After the Buffalo Sabres rebuild took a big step forward this season, the expectations placed on Tim Murray have grown this summer. The process of turning the Sabres back into a contender will need to advance yet again and Murray is expected to be active on the trade market as he was last year.
One name that has begun to pop up as a trade target around the league (and for the Sabres) is Rick Nash. Whether or not Nash is an ideal fit for the Sabres is up for debate as questions over Nash’s age, contract and asking price need to be asked.
Nash, just over a year removed from a 42-goal campaign, is a powerful star forward who would slot in perfectly on the left side of Buffalo’s top-six. In that sense he’s almost a no brainer acquisition for the Sabres. He, among other long time Rangers, has been tabbed for a potential exit this summer as the Rangers are expected to reshape their roster after a disappointing first round playoff exit.
The Rangers are fighting a cap crunch due to big deals handed out to underperforming players, namely Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Big money has also been paid to Nash (via his contract signed in Columbus), Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan. Combine those big deals with a barren cupboard of prospects and picks after a number of deadline deals and Jeff Gorton is left with quite a pickle on his hands.
New York are in need of futures in a bad way. They only hold one pick in the top-60 in the next two drafts and don’t pick until the third round this year. By moving some of their valuable players, the Rangers could ease the pressure on their cap along with replenishing their pipeline after chasing the Cup. Moving Nash could give them a strong start on replenishing their pipeline with picks and prospects or possibly even an NHL player who still has a contract with club control.
Even after last year’s run of trades, Tim Murray still has a host of assets at his disposal. So there’s more than enough space to make a move for a player like Nash. In a vacuum, Nash is exactly the type of player the Sabres are looking for. However, the balance between Nash’s contract and New York’s expected asking price makes me uneasy about Nash as a target.
The Rangers certainly won’t get anything close to the package they sent to Columbus that included three players (two of whom were quality NHL contributors) and a first round pick. Nash had a down season and they need to get out from under his deal, so they’d be dealing from a position of weakness in that sense. He remains one of the league’s better power forwards and should he regain his scoring touch from 2014-15 (42 goals) he’d be a steal.
Despite being painted into a corner in terms of their need for cap relief, the Rangers would still be dealing a highly sought after commodity. So any expectation that a couple mid-round picks and an average prospect will get the job done should be put out of mind.
It’s my expectation that Gorton’s starting point on Nash will be a first round pick, A-prospect and an NHL body and possibly an additional mid-round selection. He can also offer to retain some of Nash’s salary, which would give him better footing in terms of what he can demand in return. He’ll most definitely get a first as you won’t see too many seven-time 30-goal scorers moved without a first round pick coming the other way, even considering any case you’d make against Nash. However, I would assume Gorton may have to settle for only one of his two or three other requirements. Even if he were to retain salary, there’s enough working against him that his trade partner could probably get away with trimming the package to a first and a prospect, or a first and an NHL body, it’s all conjecture at this point anyway.
With that being considered, I have to think Nash becomes of far less interest to the Sabres. Nash only has two years left on his current deal. When this contract expires he will be 33 and even if New York retains salary, he would be a tough player to re-sign in the summer of 2018. By comparison, Evander Kane will also be a pending UFA in 2018 and he’ll only be 26 years old. So decisions such as that certainly come into play.
Assuming that the Sabres were to give up a first and a prospect for Nash (on a reduced salary of $5m), you’re getting two years of him for two high value assets. That exchange doesn’t work for me and I don’t think it fits within Tim Murray’s plans for building this roster. A trade such as this has the feel of a deadline move for the last piece of the puzzle, not the offseason addition of a key long-term cog.
Murray and the Sabres absolutely should be buyers this summer. They’re certainly in win-now mode(which a trade for Nash would supplement) but they’re also in win-tomorrow mode; and sending significant assets for only two years of a player over 30 doesn’t really fit that model.
I’m more than willing to see Murray get aggressive this offseason, but I expect to see him stay within the bounds of the organization he’s building. Targeting young talent who regardless of current or future cap hit, will contribute for the Sabres on a long-term basis.
Rick Nash doesn’t fit that mold, but there are players out there who do and I expect Murray to go and claim them.