Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is Skipping Unrestricted Free Agent Market Best Move For Rangers Future?

For the past few summers fans of the New York Rangers have seen the end of the mega contract that eventually hangs around the neck of the organization like an albatross as they stare into the abyss of salary cap calamity.  Much of the reason for that is that the organization has been against the salary cap so the mega deals for huge money and significant years have not been something that has been possible for GM Glen Sather to make.  He has made some bad signings in the last two years as well in terms of the level of overpayment for some free agents, but the sheer dollars involved have been so much less that he has gotten away without the same level of scrutiny. 

That could change this summer with Sather having eliminated most of the worst contracts on the club’s balance sheet, and an expected rise in the salary cap.  Add in potential buyouts of Chris Drury, Wojtek Wolski and possibly Sean Avery and the Rangers could be looking at upwards of $25+ million in cap space to work with this summer.  Obviously a good chunk of that money will go to the new deals for Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Michael Sauer and Brian Boyle.  That said, when those five deals are done there will still be huge money left on the table and we know that Sather is not one to leave it there sitting idle.

There is no secret he will look for the big fish in this year’s market, Brad Richards, when July 1 comes.  The problem becomes whether he will revert back to the old ways and lock himself right back into another long-term deal (5+ years) for huge money ($7+ million) as Richards is rumored to be seeking.  Even scarier than that scenario might be what Sather could do with the money if he loses out on Richards.  In the unrestricted free agent (UFA) market Richards is the only elite talent there and the pool after that drops off significantly.  That scenario creates multiple bad scenarios for the Rangers.

The weak UFA market gives Richards added leverage in his own negotiations as there is no comparable alternative out there to spend the money in the market.  The other bad scenario is that the weak market means all the secondary options are likely to be overpaid in both years and dollars this summer.  Second and third liners will be paid more than they deserve because the teams that miss on Richards will be hungry to not walk away completely empty-handed.  This is why the best move for the Rangers is to stay out of the unrestricted free agent market altogether this summer other than some depth signings if necessary.  Other than Richards, there is no one in the UFA class that is a significant upgrade, especially in the forward group, compared to what the Rangers already have, yet they will get paid as if they are.

The main alternative to the UFA market is to look for the answers in trades, which as bad as Sather has been in his big dollar free agent contracts, he has been that good in the trade market.  This has been bandied about with different names already this offseason, some of which are more intriguing than others.

The other alternative that seems to be lost in the discussion because the urge is to fix the problems on the team is just to basically stand still and hope for the growth from the youth for next season.  The rebuilding process is one that has gone on over the past few years and while fans are itching to contend again as soon as possible, staying with the course and making the right moves is more important than just making a move you hope will work.

Whatever Sather does at this point, the goal should be to add top talent, not more depth to the core that already exists in New York.  If that talent is not available, for whatever reason, the Rangers should not be afraid to just take a pass and head into next year with the same core group from this past season.