NHL Free Agency 2012: 5 Alternatives to Zach Parise for the New York Rangers
Rick Nash was thought to be that forward, but trade talk has quieted to a whisper mainly because the Rangers have a lot of confidence in their youth development and don't want to forfeit valuable young players to acquire Nash.
Instead, the Rangers plan on breaking the bank in the relatively thin 2012 free agency pool to find that impact forward.
Rangers GM Glen Sather told the New York Post, "The closer to the top you are, you have to be a little more aggressive if you want to get better. If you trade, you have to give away assets, but in free agency you’re just giving away money and [taking] the chance the cap might shrink."
“I think we’re going to try to be as aggressive as possible in the free agent market.”
This statement from Sather is exciting for Rangers fans because it indicates that the Rangers are prepared to do exactly what it takes to improve, as long as those steps don't jeopardize the excellent young nucleus of Rangers talent.
Youth combined with proven goal scoring is available in free agent Zach Parise. At just 27 years old, the Devils captain led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals and had an excellent regular season, contributing 31 goals and 38 assists, while playing in all 82 games.
Parise has adamantly stated that he does not want to play for the Rangers, but money talks and the Rangers will make a lucrative offer to Parise. My hunch is that Parise sticks to his word, but in the past, public statements have been retracted once a check has been signed.
Assuming Parise stays west of the Hudson River, the Rangers need an alternative. Here are five guys that could help the Rangers reach the top.
Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Semin is probably the best available shooter behind Parise.
Drafted in the first round in 2002, Semin looked like he would become a star after he put up 79 points in the 2008-09 season, then followed that up with 40 goals and 44 assists in 2009-10. His production dipped after that, and Semin only recorded 54 points in each of his last two seasons.
It's a bit of a red flag that the 27-year-old's numbers have gone down as he's entered the prime of his career, but Semin has scored at least 20 goals every year he's been a full-time pro.
The Rangers will take a long look at Semin to determine if he will disrupt the harmony that exists in their locker room, and will also try to understand his decline over the last two seasons.
If Semin is suffering from millionaire's indifference, then the Rangers should and will stay away.
But if Semin is the same fast-skating sharpshooter with moves like this, then the Rangers would be smart and lucky to sign him.
Dustin Penner should expect a few teams to inquire about him after he helped the LA Kings win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
In fact, after teammates Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser were quickly re-signed, Penner is the only major contributor from the Kings championship team that will become an unrestricted free agent.
Penner's best regular season came in 2009-10, when he scored 32 goals and added 31 assists for Edmonton over 82 games.
But Penner's value lies in his postseason contributions. Penner was on Anaheim's Cup-winning team in 2007 and played a vital role, contributing three goals and five assists over 21 playoff games.
On his most recent playoff run with the Kings, Penner produced again when it mattered most, scoring three goals and adding 11 assists over the 20 games it took LA to win the Stanley Cup.
Penner's game is more power and crashing the net than finesse and marksmanship, but don't undervalue the mentality of a two-time champion.
Justin Schultz is a 21-year-old defenseman who has never played an NHL game.
As a collegiate player at Wisconsin, Schultz was showered with praise and awards. After his most recently completed junior year, Schultz withdrew from school and had 30 days to negotiate a deal with Anaheim, who drafted him in the second round in 2007.
The two parties could not reach a deal and because Schultz has never played in the NHL, he becomes a free agent who must sign a (relatively) cheap entry-level contract with whoever gets his signature.
Schultz really timed the market well, because besides Ryan Suter, there aren't many free agent defensemen that excite teams.
Many teams have publicly expressed interest in signing Schultz, and while soaking up all the flattery, he said that he would either like to play close to his home in British Columbia, or with some of his Wisconsin Badger teammates.
While cartographers will tell you Madison Square Garden is not near B.C., the Rangers do have two former Badgers playing meaningful minutes in Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan.
If McDonagh and Stepan can convince Schultz that he'll not only play, but win as a Ranger in 2013, Schultz just may take his talents to Broadway.
But not in the same way as Mike Tyson.
Jiri Hudler is a 28-year-old center who has spent his entire NHL career in Detroit.
Hudler may eventually re-sign with the Red Wings, but first he is going to test the waters on the open market.
Last season, Hudler put up 25 goals and 25 assists with 42 penalty minutes over 81 games. Hudler also scored two goals over five games in the 2012 playoffs, before Detroit was eliminated in the first round.
Hudler is at his best in the offensive zone and he may not buy immediately into Tortorella's shot-blocking style of defense, but his ability to create and finish chances would certainly make the Rangers better.
Olli Jokinen is 33 years old and most likely finished in Calgary.
Jokinen was a star for the Florida Panthers for many years, particularly the 2006-07 season when he totaled 39 goals and 52 assists for 91 points over 82 games. This past season, Jokinen scored 23 goals and added 38 assists over 82 games for the Flames.
While Jokinen is now in the demise of his career, he has remained a model of longevity and health, playing in at least 78 games per season since the year 2000.
Jokinen can still win faceoffs and his consistently high assist totals show his hockey sense and unselfishness. Quality centers are somewhat scarce, especially in this summer's free agency class, and the Rangers would be happy to add Jokinen.
GM Glen Sather has set the stage for the Rangers to make offseason headlines with a big acquisition. Whoever joins the Blueshirts will have to deal with the pressure of playing in New York and living up to what will most likely be a big contract.
That player will also be joining a team on its way to the top.