When word was leaked yesterday that Columbus Blue Jackets' winger Rick Nash could be had by a team for 'the right price', it was only a matter of time before the Nash-to-Philly rumors began.
Seems that whenever any big name suddenly becomes available, it's an inevitability that the Flyers will be one of the player's rumored destinations.
There are some good reasons for the phenomema, as Philadelphia has been one of the teams to historically throw their hats into the ring in hopes of improving their on-ice product. If this were still the pre-salary cap days, Nash may already be donning the Orange-and-Black at this point.
The reality is that there is a salary cap, but for once GM Paul Holmgren has some room with which to operate. According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers have in excess of $4.9 million before hitting the cap ceiling. Of course there are three players on Long-Term Injured Reserve -- Chris Pronger, Ian Laperriere, and Blair Betts -- but for Philly to have that much space is unprecedented. Holmgren has done a perpetual tightrope walk along the cap limit since it's inception, so he is presently in uncharted waters.
The question then becomes, with all the shortcomings the Flyers are currently displaying, is Nash the right fit for Philadelphia?
Philadelphia is a team that can already score goals in bunches. They sit as the third-highest scoring club in the League with 182 goals, with only the Boston Bruins (188) and Detroit Red Wings (185) having tallied more.
The Flyers difficulties have come on the defensive side of things, as they 169 goals allowed is the fourth-most by any team sitting in a playoff spot at the moment (Ottawa Senators 183, Chicago Blackhawks 174, Toronto Maple Leafs171). If you look at the top teams in the NHL, the New York Rangers have yielded just 110 goals, the St. Louis Blues have allowed 113, and the Bruins have given up 126.
It's an obvious problem for a team that has not been very good positionally or in coverage in their own end as of late, and it's an issue that true Stanley Cup contenders don't have to deal with other than during an occasional slump.
This has been an on-going problem for Philadelphia, and one that could lead to a very early start to their offseason.
At 6' 4", 219 pounds, the 27-year-old Nash is suffering through yet another losing season in Columbus. Jackets' GM Scott Howson made moves in the offseason in an effort to give Nash some help, but his offensive totals are still down -- 18 goals and 39 points in 57 games -- even with the addition of Jeff Carter to the mix in last summer's trade that sent Jakub Voracek and the eighth-overall selection in June's NHL Entry Draft (eventually becoming center Sean Couturier) to the Flyers.
Nash is not likely to hit the 30-goal mark this season, a total he has surpassed in each of the last four seasons and all but two (2002-03 rookie season when he scored 17 and 2006-07 when he potted 27) of his eight previous years in the League. He is also a -22 in the plus /minus ratings, a statistic that may not be completely pertinent given the lousy play of the League's bottom-ranked team.
The fact that Nash is the power forward the Flyers were hoping James van Riemsdyk would develop into this season. But the 22-year-old second-overall selection in the 2007 draft hasn't progressed the way management believed he would, and he could be a part of a package to bring in help if his health were to improve enough to return from his post-concussion symptoms before the February 27 trade deadline.
Philly has a wealth of young roster players this season, something Howson covets and would demand in any return. Matt Read, Couturier, van Riemsdyk, Brayden Schenn, Voracek, Zac Rinaldo, and Harry Zolnierczyk. While it would be likely that Howson had lost patience with Voracek before dealing him to the Flyers, it would likely take a package of Read, Couturier, Schenn, or van Riemsdyk along with a high draft pick in any package.
Another interesting name could be that of Sergei Bobrovsky. It's no secret the Flyers are not happy with their overall goaltending performances this year, and a new look in the crease could be another option. Columbus has been unsuccessfully trying to move Steve Mason, so they could try to pry 'Bob' away from Philly as their goaltender of the future as they continue to try to rebuild.
While having Nash skate on Claude Giroux's wing would be a scenario that would have Flyers' fans salivating, it's not one that will likely come to fruition, and here's why:
- Having made some questionable trades and already firing head coach Scott Arniel, Howson knows he cannot send Nash out of town without hitting an absolute home run in any deal. The Carter relationship with the Blue Jackets has not worked well, as the unhappy forward has reportedly requested a trade out of Columbus. That's not to say that the Jackets haven't had good success in deals with Holmgren in prior seasons. R.J. Umberger remains one of the most consistent Columbus forwards since his acquisition on draft day in 2008, when Philadelphia needed to move salary for picks to become cap-compliant.
- The defensive concerns have become so great that if Holmgren doesn't go after a non-rental defenseman before the deadline, one would have to wonder what the organizations true expectations for a deep postseason run would become. With the loss of Pronger, there is nary a physical component to the Flyers' blueline at all. Andrej Meszaros and Marc-Andre Bourdon will throw their weight around, but sometimes their judgment comes into question as to when they decide to do so. Too many times they have taken themselves out of the play to attempt to make the big hit, often times leading to an opposition odd-man rush. What is needed is a crushing hit to clear out the front of the Philly net in order to protect the goaltenders and allow them the opportunity to make a save.
- The problem with the defensive zone coverage has become so bad that there are murmurs that the Flyers may just go after another goaltender at the deadline. Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders has turned up in rumors, and 'Nabby' is a goalie the Flyers coveted in the summer of 2010. The past insanity in the crease finally looked to have been resolved when Holmgren dealt for pending UFA Ilya Bryzgalov's rights, then signed him to a whopping 9-year, $51 million contract. But 'Bryz's' inconsistencies has been unnerving at times, and the added attention appears to be putting additional stress on the Russian goaltender.
- In addition to the position between the pipes, one of the other areas Holmgren successfully upgraded over the summer was his club's wings. For several years, the flanks were smaller and Philadelphia did not have the big bodies to jam the net or control the walls. Bringing in Jaromir Jagr (6' 3", 240 pounds), Voracek (6' 2", 214), and Wayne Simmonds (6' 2", 183) has worked wonders. Rinaldo and Tom Sestito (6' 5", 228) have also added a physical element to the fourth line wings, something that also has been missing for some time. While Nash would be a dominant figure in the Flyers' overall scheme of things, the pieces required as a return would prove counter-productive -- especially when considering the small cap hit the younger players bring, and Nash's monster $7.8 million annual hit. Slumping Danny Briere ($6.5 million) is currently the highest-paid Flyer, but with a need for at least one blueliner -- Matt Carle becomes an UFA this summer, and Kimmo Timonen the next -- there is a need to spend more on revamping the defensive unit. Any remodeling to the wings would be overkill given the tremendous job Holmgren has done on the forward lines.
As mentioned in previous articles, Philadelphia would do well to pick up a defender who will be with the team at least through next season. Acquiring a rental player, and the exorbitant cost associated with doing so, would deplete assets Holmgren would be better served in moving for long-term blueliner(s). If Holmgren were to go the rental route, the likes of a Hal Gill (Montreal Canadiens), Bryan Allen or Jaroslav Spacek (Carolina Hurricanes), or Nicklas Grossman (Dallas Stars) are unlikely to make the difference in the club's play for which the organization is searching.
And the same goes for Nash. He's certainly a great player and one that would no doubt instantly become wildly popular in Philadelphia, but as is the case of rental defensemen, he would not cure what ails this Flyers team.