Markus Naslund

[Cap] Space…The Final Frontier

As the cliche goes, things could be worse. If Markus Naslund hadn’t elected to retire, the Rangers would find themselves back in a Salary Cap hole right now. As it is, things are still tight, what with Nikolai Zherdev, Chris Higgins, Brandon DubinskyRyan Callahan and Lauri Korpikoski needing to be re-signed.

All that room freed up by the trade of Scott Gomez to Montreal has been undone with the signings of free agents Marian Gaborik and Donald Brashear. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having the high scoring Slovak on the Rangers’ roster – I’m not even that offended by adding Brashear – but because of past mistakes, you have to wonder whether they were the right moves.

As it stands today, the Rangers are not a Cup contender. They still lack scoring depth, particularly at center, and the defense remains a work in progress. In fact, the Rangers only have 12-15 of their starting roster signed, depending on who you throw into the mix. With between $41-43M committed of their $56.8M allotment, that gives them anywhere between about $12-15M to spend on those aforementioned free agents and a couple of additional players.

To top things off, Nikolai Zherdev and Ryan Callahan both filed for salary arbitration yesterday. Callahan is widely expected to sign a contract (don’t be surprised to see $2-3M for a 3-4 year deal), while Zherdev is likely to go to the hearing for a raise on his $3.25M – that’s to say if he’s not traded first.

Dubinsky, who has less leverage, will likely to see a smaller raise and will have the option of either accepting his minimal qualifying offer, or perhaps sign a multi-year deal with a few extra dollars – let’s say $1.5-2M.

Korpikoski hasn’t probably done enough yet to warrant a raise, so look for him to stay at, or around the $1-$1.2M mark, while Higgins will likely get a deal in the $2-2.5M range – he earned $1.9M last year, but had a Cap hit of about $1.7M.

So if the Rangers do in fact sign all four, they’re probably looking at around $10-13M or so for those four alone. That would give the Rangers just $2-5M remaining with as many as four starting slots remaining unfilled.

Even going to the prospect pool can get costly. Matt Gilroy, who is considered one of the leading candidates to make the team out of camp, was signed this Spring to a $1.75M contract, and Michael Del Zotto will earn just over $1M if he makes the roster. Slightly cheaper options with Michael Sauer ($847K), Corey Potter (RFA – $600-700K), Pavel Valentenko ($875), Ilkka Heikkinen ($875) and Bobby Sanguinetti ($883K) do exist, but all are untested.

In the forward pool, the signings of Corey Locke ($500K), Tyler Arnason (Undisclosed), as well as the acquisition of Brian Boyle (RFA) provide some options, as do Evgeny Grachev ($875K) and Artem Anisimov ($883).

Which all goes to say, that talk of acquiring Brad Richards or the signing of Saku Koivu is really just a pipe dream without a trade as well. Obviously in the case of Richards, the Rangers would have to shed some salary with the most likely candidates being Michal Rozsival or Wade Redden, but you’d also have to provide value back to Dallas. Nikolai Zherdev might fit the bill in this case.

Obviously it’s not that easy.

There’s no guarantee that Richards will be successful in New York, nor bond with the likes of Marian Gaborik or the likes of Sean AveryRyan Callahan and Chris Higgins.

There’s also so guarantee that a team like Dallas would want a player like Zherdev. The Ukrainian born winger continue to be a challenge to deal with both on and off the ice. There’s never any certainty that he won’t just pull up stakes and head back to Russia, and his on-ice performances vary greatly.

In Rozsival (or Redden) you also create a significant need to fill minutes on defense, and would likely have to go and sign a free agent such as Francois Beauchemin (rumored to be looking for a $4M multi-year deal), Paul MaraSergei Zubov or Derek Morris.

You also run the risk of change for change’s sake. Both Zherdev and Redden have been with the Rangers just one year, and under the direction of Tortorella for far less than that. Obviously neither player came to the Rangers expecting the “Irate One” to be behind the bench, and it’s possible that they’ll just deteriorate under his challenging approach to coaching, but they also might blossom.

The bottom line is that the remainder of the off-season is likely to be driven by the RFAs and the contracts they sign. Each move will clear up the picture a little more and give a better indication of what other moves might be possible. If the Rangers are serious about signing a defenseman or center, then a trade of some sort is almost a necessity…or they could just reassign Wade Redden to Hartford.

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