Ah yes, July 1st and the opening of free agent
season...can you feel the excitement? No? Hardly surprising
perhaps given next year's impending Collective Bargaining Agreement
negotiations and a sixth straight season of frustration as a Ranger fan.
Nope, this won't be your typical July 1st. In actual fact, many
commentators are expecting a glut of players and even the more unusual
Restricted Free Agents who haven't been offered qualifying offers by their
team. You could say it's shaping up to be a buyer's market.
But looking down the list of names, there are yet
again few real impact players, and will be up to the Rangers (and other
teams) to find the few gems that will be on offer this summer.
So what can we expect the Rangers to do?
First order of business - Qualify the RFAs
Rangers GM Glen Sather will certainly have a busy schedule ahead of him
in the next few weeks, trying to locate a coach and get his player roster in
order. The obvious names will all receive qualifying offers, which
means at least for the moment that Kovalev, Carter, Lundmark and Poti
will remain Rangers property. But then the water gets a little
Lacouture would seemingly get a qualifying offer
(around $600,000) and perhaps Pisa too, but all indications are that the
Rangers will part ways with Ronald Petrovicky. Roman Lyashenko, who hasn't
been able to crack the Rangers roster, is thinking about returning to Europe
if he can't get a one-way contract. Chances are he won't get it, and
the Rangers may be forced to trade him for whatever they can get.
Second order of business - Sign some UFAs
Despite the rumors, it seems far fetched to expect Brian Leetch to suit
up for another team. This year's negotiations appear to follow along
the same timeline as Richter's from last year. Does this mean that
Sather is really just waiting to see what's on the market as he did with his
netminder, or is he in reality trying to avoid overpaying for Leetch.
Leetch for his part in is a poorer negotiating
position, already stating he wants to remain a Ranger and in a year where
there is expected to be less demand for high priced help...even that of a
player like Leetch.
While we're on the subject of defensemen, it doesn't
appear Mironov will be back, unless his demands are lowered somewhat.
He may end up joining Dave Karpa, Sylvain Lefebvre and Sandy McCarthy in the
search for a new team.
Another who won't be back is John Tripp, who has
elected to go the free agent route, rather than re-sign with the Rangers
And then of course there's Messier...but hey, don't
worry he'll be back.
As to who on the market will be dressed in Rangers
blue this upcoming season...well the odds on favorite seems to be the return
of Todd Marchant. What the Rangers need with yet another centerman is
anyone's guess, but there's no denying he has defensive skills that the
Rangers lack, and if Messier doesn't come back...oh never mind.
There's also a good chance that one of Hatcher or
DeVries will be here. The Rangers still seem to be missing the point
when it comes to salary management and how to build a team, and if the
rumored offer to Leetch is true then don't be surprised if Hatcher ends up
being his replacement.
Another couple of interesting potentials would be
defenseman Steve Staios from Edmonton and former Ranger left wing Jan Hlavac,
although there may still exist some dissatisfaction with the Rangers
organization on his part.
Third order of business
- Make a couple of trades
It'll probably be harder to move players this season than in previous
years, but that doesn't prevent a trade or two from being made. It
seems unlikely (from this viewpoint at least), that any big names will be
moved out of New York, and perhaps just as unlikely that they'll be brought
The CuJo rumors in particular seem far fetched, given
that the Rangers would then have to deal Dunham and his two remaining
contract years. It's certainly possible that they do however find a
way to get Jagr here, but there will need to be some flexibility either on
the part of the Caps, or Jagr himself, when it comes to his monstrous
No, I expect that the types of trades we're talking
about are more along the lines of dealing Lyashenko, Ekman etc or maybe
someone like Poti...all cheap players.
Finally - Out with the old
As much as I like Mike Richter, it's time for him to hang it up.
It's been some months since a seemingly harmless knock from Todd Marchant's
knee knocked the career Ranger netminder out of the game. Things
haven't gotten a whole lot better since, and even though he's not ready to
retire himself, he needs to take a step back and look at how his last four
seasons have finished.
Another who should seriously consider hanging them up
is Mark Messier, but as we all know it'll be on his time table and not a
moment sooner. Messier is close to moving into second on the all-time
point scorer's list and no doubt wants to finish his career on an up note
after six years without going to the playoffs.
And then there's Pavel Bure. Can he really come
back from yet another serious knee injury? The Rangers with Kovalev
and Carter in the fold now and Lundmark with a year of experience, aren't
quite as weak on wing as they were a year ago. It's true the Rangers
could use a healthy Bure, but the question is really whether he can be
effective for the overwhelming majority of games.
However tomorrow and the ensuing weeks pan out, one
thing's for certain...Sather has plenty of things to work on, and plenty of
questions to answer before the upcoming season.