The New York Rangers are reportedly interested in bringing future Hall of Famer and hockey great, Jaromir Jagr, back to the NHL. Jagr first came to the Rangers after GM Glen Sather—back in the days when he did not believe in draft picks, or the notion to spend wisely on his players—traded Anson Carter for him in 2004. Jagr played his way out of Washington, to the point that they were willing to pay $20 million of his salary in the trade. Jagr enjoyed some very successful seasons in New York statistically, but was never able to lead his team deep into the playoffs. After the Rangers lack of offense against Washington in this year's playoffs, rumor has it that they are one of three teams in the running, if he were to return to the NHL.
Does a Jagr return make sense for the direction of this team? Simple answer is no. Signing Jaromir Jagr to a contract will be detrimental to the new found mentality that has been instilled by Coach Tortorella. After years of having a reputation of trying to buy championships, most recently with the atrocious contracts of Gomez and Drury (the jury is still out on Gaborik), they have finally replaced this mentality with a hard working commitment to a defensive system. Guys like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have become the face of the franchise, and spending money to bring in a player like Jagr may ruin the new look Rangers.
The real area that Jagr would damage the new style Rangers is the salary cap implications that such a signing would entail. According to CapGeek.com, with the current salary cap at $59.4 million, the Rangers have a little over $18 million to spend on 10 players to fill out their 23 man roster. While that is more cap space than the average team, the Rangers need to re-sign certain key players that have really excelled in their current system. Callahan and Dubinsky, both RFAs, are the two faces of the team on the offensive end (sorry Gaborik, you lost that title), and need to be compensated accordingly. They will both receive in the neighborhood of $4-5 million per season. Both of them, especially Callahan, play a defensively responsible game and provide the two way game that Sather expected from Bobby Holik when he gave him perhaps the worst contract in NHL history.
The other two RFA forwards are Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle. Boyle, a former sixth overall pick, has developed nicely after he looked like a bust on the Kings, and is a central piece to their penalty kill that ranked sixth in the NHL this past season. Together with Brandon Prust, they combined for 12 shorthanded points this season. Anisimov is another player that made big strides in only his second season in the NHL, and at the age of 23, looks to be a big part of the bright future for the Rangers.
Here is what I would say is the approximated breakdown of the four salaries that must be given out:
Ryan Callahan, $4.5 million per season
Brandon Dubinsky, $4 million per season
Brian Boyle, $2 million per season
Artem Anisimov, $2 million per season
Total: $12.5 million
With an expectation that the salary cap will be raised to $62.2 million, after signing the four aforementioned players, they will have a little less than $9 million to spend on the remaining six spots on their roster. With a number of higher caliber players being unrestricted free agents (Frolov and Prospal), the Rangers will need to try and find bargain priced veterans and players from their farm system to help fill out their roster.
The obvious question: How much money will Jaromir Jagr ask for to come to play again in the NHL? His first two years that he played for Avangard Omsk, Jagr was making $5 million dollars a season. It is also important to remember that the tax system in Russia allows for athletes to keep a larger portion of their salaries tax free. This past year, he received a very similar salary, which was more performance based and less guaranteed salary. Well, lo and behold, he had his best season for Omsk, averaging over a point a game with 50 points in 49 games.
Another thing that we know about Jagr is that he does not take discounts to play. In 2001, he signed a seven year, $77 million dollar contract with the Washington Capitals—a contract which crippled the ownerships ability to surround him with the pieces necessary for a championship contender. After having a fantastic season for Omsk, expect Jagr to command the same money he was making there to return to the NHL: around $5 million.
If I was writing this article a year from now in the summer of 2012, I would be more inclined to say that it is worth it for the Rangers to take the risk on Jagr. The reason for this is because at the end of this season, the albatross of a contract of Chris Drury will come off the books. The Rangers are paying him over $7 million dollars a season to essentially do nothing. He is consistently injured, and has not provided any value to this team at any point in the last two years. Drury holds a no-movement clause, which does not allow for him to be traded or sent to the minors to be Wade Redden's roommate without his consent. Drury is hoping for a new contract from someone for next season, so there is about a zero percent chance that he allows himself to be demoted and not showcase his talents for an audition for next year. With over $7 million already tied up in a player that does not fit the structure of the team, it is an extremely risky proposition to spend the necessary money—even if they can actually fit him under the salary cap—to bring in Jagr.
Rangers fans should be excited for next season, even without Jagr in the lineup. The team made the playoffs, despite Callahan and Gaborik each missing over 20 games, and aside from Lundqvist, none of the stars played to the best of their abilities. Michael Del Zotto suffered from the sophomore slump, and is looking to have a huge bounce back year. Together Del Zotto, Staal and Girardi look to anchor the Rangers back end for many years to come.
Up front, the team is brimming with up and coming talent. Derek Stepan is looking like he is the real deal, and Callahan and Dubinsky play with their hearts on their sleeve every game. Marian Gaborik has the ability to be one of the top ten best scorers in the NHL when he is properly motivated, and should be having a bounce back year next season. The Rangers still have one of the best goalies in the NHL in King Henrik, and with him around, they are always in contention. Prust, Boyle and Erik Christensen are three of the best glue guys in the entire NHL and provide fantastic depth for this organization. Also, the Rangers had Prospal and Frolov injured for most of the season and continued to play well with them on the sidelines. With Wojtek Wolski and Drury coming off the books, combined with their almost $11 million in salaries, the Rangers after the 2012 season will have all that money to spend on players to improve an already solid core.
By bringing in Jagr this season, the Rangers may jeopardize the solid young core that they have put in place, as well as create a reversion to their old habits. Sather, my message to you is this: Unless Jagr is playing for the veterans minimum, which would make him an impossible bargain to pass up, do not bring him in. You will take away from the work that Callahan and Dubinsky have done, and destroy the dynamic of the team that you have created over the past three years. A couple more years in this direction, especially when the team recovers from your Drury mistake, and you have a legitimate championship contender.
Then again, when was the last time Sather listened to anyone?
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