-6
Derek Stepan 1-5-6
Playoff possibilities
              Should the Rangers finish 1 or 2 in the East, among the likely first-round opponents (7th or 8th) are the Capitals, Panthers, Leafs, Senators and Devils. The Blueshirts haven’t dominated any of them except Florida (3-1). They are 2-1 vs. Washington, whom they face in the last game of the regular season on April 7; 1-2 vs. Toronto; 1-1-1 vs. Ottawa and 1-1-1 vs. New Jersey, with three games left in the Hudson River rivalry.   Also lurking: Winnipeg. Brrr.


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