Monday, June 27, 2011

Could Rangers Lose Anisimov To Offer Sheet?

When free agency begins on Friday much of the focus where the New York Rangers are concerned will be on Brad Richards and the chase to secure the top player on the market.  The hope is that bringing in a top line center like Richards will not only add his production to the Rangers inconsistent offensive lineup, but spark a bounce back season for sniper Marian Gaborik.  The Rangers made their intentions to spend big money even clearer on Saturday when general manager Glen Sather told the assembled media that the team is not going to sign any of their restricted free agents quickly in order to save money under the cap to make other moves. 

There is potential risk to this plan of action as it opens the team up to offer sheets on their five key restricted free agents.  Offer sheets are a rare thing in the NHL, but that does not mean the Rangers are immune to the possibility.  Many will automatically jump to the idea of Ryan Callahan or Brandon Dubinsky being overpaid by someone else, but to overpay them would potentially equal large compensation heading back to the Rangers.  Of the five, Artem Anisimov might be the most attractive to other teams in terms of his upside to the level of compensation it would cost to acquire him.

As Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News reported yesterday, the Rangers routinely are asked about the availability of Anisimov, but are turned away.
A source told the Daily News that several teams are ere interested in acquiring the lone remaining Russian on the Rangers' roster, center Artem Anisimov, but that those approaches are routinely rebuffed.
Anisimov, 23, had 18 goals and 26 assists in 82 games during his second season with the Rangers.  The year, while inconsistent, showed significant strides from his first season when he had 12 goals and 16 assists in 82 games.  His play with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky showed Anisimov capable of being a top six forward in the NHL.  What the season showed more than anything else is that he is doing this with a lot of room left to grow.  There is a clear need to add strength and aggressiveness to his game to go with the tremendous skill he possesses.  If he adds those things to his excellent shot he could become a force that is capable of 60+ points, which every team could use on their roster.  The attractiveness and the upside potential of Anisimov could make him a very attractive restricted free agent.  

An offer sheet would be one way for those teams that are interested in him, but turned away by the Rangers to put pressure on New York to either pay more than they want to retain Anisimov or lose him for a draft pick.  He doesn’t have the numbers now that a Callahan or Dubinsky do, but he also would cost significantly less in terms of salary and compensation to hit a number that the Rangers would allow him to walk away.  If a team offered Anisimov a contract for 3-4 years at $3 million per season, then the Rangers would be put in a scenario where they either let him walk for only a second round pick as compensation or create potential salary cap issues with other players in order to keep him for more than they would have projected.  To pay Anisimov $3 million per season right now would clearly be an overpayment right now for whatever team did so, but if he develops as he is capable it would become a great value very quickly.  Giving up a second round pick as compensation for a top-six forward is also something that would be very attractive to the acquiring team.  This could be especially true for teams that must spend money this summer just to reach the salary cap floor.

Anisimov is not the biggest name amongst the Rangers restricted free agent class, but his combination of upside and lower cost than Dubinsky or Callahan, might just make him the most vulnerable to an offer sheet. The rarity of the offer sheet might mean this never comes to pass, but it is a risk that you take when you publicly come out and say that the RFA's can wait so the chase for unrestricted free agents has as much flexibility as possible.