While it would seem that the Rangers might be just about done dipping into this season’s free agent pool, there are still holes to fill on the current roster (No.1 Center, Power Play point man and secondary scorer on the wing, especially with the impending departure of Nik Zherdev) and while Glen Sather may eventually have to turn to the trade market or to homegrown talent to fill them, there are still a few intriguing players that remain unsigned and might be worth kicking the tires on.
Let me say before I begin that I believe the best move for the team, not only for this coming season but also for the future, would be to give the youngsters currently in the system a chance to fill these spots through a training camp open competition. I believe Brandon Dubinsky has proven his ability to play with an all world talent on his wing (Jagr) in the past and is on the verge of a breakout season much like Ryan Callahan had last year. I also believe Evgeny Grachev could be the answer at wing should Zherdev depart. Grachev has shown an ability to not only score but also an improvement in his game without the puck.
If the Rangers don’t think these two, amongst others, are the solution at those positions, there are a few veterans still jobless who might fit in for the short term (and the right price) until the youngsters prove themselves worthy.
Alex Tanguay- Reports of Tanguay signing with Florida were premature and I believe he is either waiting and holding out hope for the ideal situation (possibly a return to Colorado and a scene of past glories) or for some team to become desperate and offer a huge payday (think the Thrashers 4 year 16 million dollar deal with Nik Antropov) and if this is the case then scratch him off the Rangers’ list. If the case however, is that Tanguay realizes he may need to look short term (perhaps a one year deal with incentives) to rebuild interest in himself after an injury plagued season, he could be a perfect fit on the Rangers top line opposite Marian Gaborik.
Robert Lang- Let’s face facts, Lang is no longer a number one center in the NHL. Some would argue that he’s not even worthy of second line center minutes at his age but he is still the only viable option for a team looking for help down the middle left in free agency. Lang showed flashes of his former self last season (18-21- 39 in 50 GP) before injuries cut his season short. Rumors have KHL teams interested in the crafty playmaker but indications are that he wants to finish his career in the NHL. If Sather believes Lang has enough left in the tank to keep up with the speedy Gaborik, a one year deal and the opportunity to end his career on Broadway might be enough to persuade Lang to call the Garden home. More than likely, Sather will address this position through trade.
Todd Bertuzzi- The buzz is that the Rangers would like Brendan Shanahan to return to the team after his one year hiatus across the river but if they are going to give minutes that should be slotted for a younger player to a veteran, I believe Bertuzzi has more to offer than Shanahan at this point in their respective careers. Bertuzzi is not the All-Star he was earlier this deacade but he still brings size, strength and good hands in front of the net to any team he plays for. While there is no question that Shanahan is the better locker room presence, Bertuzzi seems to have more left in the tank on the ice (and plays with more of an edge) than Shanny, who disappeared for long stretches during the second half of his last season on Broadway.
Marc Andre Bergeron- Bergeron has one of the best slapshots in the NHL from the point on the power play. The Rangers showed that this is something they desire when they traded three players to Phoenix for Derek Morris at last year’s deadline. Morris didn’t work out and will most likely not be brought back. Bergeron is an offensive defenseman who struggles in his own end and is not overly physical (see Tom Poti) but does play hard every shift and brings another dimension to the man advantage that the team is currently lacking. If the Rangers decide that Sergei Zubov is not worth pursuing or that they have no interest in trading for Anton Babchuk of Carolina, Bergeron could be a one or two year answer until one of the organization’s many prospects (Sanguinetti, Del Zotto) is deemed ready to contribute.
Obviously these 4 players are not going to carry a team the way the Rangers hope Gaborik can but they all bring something to the team (at the right price and term) that could make a difference in the team’s fortunes this upcoming season. If I am Sather, I am at the very least checking in on each of these guys and seeing what their asking price is in the hopes of maybe getting a bargain that could turn out to be a steal.