At the beginning of the season, this young group wasn't given much credit. They played in arguably the toughest division in the NHL. At the outset of the season, the Rangers were excepted to finish at best, third in the Atlantic behind the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the revamped Philadelphia Flyers.
The New York Rangers clearly shocked everyone this year with their success. Winners of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, the Rangers finished one point shy of the President's Trophy.
Last year, the Rangers stole the show, acquiring highly coveted free agent Brad Richards. The Richards/Gaborik combination was supposed to carry the Rangers to the promise land, and it nearly did.
Once again there are a few big names in free agency that the Rangers are rumored to be interested in. But the Rangers need to be careful in how they approach this offseason and spend their nearly $21 million of cap room wisely.
The Rangers roster is full of role players that all have their part within the system. Unfortunately, these players are expendable.
Ruslan Fedotenko: Fedotenko has come up with some great defensive plays for the Rangers in the last year. It is clear that Ruslan would be a fourth line player and the Rangers shouldn't focus much effort on signing fourth line players. The Rangers have some young talent in the minors that could fill these fourth line roles. Last year Ruslan had a $1.4 million cap hit, and the Rangers could use that money else where.
John Mitchell: Mitchell is another role player on this team. The Rangers have several role players, all that have more upside then Mitchell. Even though he wasn't horrible, he isn't exactly worth resigning. His cap hit last year was $650,000 and could be re-sign close to that but the Rangers give some minor league guys a look.
Stu Bickel: Bickel is a tough guy. The Rangers have plenty of them and do not need a less than average player on this squad. The only up side to Bickel is he can be used as a forward or defenseman. Bickel cap hit was minimal, but like the others on this list, his ice time would be better served by prospects.
Jeff Woywitka: Woywitka came in to give depth on the blueline. Although he didn't play badly, the Rangers have better options. Woywitka didn't see very much ice time. The Rangers have a couple of defenders in the minors who might make a push to make the squad, so the Rangers should let him go.
Steve Eminger: Eminger is very comparable to Woywitka. Just like Woywitka, the Rangers could afford to lose him.
John Scott:Scott came over at the deadline last year. Scott is a big body and likes to scrap. John Scott services weren't need for much of last year and will not be needed next.
There are several players that heavily contributed to the success of this Rangers team that are at the end of their contracts. These are players the Rangers have to make sure they keep in there system before they consider throwing big money at free agents.
Brandon Prust: Prust is a role player. He is strong on the penalty kill, and has the ability to score some shorthanded goals. He is a bit of a tough guy and isn't afraid of dropping the gloves. Prust should come at a relatively low price for the Rangers. Prust had an 800,000 cap hit last year and should re-sign around $1-$1.5 million a year.
Anton Stralman: Stralman was a solid defender for the Rangers. He did see his ice time fluctuate throughout the season, but he would give the Rangers depth on the blueline. He would be a third pairing man, so he wouldn't be expected to log big minutes. He should come with a cap hit of $1-1.5 if the Rangers could get the deal done.
Martin Biron: Biron's importance is clear to all Rangers fans, he keeps the King of New York well rested. Biron's performs well between the pipes, and though he could possibly contend for a starting role elsewhere, he has a good relationship with the Rangers and their coaching staff. Last year Biron had a cap hit of $875,000 and would probably re-sign for about the same.
Michael Del Zotto: Del Zotto is a restricted free agent that the Rangers will have to open their wallet a bit for, because he made significant strides this year. Del Zotto displayed his offensive ability during his rookie season, but had a sophomore slump where he saw time in the minors. Last year, he elevated his game defensively. He is a young player who is improving quite quickly. MDZ had a cap hit of just over $1 million, and should make a considerable jump to the realm of $2-3 million a year.
The Rangers have a few people set to hit the market in the next few years that are pivotal to their success. These players should take precedence over some free agent signings
Ryan McDonagh: Ryan McDonagh was a gift from the Montreal Canadians. Not only did the Habs take Gomez's ridiculous contract , but they also gave up a gem in McDonagh. Ryan has developed nicely into a great two way player and filled a featured role flawlessly. Mcdonagh is scheduled to to hit the market next year, so the Rangers need to get the deal done now and lock him up long term.
Dan Girardi: If Ryan Callahan is the heart of the team, and Lundqvist is the backbone then Girardi would be everything else. This undrafted defenceman has earned himself an All-Star appearance this past season with his shutdown play. The combination of Girardi and McDonagh plagued the league's top scorers this season. Girardi shouldn't even come close to the free agency market and should be offered a multi-year deal.
Derek Stepan: Derek Stepan had a fantastic rookie season but slumped this year. He still is a guy the Rangers need in their line-up. He is to set to be a restricted free agent in 2014, so the Rangers have time. He still needs a little time to mature as a forward, and if things don't pan out with Stepan, his trade value would be increased if already signed.
Carl Hagelin: Hagelin has speed. Hagelin is clearly a top 6 forward in the league, and is scheduled to be a restricted free agent in 2014. This is a guy the Rangers can not afford to be without. By extending his contract now, he would come cheaper than if they waited until is contract is up.
Re-signing these players will take away from what the Rangers could afford in free agency, but without these players the Rangers might not have shared the same success that this season brought. These guys are still young and still have some developing to do but without them this Rangers team would very different.
Many other teams around the league could be very interested in acquiring some of the younger players on the New York Rangers.
Artem Anisimov: Anisimov was reminiscent of Wojtek Wolski. Artem is scheduled to be an restricted free agent at the end of next season. Currently, he is responsible for a $1.875 million cap hit, and the Rangers could package him along with some prospects or picks and pick up a pretty solid player in return.
Brandon Dubinsky: Dubinsky has been involved in multiple trade rumors. During the season last year, Torts made it clear he wasn't happy with Dubinsky's consistency. Brandon comes with a high $4.2 million cap hit for a guy not producing. He is young and can play different roles which should make him an attractive trade for several teams around the league.
Draft picks: Draft picks are always valuable to a team with an older roster or in a rebuilding period. The Rangers already have a young core of players and several who are close to joining the team, so the Rangers could afford to trade some picks. The Rangers should only trade their picks for either a solid defenseman or top-six forward.
The Rangers typically make a splash in the free agency market. This year there are some big names out there. The following players could be good additions to this club.
Evander Kane: Kane is a restricted free agent coming off a 30 goal season and is a potential 60-plus point player. He is a young player that could fit well with this club. Evander would help continue to improve the power play, is very capable of throwing some big hits, and plays a style fairly similar to the one Tortorella instills in his players.
Brad Boyes: Boyes could fit in with this club. Boyes has only broken the 25-goal plateau three times in his career, but he is tough. The Rangers like guys who play a physical style of hockey and Boyes can do that. Although he wouldn't be an immediate answer to the Rangers goal scoring woes, he could certainly help in the secondary scoring department.
Alexander Semin: Semin is a dangerous free agent. He has a reputation of being a little lazy at times, but he has a shot very similar to that of Gaborik. With Marian out for up to six months, Semin could be a solid replacement. A change of scenery from the nation's capital to the bright lights of New York could prove to be beneficial to both parties.
Justin Schultz: Justin Schultz is going to be a target of many other teams. This defenseman out of the University of Wisconsin won the Defensive Player of the Year in WCHA. He tallied 18 goals, half of which came with the man advantage. He is young and could fit in well with the Rangers.
Ryan Suter: Suter is clearly going to be the most sought after unrestricted free agent defenseman. The combination of Suter and Weber was among the league's best pairings. The Nashville Predators would love to have him back, but the Rangers should do everything in their power to bring him to New York.
Shea Weber: Weber has a bomb of a shot. We see it every year in the All-Star skills competition. The Rangers could really use that on the point. It is highly unlikely that the Predators will let him go, but like Columbus with Nash, if the right offer comes they might part ways. Weber or Suter would round out the Rangers defense and possibly give them the best defensive team in the league.
Zach Parise: Parise is going to have contract offers flying at him left and right, and the Rangers could use his services. Zach is a very solid two-way player. He brings an offensive element to the game, one similar to Richards. Although he will be expensive, the Rangers might look to spend big money in order to give themselves a 30-plus goal scorer.
The Rangers could make several moves that would derail the club in the long-term. The Rangers can not be impulsive when it comes to finding scoring. They do have to replace the scoring ability of Marian Gaborik, who is lost to injury, but not by sacrificing the young talent or valuable cap space.
Rick Nash: The Nash rumors are already flying. Now that Gaborik is out with injury, they will be looking for a player to fill his scoring role up front. The Rangers need to avoid doing several things, and trading for Nash is one of them. Nash would bring scoring no doubt, but his $7.8 million cap hit through 2018 is too much to handle. By doing this, the Rangers would have around $28 million invested in four players. The Rangers need to let some other team give up too much for Nash.
Overspending on free agents: Free agency usually causes inflation of salaries, and the Rangers need to avoid any bidding wars. This is certain to happen with players like Suter and Parise. The organization will need to address several issues in the future years and adding another massive long-term contract would hurt their ability to do so. It is understandable that you will have to pay big money for big talent, but do it with a budget. Come up with your top offer and do not deter from it.
Bad Trades: The Rangers could afford to trade some of their young talent. They can not afford to give up players like Stepan, Kreider, Del Zotto, etc. Those players might be a deciding factor in executing a trade but these guys are the future. Take a page out of Detroit's playbook and develop your young guys into Stanley Cup Champions.
The Rangers finished a couple wins away from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This team currently has a solid core group of young talent that could possibly lead the Rangers to the promise land. Whether the Rangers take a step forward or backwards depends on the front office.
A major focus for the Rangers should be to keep this group intact for the most part. They should make several re-signings and let a few returning players to walk. On top of that, the Rangers could put themselves ahead of the game by extending contract offers to a few players.
The Rangers are a player or two away from their goal of winning the cup. The emergence of Chris Kreider might have answered their scoring woes, but the recent loss of Marian Gaborik is definitely a setback. The Rangers cannot afford to overspend on heavily sought after players.
Look for the Rangers to make a few moves this offseason. Rangers fans can only hope they are the right ones.