Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rangers Offseason Plans: RFAs & UFAs

For some teams the season continues for at least another four games, but the Rangers season is now over. On the one hand Ranger fans can't be too surprised that they were beaten in the first round by the Washington Capitals, as they were extreme underdogs in the series. But, at the same time, this is New York and you are expected to win all of the time. Unfortunately, Glen Sather did not build a team that was ready to make a run for the Stanley Cup this season. Maybe even more unfortunate is the fact that with some of the signings he's made in the past two years, he has severely hampered the chances of the Rangers posing a significant threat in the near future.

I know that this topic has been beaten like a dead horse, but it needs to be. The Rangers salary structure is severely demented. The Rangers who make the most money per season are not the team's best players. In the salary cap era, in order to be competitive you need to have your top players producing and get good production from your younger players while they are still on their entry level contracts. In the Rangers situation, their best players are the younger players who are making the least money. Although it's a good sign for the future of the Rangers, the fear has to be that because of other contracts that they are obligated to, they may not have the salary cap room to sign their younger players to the contracts that they are going to be asking for.

Next season captain Chris Drury is scheduled to make just over $8M, factor in Scott Gomez at another $8M and the Rangers are paying two centers the salary that an elite #1 center in the NHL gets. The problem is, neither Drury or Gomez are capable of being #1 line centers, essentially the Rangers have over $14M in cap room allocated to two players who are being paid at least $3M per season more than they are actually worth.

On the blue line things aren't much prettier with Wade Redden ($6.5M cap hit) and Michal Rozsival ($5M cap hit) getting paid much more than their play this season merited. In fact, Marc Staal ($0.82M cap hit) who is easily the team's best defenseman is by far the lowest paid blue liner on the team. The Rangers cap situation is so bad that unless they make some significant moves this offseason, players who are deserving of another season on Broadway probably won't be offered a new contract. Paul Mara, one of the true character guys on the team who is also the team's grittiest defenseman probably won't be re-signed.

I'm sure that Glen Sather would pull pretty much any possible deal to clear the contract of Wade Redden off of the books (he's under contract for 5 more seasons!) The same has to be said for Chris Drury (3 more seasons) in my opinion, because even though he's the team captain, he hasn't lived up to expectations ever since coming to New York. Getting rid of even one of the monstrous contracts would ease a little bit of the pressure off of the salary cap problem. I also think that even though Naslund only has one year left on his contract ($4M), he should be bought out this summer by Sather. Heck, it might even allow Sather to sign someone who can actually put the puck in the net!

Here's a look at the Rangers RFAs and UFAs and what I think Sather should do in each situation. I will be posting another article assessing possible UFAs that the Rangers should be targeting (players who aren't currently NYRs). Also, remember that the Rangers signed college Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy last week to a two year (one way) contract with a cap hit of $1.87M.

Restricted Free Agents:

Ryan Callahan - he made $600k this season, an absolute bargain (a real rarity in New York). He'll be one of the first guys that Sather re-signs this summer. He's a gritty winger who has shown that he can score at the NHL level and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a consistent 30 goal scorer. I think that Sather should look to lock him up for at least 2-3 years and he should be able to get the deal done for less than $1.5M per season. Guaranteed to be back in 09-10

Brandon Dubinsky - Another guy that Sather will be on the phone with right away negotiating a new deal with. Dubinsky is a future Rangers captain in my opinion. He's mature beyond his years, willing to stick up for his teammates and a physical presence on the ice. Maybe not going to get much more than 20 goals per season but he brings so much to the table. Another guy who was paid only $635k last season and will be looking for a decent pay raise. Because Dubinsky didn't have a great season (goal wise) this might be a great bargaining chip in Sather's favor and he should try and sign Dubinsky to as long a deal as possible at a low price because I think that Dubisnky is only going to get better (especially under Tortorella) and when his numbers increase next season and the year after, so will his value. Looking for at least a three year deal and I think the Rangers could sign him for less than $2M per season. Guaranteed to be back in 09-10

Lauri Korpikoski - In my opinion the jury is still out on Korpikoski, he made almost $1M last season but wasn't given significant minutes, spending most of the season on the third and fourth lines. He's shown some flashes of having a goal-scoring touch but those flashes have been few & far between. He's a decent penalty killer and seems like a hard worker. Maybe Sather should see what kind of market there is for Korpikoski, because I don't know if he'll ever be a top-6 NHL forward and he's already going to be seeking over $1M per season. NY won't let him walk but they shouldn't be offering much more than the bare minimum that they have to in order to re-sign him and I wouldn't be offering more than a two year deal if I was Sather.

Corey Potter - Potter spent most of the season in Hartford but got a couple of call ups and saw limited action in the few games he did spend with the Rangers. He's only 25 so the Rangers will probably re-sign him for depth and keep him in Hartford. Then again with the large contracts that the Rangers have and the amount of players that the Rangers have to re-sign, Potter could be a cheap option as a 6th defenseman. The Rangers have a lot of prospects on the blue line, but I would expect Potter to remain Rangers property.

Fredrik Sjostrom - Sjostrom along with Betts formed the best penalty killing duo in the NHL this season. Sjostrom has unbelievable speed and is a really hard working player. Unfortunately he doesn't have much of a scoring touch. With the cap situation the way it is this could be a toss up. I'd like to see Sjostrom back because he puts his body on the line for the team every single shift but if he is asking for anymore than the $840k he made this season he won't fit in Sather's plans. Could be back on a one year deal for similar money, but not much more than he's making now.

Nikolai Zherdev - The first few weeks of the season this would've been a no-brainer. Zherdev has an unbelievable skill set and is one of the most gifted players in the NHL in terms of being able to stickhandle the puck. But, the problem with Zherdev is that often he can go unnoticed for long periods of time.... games at a time. He made $3.25M this past season and there's no way he comes back to New York if he's seeking similar money to his past contract. When the Rangers traded for Antropov this summer many reports were that it would be a decision between either Antropov (who is a UFA) or Zherdev, I still think that's the case - if I had a choice I'd take Antrpov in a heartbeat. He spent a lot of time in Tortorella's "dog house" down the stretch and disappeared in the playoffs. 50/50 chance of him being back in New York next season & if he does come back it has to be for less money.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

Nikolai Antropov - As I said before I think that it's either Antropov or Zherdev and I'd prefer Antropov. The guy is huge, although that doesn't mean everything, for the Rangers it should be a significant factor because over the past decade one of their main problems has been size. Sometimes I wish he used his body a little more, but he still has the ability to use his strength and size to make plays with the puck. He made $2.1M last season, he'll be seeking a pay raise, but I think that if Sather can get a relatively short-term deal done for $3M or less then he should do it.

Mark Bell - Spent the end of the season in Hartford. I hope that for some reason the Rangers don't decide that Bell should be on the 4th line and choose to re-sign him and let Orr walk. I have no problem re-signing Bell so that he can play in Hartford and provide depth for the Rangers in case he's severely needed. But, I don't think that he's capable of playing 82 games in the NHL and being effective.

Blair Betts - Rough ending to the season for Betts (broken orbital bone & concussion) and possibly has played his last game as a NYR. Along with Freddie Sjostrom he formed the NHL's best penalty killing unit - which has to work in his favor. Betts was also the team's best faceoff man. But, it appears that Artem Anisimov is ready to make a jump from the AHL to the NHL and if that's the case then Betts' job could be on the line. One of the main things working in Betts' favor is that last season's contract of $615k is relatively affordable for the contributions he makes. Sather will be watching how Betts progresses from that concussion he sustained in game 6 of the playoffs. Could be back in New York, but not a guarantee. I'd say there's a 70% chance of Betts returning.

Paul Mara - I have to admit I'm a Paul Mara fan, he had a very good season this year in New York. I think that he changed his style of play (becoming more aggressive) and as a result became a really valuable part of the Rangers blue line. Mara is a real team guy and always sticking up for his teammates. The Rangers don't have any physically intimidating blue liners, Mara might be the closest that they'll get to that. He made $1.95M last season and I think that he may have played himself into a few extra dollars with another team. The Rangers won't have the cap room to increase his salary and will likely try and groom one of their young defensive prospects who will be making less money to replace him. Don't see him re-signing but would like if he did.

Derek Morris - The bottom line is Morris won't be back. He wasn't a bad addition down the stretch but he did nothing in the playoffs. He was supposed to help the PP because he has a big shot, but that didn't work out as planned. On this Rangers team he's the 4th best defenseman at best and at $3.95M/season he is way too highly priced for the Rangers.

Colton Orr - The Rangers must bring back Orr. He is a top 3 fighter in the league and for those of you who think that it's no longer a part of the game (take a look back a few days ago when Brashear destroyed Betts...I have no doubt that doesn't happen with Orr on the ice). The Rangers are a small team, they will get run all season long unless they have someone who can actually fight. Adding another Voros type player who can't fight will not help. Orr has improved dramatically since coming to New York and is no longer a liability when he's out there on the ice. Not to mention, he rarely takes a minor penalty, which is something that most other NHL heavies do on a regular basis. Plus, the best thing about Orr is that he loves to fight. He made $550k last season and I see no reason why Sather shouldn't be able to get him back in Blue for another two seasons at $650k per year (or less).

Patrick Rissmiller - Won't be back next season, if in fact he is a UFA (several websites claim he's a UFA, others say that he signed a 3yr deal last summer). One of Sather's mistake signings from last summer, hopefully it was just a one year deal. If not, he'll just continue to play in the AHL.

Steve Valiquette (Update: Re-Signed 5/1/09) - Vally knows his role and is a very capable NHL backup goalie. He had a one year deal for $725k and Sather should be able to sign Valiquette to another deal with similar financial terms. It seems like Lundqvist and Valiquette have a good relationship, which is important. I see no reason why Valiquette wouldn't be back, unless Sather thinks there is a better option out there for similar money (this summer's top UFA goalies).

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Frank said...

Good stuff man - I agree w/ you on almost all of the comments. Personaly I'd rather see Gomez shipped out than Drury and I would prefer if the Rangers let both Antropov & Zherdev go and instead pursued someone w/ elite scoring ability (maybe Gaborik, but he's risky). Agree 100% that Orr has to be brought back!

Anonymous said...

Sather has ruined this team for years to come! Fire him now!

Dov said...

The Sather signing of Redden was so incredibly stupid that you wonder if he was sober. I can't see Tortorella passively playing Redden for the next five years, not four by the way, if the guy's skill level does not improve, fat chance, and he's got other choices. In that sense, Sather has provided a way out of this mess, having to accommodate the fiery Tortorella. I understand a buyout would still be a significant hit on the cap for some time, but if push comes to shove, they can do what they did with Kasparaitis, and banish him to Hartford. If they want to give up a first choice draft with Redden, some team might bite for a swap.

Naslund has no place on the Rangers. He's a perimeter player who can't create opportunities in the offensive zone and had Bertuzzi riding shotgun for him in his best years. He can be traded, I think, or bought out.

Either Gomez or Drury should be dealt to make space although their salaries are in the stratosphere so it will be a hard sell.

Betts, Orr, and Sjostrom are all worth bringing back, so is Mara if possible, but Zherdev at his salary is problematic unless they can free space. If there's a choice, I'd prefer Antropov.

During a game with Carolina, the score was 2.2 going into the third period and the Canes started to take control of the game. The announcers said the Rangers are not in condition to play Tortorella's full press game. They said you can't attain that conditioning on the fly, it has to be done pre-season. They predicted the Canes would win the game because the Rangers would be gassed. This is what happened. I understand they are going to marine boot camp, figuratively, this summer and that's good news. (Then there's the question, how come the Canes were forged into a 60-minute team and Renney stopped at 45.)

If you had asked me last year which sniper to sign (besides Shanahan) I would have said Ryder. If you ask me this year, I'd say Cheechoo. Like the former he's in the dog house on his team, but this guy crashes the net, has shown in the past he can finish, and alongside Avery and Dubinski, I think he'd at the very least match Naslund's output if there are no hidden injuries.

Puck Central said...

Good stuff. You're right about Redden, it is 5 more years! I was looking at and I didn't realize that I had to hit a button to expand the chart....that's how ridiculously long that contract is - it didn't even fit on the webpage!

Not so sure about Cheechoo he hasn't done much recently and had that one good season when he was riding shotgun w/ Joe Thornton the year he had his MVP season.

You're right that Naslund is a perimeter player - those types of players drive me nuts! Thankfully he only has one more year left, he's a cap hit of $4M but he's only scheduled to make $3M this coming season (still too much!)

Anonymous said...

the only good thing about the rangers this season was their penalty kill betts and sjostrom have to come back they were [for most of the season] the hardest working players on the team i'd give betts the team mvp

Anonymous said...

i think the rangers need to dump drury and make avery captain

Puck Central said...

I agree that Betts was great this season, but if Anisimov is in fact ready to play in the NHL who else do the Rangers get rid of? Do they move Dubinsky or Drury to the wing? They have Drury, Gomez, Dubinsky already at center. Of course if they can trade away either Gomez or Drury then that would not only free up a lot of cap space but also a center position to re-sign Betts.

Dumping Drury would be great IMO, not so sure about making Avery captain ;)

Puck Central said...

Check out my next blog entry which will be up in a few minutes, the Rangers have re-signed Valiquette to a 1 yr deal

Ryan McFadden - The Manic Ranger said...

Betts/Orr/Mara will most likely be re-signed.

I agree with you in that I don't think Morris will be be back. I hope the Rangers sign and trade Zherdev. I'd be ok giving Antropov a a deal for under $3 million per.

Callahan and Dubinsky should be the Rangers first priority. They can't afford an offer sheet that could come for Callahan.

The problem right now is that the Rangers cap situation is going to be worse after next season when the cap is expected to shrink because of the economy. Sather needs to do everything he can to unload one or two contracts. The most likely being Gomez landing with a team like the Kings and Rozsival being dumped somwhere. The problem is, the Rangers are most likely going to have to include extra incentive in any of those deals.

nice work

Puck Central said...

Yeah, if order to dump one of the big contracts they'll likely have to throw in at least some draft picks.

I certainly hope you're right about re-signing Orr. He's easily my favorite player on the Rangers & is entertaining and a hell of a fighter

Steve said...

With writing like that you could be a Rangers beat writer! Interesting read - thanks

Puck Central said...

Thanks Steve...but I wouldn't go that far!

Anonymous said...

The rangers need to rid themselves of one big salary on buth defense and offense if they are going to have any flexibility at all. Most likely to go would be Gomez and Rozsival, as Drury is the captain and no one will take Redden. Redden could go to Hartford if Rozi cannot be moved. We have young D-men, but who knows if they are ready for the big time. Morris is a goner, probably Mara too unless we move Redden or Rozi. Bottom line: Slats has hosed us for years to come.

Puck Central said...

Tell me about it

Anonymous said...

Stupid Ranger fans ---- no 1 and I mean no 1 is taking any of your garbage players with the crazy contracts. Drury sucks, Gomez sucks, Rozival sucks, Naslund sucks & to top it all off Redden sux. Have fun watching this crappy team stay

Anonymous said...

Getting rid of Gomez would be HUGE mistake. The problem here is not about Drury and Gomez's contracts, it's about Sather letting all of our offensive players go. That is the issue. Instead of signing Naslund to a 2 year deal, they should have kept Jagr. Don't know why they let Shannan go either. I think under Torts and with a winger who can score 30+ goals, Gomez's game will pick up and he will have a lot of assists. Everyone gets on Gomez, but hey, the man cant do his job - which is to make plays, not score goals, if he doesn't have a decent winger to finish it.

I say dump Redden, Naslund and Zherdev. We were much better without them.

Puck Central said...

I agree w/ you, I'd much rather keep Gomez than Drury. I think that Gomez's main problem is that he hasn't had a winger on his line that plays his type of game. But, if I'm thinking that then other teams are also probably thinking that and would request Gomez in a trade before Drury

Puck Central said...

Anonymous, what's your team? Don't hide behind the 'anonymous' tag

Anonymous said...

People should relax and give Redden a chance. I thought he was solid against the Capitals.

Mara and Morris will not resign. Two rookie defensemen should be in the lineup (Gilroy, Potter, Sanguinetti, etc.). It's going to take a full season to prepare these rookie defensemen to play at the NHL level. Remember how long it took Staal before he looked solid.

Finally, Torts needs to separate Rozsival and Redden. People want Redden to play like Brian Leetch or other offense-minded defenseman, then he needs a reliable defenseman to back him up. One thing that made Brian Leetch was so great was that fact that Jeff Beukeboom to back him up.

Puck Central said...

Give Redden a chance? He played well against the Caps - a 7 game series. He absolutely sucked for 90% of the 82 game regular season.

Brian Leetch was great because he was great. Please don't ever mention Redden in the same sentence as Brian Leetch again.

Ben said...

naslund retiring helps big time! Sign Dubi & Cally to five year deals now, heart & soul guys

Anonymous said...

This team can't go on letting team players go and keeping crappy ones. Orr, shoey, betts, kopri,dubi, calli, mara, antropov,zherdev MUST BE RESIGNED or sather will never hear the end of it. This team needs to go young. Trade or waiver Redden, Rosival, Drury,and Gomez they are pathtic hockey players. These moves will allow the rangers to bring up some young players(gilroy, del zotto, saguenetti, anisomov, grachev while clearing lot's of cap room. With that cap room the rangers can sign Calli,Stall, Girardi,and Dubi to long term contracts and possibly sign Bouwmester this year (probably not going to happen) and Kovlachuck next year(should happen) goals and great defense will become a frequent occurance for the rangers, not this year but defienetely next if sather does as says above. P.S. trade Gomez and Drury for young but cheap talent. Keep Zherdev because he is going to be a star with patienence and i mean patience. SATHER DO THE RIGHT THING FOR BOTH YOURSELF AND THE FANS!!!

Anonymous said...

KEEP The young core trade the old guys.

Anonymous said...

Luckily Naslund retired so that debate is finished. Without a doubt, any one that follows the Rangers knows to keep Dubbie, Calli, Girardi, and Stall. If Antro can be had for 2.75 mill. and under he's a keeper and get rid of zherdev (could be talent doesnt put up goals on the scoreboard). I'd rather keep Gomez than Drury and actually think he would flourish if he had dependable partners on the offensive side of the puck which there is practically none on this team now. Trade Mr. Non-Clutch Drury to anybody and include whatever picks is necessary cuz he's terrible. Were not paying 8 mill. a season for that goal he scored in buffalo against us with less than 7 seconds! Mara is probably gone due to cost as is Morris. Rangers if everything would go as planned (get rid of redden or Roz, Drury or Gomez) and sign a Hossa or trade for Kov in Atlanta and use thier young talent which there is plenty of, this team should do fine!

Puck Central said...

Pretty good assessment there that I agree w/

The amount of young, good players that the Rangers have is always good to see. Let's hope that Sather doesn't screw that up, by trading them away for washed up veterans who suck

Anonymous said...

Sather sucks, the only reason he's there is beacause hes butt buddies with the owner