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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts on the Idea of a Nash/Stamkos Trade



    Other than some unsubstantiated tweets from Don Cherry, there’s really no basis to suspect or conclude a Nash/Stamkos trade is anywhere in the realistic future. Yet I thought I’d take a moment to share some feelings about the very idea of such a trade, and evaluate its merits and reasoning. Again, I am NOT reporting a likelihood of this trade. I’m poking around the inert idea of it, seeing how such a big-named swap would go over in concert with a few key factors to consider.

   So...

  Here’s the tricky thing about evaluating a given Nash/Stamkos trade:

   Stamkos has a no-movement clause on the final year his contract, so he’d have to approve any trade. The only conceivable reason that Tampa would trade their franchise asset would likely be a trade quest made by SS himself. That, and if Stamkos’ approved destinations were so limited, would be one of the few reasons why Tampa would approach New York. Of all the teams for Tampa to swap scorers with in such a trade, their chief rival of the Eastern Conference would unlikely be the favorable preference.

   Martin St. Louis asked out of Tampa, among other reported reasons, to be geographically closer to his home in Connecticut. Should SS demand a trade, it’ll likely include more suitors than strictly Tri-State proxies. So I wouldn’t jump out of my chair to compare the Martin St. Louis exile to that of a hypothetical Stamkos jettison.




   However, if we’re supposing a Nash/Stamkos trade of some capacity, we’re still assuming Tampa does not have the leverage it normally would in unloading a big name. One would think it’s all but a given that Tampa will throw the big money at Steven before his final contract year burns away. And even if Tampa were to shop Stamkos on the trading block after contract negotiations dwindled, it would likely be sometime next season near the trade deadline… not in the Summer of 2015.

   But for the sake of argument, we’ll assume this is the case: Stamkos informs General Manager Steve Yzerman he wants to be traded and is not interested in renewing his contract in Florida. 

   As of today, Rick Nash’s contract contains a full no-movement clause. But in a few weeks on July 1st, it will convert into a limited no-trade-clause… presumably one where Nash submits a list of teams he will not accept a trade to. It’s unknown how many teams he can list, but it would be doubtful that Tampa would be specifically blacklisted. Typical teams would include Buffalo, Edmonton, and Arizona… teams with unattractive geography in addition to an abysmal franchise. Tampa is a contender, with an arguably enjoyable culture. 

   So in terms of required permission, Stamkos would seem to have much more control in yay-or-nay of an arranged transaction between the two clubs than that of Nash. 



   But another question: Who’s the more valued asset? Stamkos or Nash?

   Stamkos is the better player. He’s scored 0.56 goals-per-game through his 7 total seasons in the NHL. Other than the 2013-14 season where he missed several months with a broken leg, Stamkos has finished 1st or 2nd in goals scored since his 20th birthday. Nash, on the other hand, has produced 0.47 goals-per-game since becoming a Ranger in July 2012.

   Stamkos is five-and-a-half years younger than Nash, suggesting he has that many more years ahead of him than his counterpart. Given historical trends, we’re seeing Stamkos in his absolute prime, while Nash will be expected to gradually decline. Had he been healthy, Stamkos would’ve been 1st or 2nd line for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics. Nash was 4th line.

   There’s very little to suggest Nash, all-else-equal, as the superior asset. He’s not. SS is.



   However: what about from a contractual standpoint?

   Stamkos is a year away from hitting the open market, where he could field dozens of maximum-salary offers. So of course, a team acquiring him in a trade knows the risk that he could just end up being a 1-year rental. It’s all but guaranteed that a team interested in trading for him this summer would be adamant towards re-signing him to a monster contractual commitment.

   Nash on the other hand?

   While tit-for-tat he falls inferior to Stamkos, in the wonky world of pro sports contracts, Nash maintains a clear superiority. Nash, with a cap hit of $300,000 more than Stamkos, has 3 seasons remaining on his contract. This means a team acquiring Nash would have his services ensured until 2018. That’s thrice the certainty versus the team acquiring Stamkos.

   Why wouldn’t Tampa trade Stamkos for a replacement center?

   Interestingly enough, Stamkos was not relied upon much as a center during the 2015 postseason, but more so as a winger. Valtteri Filppula (15.7), Tyler Johnson (13.6) & Brian Boyle (11.5) all took more faceoffs-per-game than Stamkos (8.7). In fact it would make sense if Tampa was looking to unload one of their centers to relieve the crowding, and stand pat with the top-3 they remain with now.

   Why wouldn’t New York trade Nash for a replacement winger?

   We will assume New York has every intention of centers Derek Stepan & Derrick Brassard returning as the team’s 1st & 2nd pivots for the 2015-16 season. If a Nash/Stamkos swap is to truly be realistic, it would suggest to me that Broadway would be wishing for Kevin Hayes to be put back on wing, thus opening a hole in the center lineup.

   No, Stamkos wouldn’t be their 3rd line center; but if Hayes is put at wing, then Nash being traded for a center makes a lot more sense. It would also offer theory that the Rangers identified a lack of center depth as a flaw in the team, and are apt to correct it. With Stamkos, Stepan & Brassard, head coach Alain Vigneault would have all the liberty in the world to feverishly roll 3 lines interchangeably, which he's enjoyed doing both of his years in New York.

   So Stamkos is the better player, but Nash has more ensured service under contract. 



   What would be the side dishes in a Stamkos/Nash trade?

   Stamkos is only contracted to score another 30-50 goals, while Nash could reasonably be expected to deliver 60-100 before UFA expiration. Yet trading Stamkos includes his exclusive negotiation rights, so how much can Tampa viably treat him as an asset projected to score more than 50 goals? How much can Tampa say “it’s not our problem if you can’t re-sign Stamkos, we’re trading him like a player under contract for more than a year.” Conversely, how well would a team like New York respond to that supposed evaluation of Stamkos from the Lightning’s end?

   This is a tough thing to configure. It would really depend on how both traders assessed Stamkos’ chances of re-signing with his new team… as well as how both parties predict Nash’s calibre of contribution will hold up the next 3 years. Honestly I think we’ll just leave this discussion here, as attaching a draft pick to either side of the trade seems arguably valid. Let me just say a Stamkos/Nash swap wouldn’t be the craziest trade in the world, but it would just require a certain aligning of the stars from the Stamkos camp.

   I will say that both the Rangers and the Lightning had fine campaigns, and both will be the Eastern teams to beat next October. While we see franchises make notable moves to go from ‘very good’ team to ‘excellent’ team, there is just as often the team that feels no need to go out and make sweeping changes. A dynamic move between two clubs of the same conference often occurs when both teams are willing to experiment to get to the upper stratosphere. 

   Both of these teams are already there, which is why a blockbuster like this may not even be sought out for discussions by Tampa in the first place… EVEN IF Stamkos does actually want out of Tampa AND approves of Broadway for relocation.

   The only other quirky reasoning that comes to mind is this: both players, coming off of admirable postseason runs in the Eastern Conference, have their highest-paid forwards receiving criticism for lack of postseason scoring. Nash scored “just” 0.74 points-per-game, while Stamkos notched 0.69. Both teams swapping “underperforming” juggernauts could have merit, if the belief is a dual change in scenery would be mutually beneficial to both teams and players. No, not an enthralling argument, but an interesting footnote to observe.


   Here’s a look at both teams’ guesstimated lines for next season if a straight-up Nash/Stamkos trade actually happened:

TAMPA BAY

Killorn -------- Filppula --------- Nash
Palat --------- Johnson ----- Kucherov
Brown -------- Boyle -------- Callahan
Drouin ----- Pacquette - Marchessault


NEW YORK

Kreider --------- Stamkos ------ Fast
Zuccarello ----- Stepan ------ Hayes
Hagelin ------- Brassard ----- Miller
Glass ----------- Moore ------ ??????
   


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