The New York Rangers work as a franchise in not only signing key components of their young core to long-term contracts, but contracts that are of great value in the salary cap era has set the team up to contend for multiple seasons. The contracts given to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi last summer along with those given to Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan this summer are ones that have taken four critical components to what the Rangers want to be and signed them to deals that are excellent values. The value of each deal, especially those of Staal and Girardi only look better this year based on their respective 2010-11 campaigns and the overpayments made to defensemen around the league this summer. In addition to those deals, New York locked down Michael Sauer, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle this summer to multi-year contracts. The question is which contract on the Rangers roster, excluding entry-level contracts, is the best value?
Marc Staal: Having an All-Star caliber defender that you can build a team around making under $4 mil per season is never a bad thing. Staal is coming off his first All-Star appearance and continues to get better with each passing season. The offense is still a work in progress, but the instincts on when to carry the puck and join the rush are improving gradually. Combine that with his continued excellence as a shutdown defender and he is a steal for what he is getting paid. The only knock on the value of his deal would be that most of the years on the contract are ones he could have been an RFA, so it decreases the value in comparison to what UFA contracts look like slightly.
Dan Girardi: When discussing the Rangers generally Dan Girardi gets lost in the shuffle of other names on the roster and so has the tremendous value his contract represents. While the other three get the attention, Girardi’s deal might his contract, outside of entry-level contracts, the best value on the Rangers.
The deal Girardi signed gives the Rangers a top pair defender who inked a deal that eliminated multiple free agent years for significantly below what he would be getting on the free agent market. Girardi does not have the upside that Marc Staal does, the points that Dubinsky or Callahan will produce, but for $3.325 million a season he eats up 24:35 in ice timer per game against the league’s best offensive players, a solid 31 points, 195 hits (tied for 24 overall, 9th amongst defense) and a league leading 236 blocked shots.
The selflessness and sacrifice to use your body the way that Girardi does in order to help the team win is what led coach John Tortorella to say that Girardi has, “Balls as big as the building.” To get a compliment like that from Tortorella you have to be doing something special.
Brandon Prust: Prust has transformed from an afterthought to the Olli Jokinen trade to a fan favorite that plays numerous critical roles for the club and all for $800K next season. The warrior mentality that Prust plays with is critical to the Rangers who are building an identity as a team that is hard to play against and willing to do anything to win. The winner of the 2010-11 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award Prust showed and was recognized for the way he plays the game in all facets, and his toughness in playing hurt is something to be commended. Prust goes beyond the willingness to fight anyone that challenges him and brings excellent penalty killing skill along with forechecking at even strength. His ability to chip in some points is another bonus that makes next season’s salary a steal for New York. Look for Prust to cash in big next summer if he puts up a similar season to last year.
Artem Anisimov: Anisimov showed flashes of brilliance during his second NHL season and for those that believe in his long-term potential hope that he will become a 60-point NHL player over the next few years. There are still things that need to be worked on in order to get to that point, especially strength and confidence to use his excellent shot in the zone and not just off the rush, but the tools are there. His new deal will pay him $1.875 per season, which if he does hit 50 or 60 points in the next two years would be an unbelievable value for the team. The only issue with including Anisimov in the running for best contract is that he had no real leverage in negotiations with the Rangers, so this deal for him is like the second contracts that Dubinsky, Callahan and even Girardi signed.
Michael Sauer: Top four defenders in the NHL are hard to find and the Rangers were lucky to have Michael Sauer go from a player that wasn’t even amongst the main competitors going into training camp for a roster spot turn himself into one over the course of the year. Sauer has little flash to his game, but with good health last season he was able to showcase his toughness and intelligence on the ice and make himself a key component of the defense corps. Having a defender capable of playing 20+ minutes a night and even stepping up against top lines as Sauer did when Dan Girardi was injured last season for $1.25 million is excellent value for a team.
Including Ryan Callahan and/or Brandon Dubinsky could have been done, but the overall chance of them significantly outplaying the contract price, at least this season, is lower than the five that were chosen. Picking a winner of the five is difficult because they all come at it from very different stages in their career and their roles on the Rangers. For the 2011-12 season, Prust being paid only $800K has the potential to not only be the biggest bargain on the club, but one of the best values in the NHL. His value as at even strength, killing penalties and fighting while still providing some offense is tremendous and he will get paid for it next summer. Of the long-term deals that have been signed over the past two years, the deal Girardi signed is likely the best value because of the number of free agent years he sacrificed and what he can provides the club.