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Why the Rick Nash trade is a win for the Bruins

You have to give something to get something, and Don Sweeney did what it took to get an impact player

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We all went to bed Saturday night knowing that the Bruins were close to acquiring Rangers winger Rick Nash. By Sunday morning, the deal was done:

To make Nash’s big contract fit under the Bruins’ salary cap, the Rangers retain 50 percent of Nash’s salary. The Bruins also retain 50 percent of Beleskey’s.

The knee-jerk reaction to this trade is that the Bruins sold the farm to get Nash, who is 33 years-old and hasn’t totaled more than 38 points since the 2014-15 season. That’s fair enough, and I don’t think anybody disagrees that Nash, an eight-time 30 goal scorer, is the player he once was.

Still, I believe this trade is definitely a win for the Bruins.

Let’s break it down:

What they gave up

  • Ryan Spooner: This is the piece that surprised me the most (I predicted a first rounder, Peter Cehlarik, and Beleskey). But with Nash taking his spot in the top six, Spooner didn’t have much of a spot in the lineup anyway. As Bob McKenzie pointed out, Bruce Cassidy wouldn’t want to mess with his third line, and Spooner really isn’t the type to fit on the fourth. If Don Sweeney was intent on getting Nash, Spooner (who is an RFA at the end of this year and likely wouldn’t be back) became expendable. Yes, he’s been productive this year, but that comes with some caveats: Spooner has been riding a huge PDO wave, clocking in at 1.046. For those that don’t speak fany-stats, that means much of the production he’s seen has been the result of good luck (in his case, mostly poor opposition goaltending). He also gets a ridiculous number of offensive zone starts (61.62% this year), which is like a booster seat for his other stats. He’s been better, but he’s probably not much better than the Ryan Spooner we got to know the previous few seasons.
  • First Round Pick: Most of my colleagues predicted a second or even third rounder would suffice here, but I couldn’t imagine the Rangers would take anything less than a first. For a contender like the Bruins, their first rounder will likely come at number 23 or later. Plenty of research has indicated that around that pick, the odds of getting a good player drop off big-time. This had to be in the deal, and it isn’t as major an asset as you might think.
  • Ryan Lindgren: Picked at number 49 overall in the 2016 draft, Lindgren is an okay defensive prospect. In his freshman and sophomore years at the University of Minnesota, he’s produced a total of just 14 points. Obviously, points aren’t everything for defenders, but higher-end prospects would be expected to contribute much more than he has. I’ve watched him on at least a dozen occasions between his college games and at the World Junior Classic, and I haven’t been overly impressed. He might work out to be an NHLer, but I’d be surprised to see him in the Rangers’ top four. The Bruins are also loaded with left-shot defensemen like Lindgren, both on the current roster and in the pipeline. Here’s the list for you: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, Cameron Clarke, Wiley Sherman. Lindgren was quite expendable here.
  • Matt Beleskey: This is really half of Beleskey’s contract, which was necessary to balance the cap hit coming back. Going forward having the Rangers take on $1.9m in cap space for the next two seasons will certainly help the Bruins’ flexibility when giving extensions to the likes of Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen. Part of the larger return surely had to do with getting the Rangers to take that money.
  • Seventh Round Pick: This is a worthless piece of currency.

What they got

Rick Nash

The ultimate goal here is to upgrade the right wing, essentially replacing Spooner with Nash. Spooner was having a nice year, but Nash is certainly a major improvement, especially come playoff time.

I know that their scoring rates are similar (both this year and the last couple), but Nash has underlying numbers that suggest he’s a far more impactful player.

Alain Vigneault runs a system that virtually dooms his players to giving up more shots than they get, preferring a quick-strike counter attack, then relying on Henrik Lundqvist to make up the difference. Even so, Nash is one of only two Rangers forwards with a positive unblocked shot differential. He’s also second on the team in scoring chance differential. Good things are happening with Nash on the ice, and that’s a rarity for the Rangers these days.

Just as Spooner has benefited from great shooting luck, Nash has been mired in the dumps of a .977 PDO. In his case, his team’s shooting percentage with him on the ice has been just 6.38%. That’s due for a turnaround, especially with the higher volume of shots he should see on the Bruins’ second line.

Speaking of lines, Nash also lends more flexibility to the Bruins’ lineup. He should fit seamlessly on David Krejci’s right wing and on the power play, and he also gives Cassidy the option of bumping him up to the first line when David Pastrnak needs some sheltering. Cassidy showed his desire to do this in a recent game against the Flames, when he moved up David Backes in order to get Pastrnak away from Johnny Gaudreau’s line. Nash could handle such a switch, without relegating Pastrnak to the bottom six. Also, Nash can kill penalties, which adds an extra element of depth.

The Bruins are in all-out “Go For It” mode. Clearly, Don Sweeney believes that Rick Nash is big upgrade over Ryan Spooner, and that giving up a late first rounder and a middle-of-the-road defensive prospect is worth the improvement.

I fully agree with that sentiment. The pick is nothing huge, I don’t see Lindgren panning out to be anything special (and the Bruins have a ton of left-shot defenders on the way anyway), and getting rid of half of Beleskey’s contract is a tangible positive.

The only potential sticking point is including Spooner. In a recent piece about Ryan McDonagh, I defined a sensible “Go For It” mentality as this: Trade from a position of surplus or use future assets to fill a need or get definitively better right now.

In that piece, I argued that taking Danton Heinen or Jake Debrusk off the roster to add McDonagh created a hole in order to upgrade a position that couldn’t get much better.

With the this trade, however, the upgrade from Spooner to Nash is worth the future assets, and Lindgren even comes from a position of surplus. I fully expect Nash to contribute at a higher rate on a puck-dominant team like the Bruins, and I don’t think the franchise will miss the pieces they gave up to get him.

Grade: B+