Let’s start by saying what everyone knows: this team is FLAWED. It was built with no real direction and couldn’t help but fail with this collection of spare parts, playing out of position, and expected to excel. The fact that this club even sniffed the postseason is testament to the incredible talent of franchise cornerstone Henrik Lundqvist and an inspired first season on Broadway by sniper extraordinaire Marian Gaborik. Even with the huge holes that management could never fill despite making in-season moves and numerous call-ups from the minors, the team still strung together an impressive first month of the season and an exciting last few weeks to make a serious run at the final playoff spot. This team is not in need of a total rebuild and there shouldn’t be close to the wholesale turnover we saw at the end of last season but there are a few moves that GM Glen Sather must make if this team is going to make it back to the playoffs and actually be expected to make noise once it does. Here is a breakdown of the current roster:
The Core: (Will be back next season)- Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Marc Staal (RFA), Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Sean Avery, Michael Del Zotto and Michal Roszival.
Should I Stay or Should I Go: (Players who may or may not be back, with my best guess)-UFA’s: Vinny Prospal (will be back if he accepts one year deal with small raise), Olli Jokinen (Don’t Let the Door Hit Ya!!!!), Alex Auld (probably gone), P.A. Parenteau (will get a better offer somewhere else), Anders Eriksson (gone), Jody Shelley (I think the Rangers will bring him back based on his play down the stretch), Corey Potter (I would let him walk). RFA’s: Staal (long term deal), Dan Girardi (might be priced out by Staal but my guess is he returns), Erik Christensen (50-50 I think he goes), Brandon Prust (could be a choice between him and Dane Byers, he gets my vote), Byers (probably edged out by Prust), Enver Lisin and Ilkka Heikkenen (nice to know ya!).
Fire Sale: (players who should be in Hartford or will be offered around for a bag of pucks)- Wade Redden, Aaron Voros, Brian Boyle and Matt Gilroy.
I have read many articles over the last few days (from some great writers like Larry Brooks of the NY Post and Steve Zipay at Newsday) about what the Rangers need NOT to do this offseason. I agree with most of what they say about free agency and trades. The Rangers do NOT need Vinny Lecavalier, Patrick Marleau, Illya Kovalchuck, Joe Thornton, Pavol Demitra or any of the other big name, huge contract suspects that will most likely be available at season’s end. The one thing I haven’t read in any of these articles is a plan for what the Rangers SHOULD do once the final buzzer sounds on another NHL campaign. Most likely the Blueshirts will have anywhere from $10-14 million dollars in cap room this offseason to re-sign Marc Staal and a few others but Glen Sather should not go on a boldface buying spree in hopes of filling his team’s needs. He should show restraint, sit down behind his desk, light up a cigar and make three phone calls. That’s it, 3 simple calls.
Call 1: Dean Lombardi, GM, Los Angeles Kings- Jack Johnson is the type of physical, edgy, stand up defenseman the Rangers have not had put on their sweater since the days of Jeff Beukeboom. A 23 year old physical specimen who plays with a chip on his shoulder and goes right up to the whistle. The Kings would love to retain Johnson to a long term deal but Lombardi has been unable to come to an agreement with him (and may not want to, looking at the huge payday that Drew Doughty will no doubt seek in a few seasons) and he is currently one year away from hitting the open market with a cap number for 2010-11 of 1.425 million. Sather should call Lombardi and ask what it would take to get the hulking defenseman to Broadway and continue to listen even after the discussion begins with the name Evgeny Grachev (whom the Kings might have interest in if they lose Alexander Frolov via free agency). If Sather could get Johnson to MSG and lock him up long term, the Rangers could have their No.1 pair (along with Staal) under contract for the foreseeable future.
Call 2: Bobby Ryan‘s Agent- The Rangers have a number of promising youngsters in the pipeline (Stepan, Kreider, Grachev, McDonagh, Bourque, Hagelin) and nobody is suggesting that Sather mortgage the future by sending these youngsters away in a deal for a quick fix but signing a 23 year old forward who is on the verge of being a top 5 power forward in the league to an offer sheet and surrendering draft picks in return if the offer is not matched is not the kind of move that could hurt this franchise. The Rangers have built up depth through the draft as of late but no one knows if any of these youngsters or anyone that the Rangers draft during the next year or two will ever be stars at the NHL level. Here is a chance to get a young player who has already proven himself on the biggest stage and will only get better. John Tortorella wants younger players who come to work every night. If the Rangers got Ryan they could have three forwards under the age of 25 who could conceivably put up 30-goal campaigns with Dubinsky, Callahan and Ryan.
Call 3: Alexander Radulov– We already had the Nik Zherdev saga, with the young talented winger who left the NHL for Russia and now here is another young, supremely talented sniper who might just be ready to give the NHL another chance. Nashville GM David Poile has had enough of Radulov and his agents and would probably be more than happy to move this headache for a mid round pick and a prospect. Reports have said that Radulov is interested in returning to the league and the idea of playing on the brightest stage in NYC might just be the dangling carrot that gets the deal done. Wouldn’t Radulov fit perfectly playing across from Gaborik on the top line next season?
I know these three moves aren’t all the GM needs to do to make sure this team takes the next step. I know it’s easy to throw out names and scenarios and think that you know better than a guy who has multiple Stanley Cup rings. I know nothing is easy in the NHL especially winning. I’m not saying I have all the answers and that the powers that be (who get paid much more than I do) haven’t already pondered these moves but what I am saying is no one gets better by standing still or staying pat. Nobody gets better by hoping that players with potential will someday mature into leaders and superstars. The Rangers have a superstar backstop entering his prime, a game changing sniper ready to rise to another level, a shutdown defenseman about to become known on a league wide basis and a group of hard working youngsters on the verge of being valuable NHL performers. Now is the time for creative thinking, creative moves and creative building. Now is the time for Glen Sather to stop filling holes and start building a winner.