Rick Nash played at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, one of the arenas he could end up competing in more often this season if the New York Rangers pull off the biggest deal before the upcoming trade deadline, now just one week away. Nash also showed exactly why he's such a hot commodity, tying the game with 1:33 left in regulation, as ESPN New York's Katie Strang pointed out in her story on Nash's MSG appearance.
He also faced some pointed questions from Strang and the New York media about his future, brushing a few off with no comments but reiterating what he's said since news emerged that he was on the market. He's still with Columbus. Right now.
"It's going to take care of itself," Nash told reporters in New York. "I'm a Blue Jacket right now; we're playing great hockey. It's fun to be around. It's been a tough year for us, right now when you're winning games, it becomes a different game."
There's a lot to like in Nash's game, but the asking price will be incredibly high. Columbus GM Scott Howson can't have it any other way when dealing his franchise player. That's why teams in the hunt for Nash have to at least consider whether Jeff Carter is the better alternative.
Everything considered, they may be closer than we realize.
Nash vs. Carter
Nash: 27 (born June 16, 1984)
Carter: 27 (born Jan. 1, 1985)
Comment: Both players are in the middle of their prime but are closing in on the time in a hockey player's career when the numbers typically start to decline. Nash's point and goal totals have slowly gone down the past three seasons, while Carter's big 2008-09 season (46 goals, 84 points) might be his high-water mark. Carter has had durability issues, including a separated shoulder and foot injury this season. There's no reason to expect his durability will improve as he ages. "You see players digress, and he's 35 years old or even 32 years old. Is he one of those players?" said an NHL scout. "It's a tough call in this day and age, there are players who can play beyond. Teemu Selanne doesn't seem to slow down. But over 30, they start dropping off dramatically. You have to be able to judge that."
Salary-cap hit (per CapGeek.com)
Nash: $7.8 million through 2017-18, including no-movement clause through 2014-15 and no-trade clause through 2017-18.
Carter: $5.27 million through 2021-22, although the actual salary drops to $2 million in the final two seasons.
Comment: This is the huge edge for Carter. As good as Nash is, that $7.8 million salary-cap hit not only makes him tough to fit in before the trade deadline, it also makes it hard to construct a team around him moving forward. It's widely expected that we'll see the salary cap decrease next season, so if a cap or near-cap team like the Rangers, Flyers, Maple Leafs or Kings trades for Nash, it might have to get creative around him. Larry Brooks of the New York Post pointed out that the Rangers might have a hard time re-signing important core players like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto in the next few years if they deal for Nash.
Nash: He played in four games when the Blue Jackets were swept by the Red Wings in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. He had a goal and two assists in those games.
Carter: 47 games. In those games, Carter has 13 goals and eight assists, production that drops considerably from his regular-season performance. He also has struggled to stay healthy in the playoffs during recent runs with the Flyers. He's a minus-14 overall during the postseason and a plus-40 during the regular season.
Comment: Carter certainly has more experience, although his production has been spotty. Everything about Nash's game suggests he'd be a dominant playoff performer on a contending team. He had five points in seven games during the Olympics, and his international success may be the best indicator of how he'd perform during the playoffs. "In big games, he always shows up," said Team USA's Ryan Suter, who competed against Nash during the Olympics. "He's a good player. I don't know what it is, in the Olympics, world championships, he always stepped up. I was watching him play Russia [in the world championships], and he was out there dominating."
The skill sets
Nash: With his size and ability to protect the puck, he's one of the rare players who can create offense by himself. He's 6-foot-4 and can play any kind of style and help the team in all facets of the game. "You have to be worried about Nash all the time," said Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz. "He can do something just like that. You might not notice him, might not notice him -- and then it's too late."
He has an ability to dominate games, although he doesn't always use it.
"He has not played well this year," said an NHL source. "Everybody said he didn't like the coach, then they got rid of Scott Arniel and he hasn't played any better. I don't know. There have been times when he's been considered one of the better young players in the game. This is not one of those times."
Carter: At 6-3, he also brings size and more versatility than Nash as both a center and someone who can play on the wing. He has an incredible shot and is winning 51.3 of his faceoffs this season. Last season, he averaged 0.83 points per game, but that number is down to 0.58 with the Blue Jackets, a franchise he wasn't necessarily thrilled to join this past summer.
"He has not played very well this year," an NHL source said. "Don't know exactly if he allowed the [losing] culture to affect him or if he affected the culture. But he's an attractive guy, a big center who can provide a lot of offense."
The reality is that there aren't too many potential 40-goal scorers on the trade market right now, and he has that potential.
"You don't score that many goals by accident," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. "You have a tremendous skill set. A great shot, a big body, you know how to use it. He can skate well."
Shea Weber's scouting report
For a little on-ice perspective, I checked in with a frequent foe of the Blue Jackets to see what opponents thought about matching up against the two forwards.
On Nash: "His size is one of his biggest factors. His ability to use his reach and strength. And the speed that goes with that size, it's tough for any defenseman to defend. He always seems to find a way to get the puck to the net, and he has a knack for putting it in, as everyone knows."
Carter: "He's another guy with size and reach and one of the best shots in the league. He can get it off from anywhere. His ability to find the hole and his knowledge of where to shoot and where to score, he's just one of those [rare] abilities."
Nash has received the bulk of the attention in the past week, and that will continue until he's traded or the trade deadline expires. He's a game-changer and, for a team like the Kings, might be the ideal addition at the deadline. But for other teams like the Rangers or Maple Leafs, the cost might be too great. Nash is a salary-cap liability who could sap the organization of key assets. And for a team like Toronto that covets Ryan Getzlaf, it would all but end that possibility if the Ducks decide to trade one of their big forwards this summer.
Carter is the safer choice but doesn't come with the high-end dominance that Nash provides. The best play? It may be for contenders to pass on both players and see what transpires this summer in Anaheim or with potential free agents Ryan Suter or Zach Parise.