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Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash celebrates his teammates goal past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson in Toronto, Dec. 30, 2010. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash celebrates his teammates goal past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson in Toronto, Dec. 30, 2010. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Is Rick Nash really what the Leafs need? Add to ...

For those who read beyond the headline, let's start with what the Toronto Maple Leafs are, as of this season.

The Leafs are the third highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference, with an average of 2.95 goals per game and the eighth best power play in the league.

They have two of the league's top six scorers in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who are on pace for 85+ points, and the league's seventh highest scoring defenceman in Dion Phaneuf.

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The Leafs have also allowed more goals than all but the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning in the East, with 2.91 per game and have the second worst penalty kill in the league.

And Toronto is tied for 24th in team save percentage, as their two goaltenders have been off and on all year.

Now, let's leave out any names for a moment. Does any of that description above scream out as that of a team in desperate need of an $8-million goal scorer with some defensive deficiencies?

Not really.

No, what ails the Leafs is what's ailed them every year since the lockout: They've had below average goaltending and struggle in their own end.

Sometimes, as with the last three games, mightily.

The closest thing this team has right now to a starting goaltender is James Reimer, whose career save percentage of .915 would be far more impressive if it wasn't trending in the wrong direction.

The closest thing Toronto has to a shutdown defenceman, meanwhile, is Carl Gunnarsson, who is being played more than 22 minutes a night on the top pairing despite making just $1.325-million and really being better suited to being a dependable fourth defenceman.

If anything, what the Leafs need is to spend that $7.8-million on the blueline and a capable veteran in goal.

Which brings us to Rick Nash.

Nash is a very good player. He's scored a ton of goals – more than all but five others in the last five seasons, to be exact – and according to several reports, he's at least somewhat interested in playing for the Leafs.

But he is mostly a one-way player, and Toronto has a few of those already. If he's not scoring a ton of goals, he's simply not worth the contract that Columbus had to overpay on to keep him with the Blue Jackets.

Another key point is that Nash turns 28 years old in June. And while 28 doesn't seem very old, there's a growing body of evidence that goal scorers begin to decline at or even before that age.

Here's Neil Greenberg from the Washington Post with more on that front:

"History suggests elite goal scorers are often average goal scorers by the time they turn 27 years old. Most goal-scoring wingers peak between ages 23 and 25, and then the decline begins to accelerate after age 26."

Who knows – maybe Nash can reinvent himself and provide more than simply goals? Maybe he can be one of those that hangs on and produces into his late 30s like Teemu Selanne?

But there are some risks with selling several of your top prospects, which is what Columbus is after here rather than draft picks, for a scorer who may have already peaked.

Especially when putting the puck in the net isn't exactly the most pressing need for Toronto these days.

Nash? He's the type of player a contender should be chasing down as its final puzzle piece for a Cup run.

The Leafs would likely be much better served by adding an elite, $7-million player on the blueline, like a Ryan Suter, who can take some of the defensive responsibilities away from Phaneuf and bump everyone else down one spot.

Add that, add a goalie who can stop more than 91 per cent of the pucks he faces, and this is a far stronger team.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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