Many Rangers fans aren’t ready to look ahead to the summer while the team makes a strong push towards a postseason berth. However, now is as good a time as any to speculate on the Rangers looming salary troubles. So let’s skip over the next two potentially heartbreaking months and look at what lays ahead this offseason.
The New York Rangers already have $42.6 million locked up on 14 players for the 2011-12 season. With at least six more players needed to fill the roster and GM Glen Sather sure to spend at least half of their $17 million in cap space on an overrated free agent, things could get ugly in Manhattan this summer.
At forward, the Rangers are committed to Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Wojtek Wolski, Sean Avery, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Boogaard and his absurd $1.6 million dollar contract, Erik Christensen, Derek Stepan, and Brandon Prust.
And before anyone begins developing theories on Drury being Wade Reddened next season, please realize that he has a no movement clause; short of being forced to retire, he’s not going anywhere. Maybe Sather will conspire to have Boogaard injure Drury for the season during a training camp fight.
Hypothetical jokes aside, the Rangers have four players who are set to become restricted free agents and they should generate some hefty paychecks next year. Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Brian Boyle will all be looking for a significant raise.
Callahan, Dubinsky, and Anisimov make up the Rangers top line on most nights, and are three of their top four point getters thus far this season.
Let’s assume that Callahan and Dubisnky get identical $4 million three or four year deals, though they could probably ask for a little bit more. Anisimov will want a big raise from his $800,000 entry level deal, and I expect he can receive a contract somewhere in the $3 million range.
This leaves the enigmatic Brian Boyle. It’s hard to truly determine the worth of the former first round pick, as he jumped from scoring 4 goals last season to already netting 22 in 2010-11.
While it’s possible Sather pulls off a nice return for Boyle on the trade market, I’m going to assume he signs the 6’9” center to a one or two year deal. If the Rangers keep it short term, Boyle can possibly bargain for around $1.5 million.
Vaclav Prospal, Alex Frolov, and Ruslan Fedotenko are the unrestricted free agents among forwards, and the Rangers would probably like to have Prospal or Fedotenko back if the price is right.
Frolov has about as good a chance at getting re-signed as Tiger Woods has at getting back together with that Swedish chick.
Evgeny Grachev may be the forward prospect with the best chance of making the team out of training camp, especially with his $816,000 cap hit.
This is where it gets tricky. The Rangers have Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh under contract. Michael Del Zotto, who has spent the second half of his sophomore season in the AHL, still has one year left on his two way contract at a cap hit of $1.0875 million.
Based on my previous assumptions for Ranger forwards, that leaves about $3.5 million in cap space left over if you include Del Zotto.
Bryan McCabe hasn’t played many significant minutes since joining the Rangers at the trade deadline, but he’s still likely to demand too much for even Sather’s liking. Steve Eminger is another unrestricted free agent who’s unlikely to be re-signed.
Michael Sauer has had a fantastic rookie season, and deserves a huge raise. However, since it is his first season in the NHL, the Rangers have some leverage there, and will hopefully keep his contract in the $2 million range. Even if he does receive a salary of around 2 million, the Rangers would need to divide their remaining $1.5 million on at least one more defenseman.
Any number of free agent defenseman could be signed at that bargain price. There are plenty of options, but I think the Rangers will attempt to sign a veteran blueliner on the cheap. Karlis Skrastins, Hal Gill, and Ruslan Salei are all good bets for a low priced short term deal.
Prospects Dylan McIlrath and Pavel Valentenko will also be given full opportunities to make the club next season at a cheap price.
Can the Rangers find a way to sign an impact free agent this offseason?
New York is set at the goaltending position, with Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron each signed through next season.
I had to make the assumption here that the Rangers won’t re-sign defenseman Matt Gilroy, and probably can’t afford Fedotenko or Prospal either.
However, knowing Glen Sather, he will want to waste a lot more than $1.5 million on free agency. The Rangers have two other options to free up some cap space next season. One option is to trade away or buy out one of the big contracts or even send them to the minors (probably Wolski or Avery, though I doubt that will happen with either player).
The other option is to re-sign some of their restricted free agents to longer term deals if they'll accept less money. This is taking a gigantic risk in the case of a few players, but it may be the only way to free up enough cap space for Sather to feed his ego with outlandish contracts for undeserving players.
Besides, what kind of Rangers offseason would it be without at least one signing that severely hurts the team finances in the long run?
Regardless of where my hard earned ticket money goes, expect the Rangers to sign some creative contracts but no real big name free agents, and still manage to be right up against the salary cap.
Feel free to disagree; god only knows what fluctuations in player demands we’ll see next year. This was my best stab in the dark.
Rest assured, if the Rangers do not make the playoffs this season, then don’t expect anything special out of next year’s team either.