Two days always stand out on the NHL-fans calendar, and neither of them is the All-Star Game. They are July 1, the first day of free agency, and the trade deadline, this year on February 26 at 3:00 p.m. The Rangers did what they had to do on July 1, getting the formerly-defensive-minded Scott Gomez, and Alternate Captain Clutch Chris Drury.
Nearly 8 months later, it will be time to do what they have to do to compete for a Stanley Cup. This team is set up to win the Stanley Cup this year, and this year only. Next year, it will be hard to build a solid team under the salary cap. Drury and Gomez will be locked up, both counting a little over 7 million against the cap. Brendan Shanahan, locked into a one-year deal this year, might not return, and has about 2.3 million against the cap next year, given to him so he could be fit under it this year. If Jaromir Jagr returns, he will count nearly 5 million. Henrik Lundqvist’s upcoming contract extension might be in the $6-6.5M range. Avery, who has made it clear he wants to play in NY, will earn around 2.5M. Martin Straka will cost $3M if he returns. On defense, Paul Mara, Marek Malik, and Michal Rozsival become free agents and will need to be replaced. Teams will throw big-time money at Rozsival, so his uncertain return will be costly. Where to fit another big defenseman or a solid sniper?
Long story short, this is the year they have a chance. Next year, they might reach the playoffs, but it will certainly not be as a strong contender. Glen Sather knew when he made a huge splash on July 1 that this was his one-year window to victory. However, the Stanley Cup is awarded in June, not July, and the road from one summer to the next is a bumpy one, paved with bad goals to Calgary, an inability to beat the Islanders, red-hot Edmonton goaltenders, stinkers against Phoenix and Toronto, an October where goals were less-than-scarce, and comebacks that fall short.
That’s not to say the team is in bad shape. They were in much worse shape when Avery arrived. He breathed life into the organization. By the end of February, dead-weight like Adam Hall, Aaron Ward, and Jason Ward were gone in favor of Avery and Mara. This team has less dead-weight, namely just Malik and Marcel Hossa. It will be hard to trade both of them for much, and others will need to go in order to get important pieces of this puzzle. That is what this team needs – a big shake-up, a fresh start with two months to go.
They need to be careful, though. They need to be wary of getting another Sandis Ozolish or Anson Carter. A player like Mats Sundin would be great, but would also cost prospects and at least two first round picks. Then what happens if they lose in the first round, like Nashville or the Islanders last year. The future was forsaken, and nothing was gained. There will be options out there as teams realize if they are buyers or sellers. They need to find the right person who maybe needs a change of scenery like Mara did, or who will fire up the locker room like Avery did.
A big defenseman might be more necessary than a sniper like Sundin. Rob Blake will be out there, but at what cost? Darryl Sydor also will be out there, but will cost $2.5M next year. J-M Liles has been rumored, and makes sense, but Colorado would want a Prucha, Dawes, or Callahan in return. Is that a fair deal for an unproven defenseman who might not provide what the team is looking for.
It’s an undesirable situation - try to save the future for this year, because this year is brighter than your future. Anybody like Blake or Marian Hossa would mortgage the next few years, but maybe that’s what this team needs if Sather believes it’s all-or-nothing this season. I believe the best bet would be Michael Ryder or Jarrett Stoll, a forward who could spark the team, then sign Liles to an offer sheet on yes, July 1.