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).