This year has been a different breed from the New York Rangers than expected. With a quarter of the season completed, New York sits above .500 and in a comfortable position to continue moving up the Eastern Conference leader board.
How they got there, though, is the unconventional part, when compared to the past few years of action.
New York hasn’t gone on any major win streaks. They’ve played well through injury. Their backup goaltending is performing as well, if not better, than their starters. And perhaps most importantly, they’re getting huge performances out of their budding young stars.
Huge performances we’ve waited upwards of four years for.
New York’s core of forwards, led by Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, and Artem Anisimov, have all been spectacular and are on pace for career years on Broadway. They’ve alleviated the stress constantly placed on star winger Marian Gaborik to score goals and yet, are still underrated as the the threats they’re becoming.
But Rangers fans are on the edge of their seats for more reasons that just the excitement on the ice. The pensive, cautious fan has already been quick to note that though all four players have been superb, they are all set to become restricted free agents and are in need of a big salary increase. And with Glen Sather running the show in the Garden (and given his track record in such situations), fans have good reason to sweat.
But the situation is not as uncertain as it looks and, when going by the numbers, we should feel a little more comforted that Sather will not make the same mistakes this time.
When it comes to restricted free agents, the past few years for Sather have been rough to say the least. Sather walked out on the salary arbitration of Nikolai Zherdev and allowed the incredibly talented Russian to sign elsewhere, making his NHL return this year with division rival Philadelphia. He then neglected to sign fan favorite P.A. Parenteau, leading to Parenteau’s defection on Long Island and his subsequent rise to stardom.
These two are bigger in regards to a series of moves involving young, less expensive talent that Sather has let go of. Corey Locke, Corey Potter, Bobby Sanguinetti, and several others have been dealt away or released under the Sather regime. With four increasingly talented forwards on the docket this year, one has to wonder just who will be on the cutting room floor this time around.
At this point, I would humbly implore you not to worry. Looking at the books alone could help resolve any concerns you may have about New York’s dizzying RFA situation.
Assuming this roster remains the same throughout the year, the Rangers will have $41 million of their $59 million in salary cap committed to the current roster. That leaves $18 million with which to sign these four and make a few moves in the off-season.
The risk? Losing a lot of unrestricted players that may or may not be vital contributors to the organization.
Let’s start with Ryan Callahan. Callahan currently makes the most out of the restricted lot with $2.3 million on the books. Given the recent extensions handed out to players like Claude Giroux and David Backes, who were in very similar positions, Callahan stands to make $3.75 to $4.5 million next year as a Ranger. That number is quite reasonable, especially if Cally’s production stays as high as it currently is.
If, however, Callahan goes back to his tendencies of flirting with only 40 points instead of 60, New York is in for a costly mid-level winger.
Brandon Dubinsky makes substantially less than he’s currently worth as the Rangers’ leading goal scorer. Making just $1.85 million this year, he’s on pace to score 40 goals and pot 25 helpers for a huge career year. And in a contract year, numbers like that are derivative of a pay raise in the same bracket as Callahan’s, though more towards the $4.5 million side of things.
Artem Anisimov continues to breakout of his shell as well, as the less-than-one-million-dollar man continues to crash the net and rack up points. He’s on pace for an improvement over last year’s solid rookie season, and he too will see a big increase in the money he’s paid.
While even a 50-point year would be a huge one for Anisimov, he’s still got a lot to prove and would likely merit a similar contract to Callahan’s RFA one. They’ll worry about getting him long-term when he comes up again, since he’s only entry level for now.
Boyle is the biggest surprise of them all. While it would be hard to expect the fourth line center to continue his incredible production thus far, he’s also way too good to be let go of, especially for the $525,000 he’s making to have already scored nine goals. Pay raise? Undoubtedly so.
Now let’s assume the worst for all four involved. Dubinsky and Callahan each get bumped to $4.5 million a year. Anisimov signs for about $2.5 million (similar to Callahan’s restricted deal) and Boyle has a $1.5 million cap hit. That’s $13 million of our available $18 million already used up with little wiggle room for any other players.
It seems doable, but at what cost?
The Rangers would have to let go of pretty much all unrestricted free agents in a contract year. This means that Todd White, Alex Frolov, Vaclav Prospal, Steve Eminger, and Ruslan Fedotenko would all be on the chopping block. So would several other RFA’s including Mike Sauer, Pavel Valentenko, and Matt Gilroy.
Should the Rangers be worried to lose almost all these players? Come on, you can’t be serious.
Alex Frolov’s offense has gotten much better since the return of Marian Gaborik to the lineup, yet he’s still playing in the same frustrating way that Alex Kovalev did for New York. He was brought in at an inexpensive, one-year rate to bolster the offense. Think of him as a year long rental who, more than likely, won’t even be in the NHL next season (think Dynamo Moscow).
Vinny Prospal? Still hasn’t played a game for the Blueshirts this year, and yet the team stays afloat. I’m not saying Prospal is worthless or has no purpose with the team, but it is hard to imagine just where he’ll fit into the offense once he is ready to go. And while his cap hit will remain low as long as John Tortorella does the coaching, Prospal’s usefulness will decrease as the youth shows their own veteran leadership.
Steve Eminger and Todd White? They could be uber-effective and yet still have the fans hounding them constantly. White definitely won’t be back next season and unless Eminger can prove he’s worth keeping over New York’s incredibly deep defensive prospects, he’ll be on the way out too.
Ruslan Fedotenko seems like the real keeper of the bunch thus far, playing exceptional hockey under Tortorella. FedEx draws penalties, takes hits, and scores good goals. He’s great value at only $1 million and could likely return for the same value.
The restricted free agent issues with players like Sauer and Valentenko are easily remedied for similar salaries. But Gilroy really feels like the odd man out, especially if all four forwards ink extensions for the kind of money we’re talking about. Gilroy makes twice as much several other defenders at his level and three times as much as Mike Sauer. While nobody wants him to turn into another Mike Mottau experiment, it appears as if he’s well on his way to that point.
So I ask you, does this sound reasonable? Absolutely.
The Rangers have a lot of hope this year thanks to the young guns finally coming of age, and though it may happen all at the same time, there is no reason to believe they’ll be a one-hit wonder.
Now if only Glen Sather is listening.
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