Going into today’s annual free agency period, I was relatively calm. The Rangers had several key players free to sell their services to the highest bidder, but the Rangers appeared in a relatively decent position cap-wise and had some room to make some deals to improve the team.
On top of the wish list was the retention or replacement of key forwards: Jagr, Shanahan, Avery and Straka, as well as a #1 defenseman, who could help cement the Rangers’ blue line. After day one, they have their #1 defender, but at what cost?
In the first twelve hours of the 2008 NHL Free Agency period, the Rangers find themselves locked into two additional long term contracts, on top of the already substantial deals with Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Henrik Lundqvist. Added to the list today were the pair of Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden who together now represent a $32.5 million dollar commitment for each year through the end of the 2011-12 season.
That’s about 58% of this year’s Cap number, sewn up for just five players, only one of which (Henrik Lundqvist) can be considered amongst the league’s elite. When you add in the rest of the likely roster players the Rangers have under contract, that leaves you with about $8-10 million to provide some scoring on the wing, and perhaps to sign a depth defender to help fill out the blueline.
It seems almost certain then that the Rangers have already committed to moving Chris Drury to the wing, and perhaps giving Artem Anisimov a shot at the third line center position. It also seems certain that Glen Sather is hoping that one or two of his stable of what amount to be third and fourth liners, steps up and adds some offense.
Yes, we’re talking about the likes of Nigel Dawes, Petr Prucha, Ryan Callahan, Fredrik Sjostrom and the newly acquired Aaron Voros, who combined for a total of 45 or so goals last year to replace the 77 that that were scored by the four who are leaving. And that assumes that somehow Drury, Gomez, Dubinsky and the blueliners can simply maintain their current level with a lesser talented team in front of them.
You thought the power play was bad last year…just wait until you see this year’s unit.
There are of course a number of mistakes that were made up until this point, and there is (remarkably you might say) still room for more tomorrow if Marian Hossa finally chooses his destination. The Rangers could well be left holding the bag without either Jagr or Hossa and competing against ridiculously priced offers on the likes of Mats Sundin and any remaining options that might be out there.
What’s even more frustrating is that second tier options such as Radim Vrbata, Niklas Hagman and Michael Ryder are all now off the board. While none of them are anywhere near perfect, they at least presented a fall back position for Sather in the event he is left holding the bag. One potential scenario left sees Sather bidding on the scraps that are left, perhaps even bringing back the likes of Brendan Shanahan on another bloated contract.
But ultimately it was the signing today of not just one, but two big contracts for defenders that has locked the Rangers into a position where they are beginning to limit their options. Despite protestations by Sather that he is not eliminated from pursuing any player yet, the Rangers would be very foolish to use the remainder of their Cap space to sign just one player and attempt to get by with what they have.
Of the options that remain at this stage, there are none that are particularly palatable. Marian Hossa has seen the bidding for his services reach astronomical levels. Rumors of $10-11 million per year for 7+ years make the premiere free agent left on the market in the drivers seat, and the team that signs him at great risk.
Signing the likes of Shanahan, Sundin and Jagr look much more tasteful in comparison, but even those signings have their downsides. All three are beyond the age of 35 and any deal for more than a year, would count against the Rangers’ cap no matter whether the player actually played or not.
In the case of Jagr, it’s even more complicated. Jagr is rumored to have an offer to return to Pittsburgh for a year, which may very well be contingent on what happens with Hossa. The Rangers could be the position o not having either marquee player.
Would Sundin (beyond the fact that he’s another center) want to come to New York if Jagr’s not going to be there, and at what cost?
Getting rid of Christian Backman‘s $2.3M is now a priority, whether it’s by sending him to Hartford, or attempting to find a team willing to take him for next to nothing, it’s clear the Rangers can no longer afford to pay him.
It also may mean that they will have to shop Fedor Tyutin and his $2.8M in salary. Seeing Joni Pitkanen fetch Erik Cole gives hope that perhaps Tyutin could return a second line winger from a team looking to find an affordable option on defense.
Moving those two (plus adding whatever salary came back in trade), could perhaps free up as much as an additional $5M, plus potentially fill one of the spots on the top two lines, though certainly anyone who comes back is going to have some questions or flaws to their game.
With Staal and Girardi already under contract, and Pock potentially a seventh d-man, the Rangers would then probably need to sign a relatively cheap veteran and maybe rely on a guy like Cory Potter or Bobby Sanguinetti stepping up to take the vacant roster spot. Perhaps re-sign Andrew Hutchinson to a relatively cheap contract and finally give him a shot at the Rangers’ roster (if he’ll consider it).
If Chris Drury does indeed move to wing, then that gives the Rangers the option of bringing up Anisimov, but gives the Rangers forward corps a decidedly unproven tint to it.
With a logjam of unproven wingers, particularly on the left wing, the Rangers may be forced to consider moving the likes of Korpikoski, Dawes, Prucha or Sjostrom as an add-on to a Tyutin trade just to secure the second line winger they’re looking for.
At this stage Glen Sather finds himself in a mess of his own making. The solution is not going to be pretty, and whatever he does today, be prepared for some more head scratching, and maybe a curse or two…
And to think, things already were going to be tough with the Rangers having an unorthodox preseason and two games in Prague to start the year. It should be noted that teams have traditionally struggled after starting their season out of the country, and the Rangers appear as if they’ll have little room to make improvements if the season does not begin well.