On the first day of free agency last summer, the Columbus Blue Jackets did not make a big splash, but they did make what looked to be a very sensible pick-up to strengthen their center depth, by acquiring Riley Nash for three years at a $2.75 million a year. From the Jackets’ perspective, adding a veteran center would mean no more having to play a guy like Nick Foligno out of position for large stretches of the ceiling.
Nash was coming off of 41 point season with the Bruins in which he filled in on the top line for a period of time in place of the injured Patrice Bergeron. Did that mean he’d threaten for a top 6 role in Columbus? Of course not. But it suggested he was good enough to handle more minutes if he had to. Most of us were pretty excited about this at the time.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass. Not only did Nash not get a chance to play up in the lineup, at times he looked he wasn’t worthy of fourth line minutes. His goals dropped from 15 to 3, his assists 26 to 9, and his average time on ice 15:25 to 10:50. His faceoff percentage of 45.0% was his worst since his second (partial) season in the league. In January, Ryan Real went in depth about his struggles to that point.
Nash had the first sub-50 Corsi season of his career, but in his defense, his deployment was FAR more biased towards defensive starts. After starting 54% of faceoffs in the defensive zone the last two seasons in Boston, he had a 70% defensive zone start rate this season. SEVENTY!! With that, and the reduced minutes, it’s no wonder his point production suffered.
Fortunately things were slightly better in the playoffs. The fourth line of Nash, Brandon Dubinsky, and Boone Jenner played key defensive minutes which played a major role in shutting down Tampa Bay’s offense, and held their own against Boston. That is, until Nash suffered a shoulder injury after an encounter with Zdeno Chara in Game 2 and missed the final three games of the series.
2018-19 Riley Nash Stats
Games Played: 78
Time on ice: 10:50
Penalty minutes: 19
Corsi For (Even strength): 49.0%
Games Played: 7
Time on ice: 13:32
Penalty minutes: 4
Corsi For (Even strength): 39.4%
That playoff Corsi was third lowest on the team, but was skewed by Nash taking 95.1% of his faceoffs in the defensive zone. Holy crap.
Nash - who turned 30 this month - has two years remaining on his contract at a salary and cap hit of $2.75 million per season. So even with his dip in production it’s not too much of an overpay. Certainly not the most overpaid player on the roster, or even the most overpaid center! (Glares at Dubinsky and Wennberg)
In the third period of Game 2 of the Lightning series, the Bolts had scored to cut the Columbus lead to 3-1. Then came Boone Jenner and Riley Nash for the insurance goal:
At the time, I joked that it was an ultimate heat check moment when even Riley Nash was joining in on the flood of goals scored by the Jackets in that 5-1 victory. But it was a legitimately nice play.
I could pick any of the 35 games in which he played fewer than 10 minutes, so I’ll go with a December game against the Flyers. Now, the Jackets actually won that game in OT but Nash was on ice for two of Philadelphia’s three goals, despite only playing 9:06. It was that kind of season for him the whole time.
How would you grade Riley Nash’s 2018-19 season?
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