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 murkier…
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 organization.
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 in.
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 contract.
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.