This is a time of uncertainty for Rick Nash, the valuable Ranger who for the first time in his career is a pending free agent and whose greatest value to the organization might be as a blue-chip rental property to exchange for futures as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches.
“I’ve aware of that, I’ve thought about that; for sure I have,” No. 61 told The Post following practice Tuesday. “It’s not something that’s weighing on me, but of course I’m aware of my contract status and whatever implications might come out of that. It’s the first time in my career that I’m playing for a contract.
“I want to be here, that’s my priority, but I also understand the business side of it and that management has to do what they feel is in the best interests of the organization. That thought [about the deadline] definitely creeps in from time to time.”
Nash has scored four goals in the last four games and has recorded eight points (5-3) in the last seven matches. He has been a key factor in driving the Rangers’ six-game winning streak the club will put on the line Wednesday in Chicago on the first of this two-game trip that concludes in Columbus on Friday. There is little doubt he would be among the most sought-after commodities on the market.
But if general manager Jeff Gorton and his crew believe the Rangers have a postseason run in them, it is unlikely Nash would be sacrificed even if he would be free to leave on July 1. There is another option, of course. The Rangers could sign their 32-year-old alternate captain to an extension.
“Staying here is my first choice. Definitely,” Nash said. “If they come to me with an offer, or indicate they’d like to talk about it at some point during the season, I’d be good with it. I’d certainly be willing to talk and sign a new deal if both sides were happy with it.
“Typically, you like to take care of the business side of it over the summer. You don’t want to get into extended negotiations during the season. And I don’t think I’d go to them, I don’t think it’s really my place. But this is where I want to be. This is home.”
Nash is in his sixth year as a Blueshirt after having spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Blue Jackets. Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh are the only three Rangers with longer continuous service than No. 61.
He has scored 133 goals as a Ranger, 39 more than Chris Kreider’s runner-up total of 94 since the start of 2012-13. He ranks 15th in the league over that period and 11th in goals-per-game (.4) among players with at least 100 goals. He recorded .43 goals per game for the Jackets with 289 in 674 matches.
“Both of our kids were born while I was here,” said Nash, referring to his and his wife Jessica’s son, McLaren, and their daughter, Ellie. “We’re New Yorkers.”
Nash is on the final season of the eight-year, $62.4 million extension he signed with Columbus on July 3, 2009 that kicked in the following season. The next contract won’t approach the $7.8 million per he has earned under this one, but it is darn near impossible to project what the winger might be able to attract next summer on a market that won’t be filled with many marquee names.
Is four years in the neighborhood of $5-to-$5.5 million per unrealistic? Is it unrealistic for the Rangers to make that commitment when J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei are all due new contracts this summer as restricted free agents? Would it be foolish for the Rangers to extend Nash before knowing whether they are contenders or pretenders at the deadline?
No answers are set in stone. Except for the one that follows when Nash is asked whether he wants to remain a Ranger, and it is, “Yes, for sure.”