Riley Nash could be this summer’s big mistake (or not)

Every year there’s a Brooks Orpik, Matt Beleskey, David Backes or Karl Alzner in the free agent market and this summer, it’s Riley Nash.

He exceeded expectations, he outperformed everything beyond imagination– in his contract year, after a 17-point (7 goals, 10 assists) season in 2016-17.

His 15-26–41 totals included two power play goals and three power play points, but no shorthanded goals and no shorthanded points while being one of Boston’s biggest penalty killers.

His CorsiFor% has remained stagnant around 52.00% for the last three seasons.

Consistent? Yes. Bound to be the next mistake by a GM that’s willing to throw money around carelessly? Also yes.

How much of Riley Nash is the real Riley Nash? How much of his play this season was impacted by playing alongside impressive rookie Danton Heinen and David Backes– let alone his appearances on Boston’s first line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the Bruins were hampered by injuries down the middle?

Riley Nash isn’t a passenger, but rather this offseason’s biggest miss for a team looking to buy low and potentially sell high when they realize that one free agent signing alone won’t make all the difference in terms of depth and contending for a playoff spot– depth that you can’t otherwise have if you sign too many top-nine forwards to too big of a contract.

At 29-years-old, Nash cannot get any better from a physical potential standpoint. In a game that’s getting younger and placing more emphasis on speed and skill than ever before, he may be out of an NHL job by the time he’s 35.

In his best seasons as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash had 24, 25 and 22 point seasons from 2013-16. Through 59 games into this season, he bested his career-high 25 points in 2014-15 with 10-18–28 totals.

He added five goals and eight more assists in 17 games over the course of the remainder of the season, before being shutdown thanks to a shot to the side of the head as a result of friendly fire from defender Torey Krug.

For someone who hadn’t reached the 40-point plateau before, 41 points sounded impressive. Yet his faceoff win percentage has remained stagnant in his full-time NHL days around 48 percent. He’s never scored 20 goals and just broke the 20-assist plateau this season– his seventh year in the NHL.

Happy accidents are great.

They’re fun to watch as players soar and teams roll along, but from a management standpoint there’s only so much cap room to work with.

When Beleskey had his 22-10–32 totals in 65 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15, the Boston Bruins had a need for someone that could become their immediate fill-in on the second line to replace Milan Lucic (who had been traded that June to the Los Angeles Kings).

Beleskey signed a long-term, five-year contract worth $3.800 million AAV with Boston that July and followed up a successful season in Anaheim with a career high 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games in his first year as a member of the Bruins in 2015-16.

Despite attaining career highs in assists and points in a season, Beleskey’s point-per-game production decreased. It fell off the face of the Earth when injuries and a lack of offense led to just three goals and five assists (eight points) in 49 games the following season (2016-17).

Then through 14 games played in 2017-18 with the Bruins, Beleskey had nothing to show on the scoresheet.

He was later traded as an afterthought in the blockbuster, Rick NashRyan Spooner deal this February.

As part of taking on Rick Nash’s contract, both teams had to eat some salary and the Bruins ended up retaining $1.900 million of Beleskey’s cap hit through the end of his contract (July 1, 2020).

While Riley Nash turned heads around the league, becoming a more prominent bottom-six forward, that’s just it– he’s a bottom-six forward, who– like Beleskey did in July 2015, is about to get paid.

Even though Nash brings more offensive upside to his game than Beleskey does, they could be making the same salary because of one outlier season.

One good season is not an indication of consistency.

But NHL GMs have a tendency to eat it up and see a (possibly) short-term fix for an otherwise thought to be long-term hole on their roster.

The ebbs and flows of the market will always lead to poor financial planning in the long run for some teams. Riley Nash does deserve a raise for his efforts with Boston while on a $900,000 cap hit the last two seasons, but buyer beware– maybe not at the price you think.

If you’re willing to take a risk and have the right combination of youth that can help boost his numbers, then Nash is the guy for your team– provided you already have that youth locked up and you aren’t projecting someone else coming up through your system to battle for a roster spot any time soon.

There hasn’t been much of an indication as to how much a guy like Riley Nash might ask for in terms of money this offseason, nor has there been any public indication of how long of a deal he’d like to sign.

That can be a blessing in disguise, if you consider the fact that Rick Nash will likely be available this July too, but at substantially more dollars for about the same impact on a roster (Rick Nash had 20-13–33 totals this season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Bruins).

Both Nashs are third liners at best that can play on a second or first line if your team is struggling (looking for a creative spark) or going through a lot of injuries.

For comparisons sake, if you’re an NHL GM looking to avoid signing “the worst contract of the summer”, then signing Riley Nash (or literally anyone) at less money than Rick Nash will make you look pretty good.

Rick Nash has sheer name-brand power. Riley Nash, on the other hand, has being one of the funniest, nicest, underrated guys in the locker room going for him.

But Rick Nash has already indicated he’d be willing to re-sign with Boston “if the dollars work out”. Given Boston’s salary cap navigation with Charlie McAvoy entering a contract year in 2018-19 (his final year on his current entry-level deal), the chances of Rick Nash being back in a Bruins uniform at $5.000 million-plus are slim.

Especially when there’s pending-RFA Austin Czarnik to re-sign and others. For Boston, Czarnik may be the key to moving on from Riley Nash if the younger Nash has truly priced himself out.

Sean Kuraly and Czarnik can compete for the third line center job, while the loser reigns as the fourth line center– and that’s ignoring Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Colby Cave and others in the system that’ll also be fighting for roster spots at training camp.

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