The summer of 2013 has been, shall we say, uncharacteristically quiet for the New York Rangers and their general manager Glen Sather. The 69-year-old joined the Rangers in 2000, and basically every offseason since has been filled with bold free-agent signings or blockbuster trades.
But Sather didn't have the same financial freedom this time around like he did in the past. And by no means is that because the Madison Square Garden Company is short on funds, but rather because the organization has been restrained by the shackles of the new CBA.
If the league’s three-and-a-half month work stoppage accomplished anything, it was the deliberate impediment of large-market teams who, in truth, structured long-term deals with high-profile players within the legal framework of the previous CBA. Unprecedented clauses, such as the cap-hit recapture penalty, and the hilarious $6 million cap roll back would force teams who actually spend money to use compliance buyouts—effectively embarrassing proud, and in some cases talented, veterans—to erase these heinous contracts.
As a result, small market clubs, such as the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets, were among the busiest in the opening days of free agency, while big clubs, like the Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, were incongruously quiet.
The Rangers did draw up a few minor contracts on July 5, with players like Dominic Moore, Aaron Johnson and Benoit Pouliot. But their reluctance to buyout the respected and talented, yet battered Brad Richards put them out of the running to acquire a scoring winger. As a result, Sather was forced to make depth deals and hope the youngsters in his system could fill out the remaining holes.
Although Sather was not involved in serious discussions with top free agents, he’s still been busy. A host of young players reached restricted free agency, and a lot of Sather’s time has been dedicated to keeping the team’s core together. He’s also had his hands in a couple of player swaps, but nothing major.
Overall, he’s done some good things and he’s done some questionable things, so today, we’ll take a look at the successes and failures of Sather’s first restricted offseason since joining the Rangers.
First things first, the Dominic Moore signing was great. One year, $1 million, no risk; it’s a no brainer. Moore brings back to the Rangers experience, grit and strong two-way play. He’s an ideal fourth-line center who could easily slide up to a third-line role. He’ll help the team in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill, mostly, but he’s also a really good locker room guy. They’re lucky to have him for the money and term.
The acquisition of Justin Falk was another success. The 6’5”, 215-pound 24-year-old defenseman was dealt to the Rangers at a modest price: Benn Ferriero and a 2014 sixth-round selection. Initially an RFA, Falk resigned with the Rangers for less than $1 million on July 10. He provides the Rangers with size, defensive depth and a fair amount of potential. Falk is still young, and although he is not, by any means, known for his offensive prowess, he’s got the tools to be a solid mid-to-bottom pairing shutdown defenseman.
At the draft, the Rangers didn't make a selection until the third round. They lost their first- and second- round selections in trades for Rick Nash and Ryane Clowe, respectively. But Sather and director of player personnel Gordie Clark made the best of it, and it looks like the Rangers may have scooped up a couple of gems.
Remember the third round of the 2013 draft if you’re a Rangers fan, because in that round the organization selected three talented forwards: Adam Tambellini, Pavel Buchnevich and Anthony Duclair. All three possess natural offensive instincts and a knack for scoring goals. Tambellini—the biggest of the three at 6’2”—is considered a natural goal scorer who isn't afraid to use his body to get to the front of the net. Meanwhile, Buchnevich and Duclair are raw offensive freaks. Both are exceptional skaters and stickhandlers who like to create. The pair will need to bulk up and eventually grow accustomed to the physicality of the pro game, though.
Last, but certainly not least, the contract Sather was able to negotiate with Ryan McDonagh and his agent was flawless. McDonagh is one of the league’s top young defenseman, and signing him to a six-year deal—which buys out three years of unrestricted free agency—at $4.7 million per is impressive. McDonagh could, potentially, be worth over $6 million in a couple of years, but the term on his contract ensures his salary is manageable for the Rangers for a long time.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I support the organization’s decision to not buyout Brad Richards. Earlier I was just highlighting the fact that a buyout is embarrassing for all parties concerned, and the fact that the league is comfortable with up to, potentially, 60 players uprooting their lives and families because they decided contracts that were legal are now illegal is preposterous.
That being said, Richards should have absolutely been bought out. Sather and management are taking a huge risk by not doing so. The longer Richards is on the books, the longer the possibility of paying massive recapture charges looms, as does the fear of the organization running out of space to sign vital RFA’s in the coming years.
I think Richards could still be a good player in this league, but he will never, never, ever live up to his contract in the remaining seven years of it. And, as for not being able to have the space to sign RFA’s, were seeing it already. Derek Stepan has yet to sign and Mats Zuccarello has filed for salary arbitration. I’m not saying the two can’t and won’t sign, I’m saying if Richards wasn't around, the two would already be signed. And in Stepan’s case, the longer he is unsigned, the more likely another team is to present him with an offer sheet.
We saw players like Stephen Weiss and Val Filppula receive overpayments this summer by way of free agency. But the Rangers would have been better off buying out Richards and paying either of those players $5 million per than they are with Richards still on the books. They would have gotten a younger, more talented player for a shorter term and, maybe most importantly, they would have probably signed Stepan and Zuccarello already. It almost makes too much sense.
Another reason Richards should have been bought is because his salary is basically untradable. That’s right, even if the Rangers wanted to trade Richards near the end of his contract, they’d still be responsible for most or all of his salary. That’s another stipulation in the recapture penalty clause. If the Rangers don’t buy him out next summer, it’s a guarantee Richards’ AAV—and in some cases even more money—will count against the Rangers’ cap until his contract expires.
But the Richards fiasco wasn't the only failure of the Rangers’ offseason. The signing of Benoit Pouliot was another. I didn't know the Rangers were in the market for a streaky, soft winger who's never scored more than 16 goals in an NHL season. Signing Pouliot to a one-year, $1.3 million contract may have actually put the nail in the signing-Zuccarello coffin, but the truth is, Pouliot could end up taking a young player’s spot on the roster, also. It’s known that Alain Vigneault isn't crazy about using young players, so why give him the option of choosing between a now-journeyman forward like Pouliot and a potential future star like Chris Kreider.
It just doesn't make sense.