As I think back over the first 52 games of the season, I can’t help but be amazed at what this team has accomplished. Perhaps The Who said it best, “The Kids Are Alright.” I truly believe in John Tortorella’s system and think this team can be very good for a sustainable period of time.
That being said, I worry…a lot.
The Rangers are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, sporting a 29-20-3 record. The team overcame injuries to two full lines out of their opening day lineup. They spent significant time without their superstar, Marian Gaborik, who missed missed 14 games. Captain Chris Drury missed 31 games, main free agent signing Alex Frolov is out for the year. Oh, and the Rangers are currently without Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Vinny Prospal, Dan Girardi, Ruslan Fedotenko, Eric Christensen, and Derek Boogaard.
Unlike the memorable part of their history when they would have traded draft picks for overpaid veterans past their prime, waiting in the wings were young, talented players from the Connecticut Whale used to playing in the team’s NHL system. These kids have complemented the already young, mostly homegrown talent the Blue Shirts have amassed in recent years.
It’s a tenacious team that fore-checks hard, blocks shots, and doesn't give up. Perhaps most importantly, they are a fun team to watch in that you can’t help but get behind despite the situation. While the Tom Renney-era produced some good results, you never had the feeling that the team could grow beyond what it was. The current roster is extremely young with seemingly limitless potential, containing nine players capable of scoring 20+ goals in a healthy season.
Despite all the success I can’t help but fear for the off-season. Even while I think we will secure a playoff berth this year and could potentially steal a round or two, the knowledge that Glen Sather is in control of the teams’ most important off-season in over twenty years keeps me awake at night. Granted, Sather has made some excellent moves as of late to correct his prior atrocities. The horrific signing of Wade Redden is washed away in the AHL. Scott Gomez’s bloated contract was traded for a package including defensemen Ryan McDonagh (currently playing well in the NHL) and Pavel Valentenko (currently in the AHL, showed flashes during preseason), winger Christopher Higgins (later part of the Brandon Prust deal), and most importantly the trade gave the team the cap space to sign Marian Gaborik. Most recently, fan whipping post Michal Rozsival was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for the highly skilled but inconsistent Wojtek Wolski (seven points in nine games with NY). The only big scars remaining on Sather’s recent record are Chris Drury’s $7.05M cap hit for next season and the confusing contract given to Derek Boogaard of 4 Yrs/$6.8M last off-season.
According to capgeek.com, the Rangers have approximately $14.4M in available cap space next season (assuming the salary cap does not increase and Wade Redden is again assigned to the AHL). Troubling is the fact that we have six restricted free agents that NEED to be resigned (Dubinsky, Callahan, Boyle, Anisimov, Sauer, and Gilroy). Dubinsky and Callahan figure to receive contracts similar to Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (3 Yrs/$3.75M per), and are obviously not replaceable. Anisimov, Sauer, and Gilroy should be in the $1M-$2M range and while not irreplaceable, have shown that they can be solid NHL players and should be given more time to develop. Assuming the players above are signed, it would leave between 900K and $3.9M with which to resign Boyle, currently making 525K. Boyle might be the NHL’s most improved player with 17 goals and 9 assists through 51 games. He spent the off-season training with an ex-Olympic figure skater and apparently realized that he is 6’ 7.” These two things have resulted in a completely redefined player with 30+ goal potential that can be put into any situation.
The greatest thing that could happen to the New York Rangers would be to trade or buy out Chris Drury to free up cap space, but that is an unlikely scenario with him being the team captain. That being the case, they will simply have to hope that no teams offer any extremely high offer sheets to the restricted free agents.
Another way to free up cap space would be to trade Derek Boogaard or send him to the AHL. That would at least ensure the money to keep all of the restricted players and perhaps the unrestricted Ruslan Fedotenko (9G 10A in 48 games).
As for my fears, I can foresee Sather deciding to “make a splash” by trading for or signing a big name player (such as Brad Richards) at the cost of trading young talent or not being able to resign all of our free agents. There have also been rumors (albeit internet rumors) about the Rangers inquiring about Richards and listening to offers for Marian Gaborik. The Rangers are not in a position where one player will put the team over the edge. Further, I believe Rangers fans see the potential of this team and are willing to wait a couple years for a true championship contender. That being said, the seats will be filled at MSG, and there is no need to make a rash move.
I would have to guess that Tortorella is happy with this team (aside from the injuries) and if that is indeed the case, I pray that Sather does not feel the need to meddle. The Boogaard signing was an especially head scratching move since Tortorella does not generally roll four lines consistently and likes players that can fore-check and handle the puck. Boogaard is paid like a skilled player but is slow with no hands. Even if he weren’t injured it’s hard to imagine he would be getting many starts nonetheless playing time. Further, while a player of Brad Richards’ status would likely help tremendously; I hate to think of which players it would cost in trade or non-tendering to acquire him.
It would be great to see this team continue to grow together around Gaborik and Boyle along with our core of homegrown talent in Lundqvist, Dubinsky, Callahan, Stepan, Staal, Girardi, Gilroy and Zuccarello. Given our success this year in the face of adversity it seems that another year with the current roster, more experience, and better health could yield a legitimate contender. Further, with a working system in place at both the NHL and AHL levels it is key to continue to draft and develop players that fit that system, and not try to hit a home run with one big trade or signing (just ask the Devils about Kovalchuk).
I have been a season ticket holder for several years and have seen the team grow together under Tortorella. The Rangers organization is great to their fans and the players truly seem to enjoy the game and enjoy playing there. It’s horrible to think of interrupting that chemistry and development were Sather to revert to his old self and sacrifice a bunch of the young guys for a veteran in the twilight of his career or commit 10-15% percent of the payroll on a free agent. Our current success is clearly a result of good scouting and coaching. Of course with a young, inexperienced team there will be growing pains but we should stay the course. Rangers fans know more than anyone the horrors that stem from trying to become a contender overnight. I just hope Sather can resist his prior urges let this team continue to develop naturally.