With the offseason underway, and the buyout period beginningo n June 15, the Rangers are going to have some difficult decisions. One of those difficult decisions will be with winger Wojtek Wolski, who was acquired in January in exchange for Michal Rozsival. The acquisition of Wolski was expected to bring increased scoring to the Rangers, who were struggling mightily for consistency on offense. Wolski helped that, but not to the level that many thought he would. Although the numbers weren’t what we as fans expected, they weren’t exactly off from his career average. Wolski put up a line of 6-13-19 in 37 games with the Rangers, which averages out to 13-28-41. It would have been his worst season, but less than 10 points off from his career average.
What puts Wolski in the château-bow-wow was his consistent inconsistency. Upon his arrival, Wolski scored three goals in his first eight games, but scored just three in his remaining 34 games, including a gigantic oh-fer in March. Points alone don’t tell the whole story, as Wolski seemed indifferent and complacent in many games down the stretch, finding himself as a healthy scratch in crucial games in March and April. Although Wolski was tied for the team lead in playoff scoring (no, seriously, he was) with three points, he was lucky to find more than ten minutes of ice time per game, including games that went into double overtime. Points don’t tell the story, ice time does.
All that aside, Wolski does have tremendous skill when he wants to utilize it. His skill and age (24) are the two main reasons why the Rangers have a difficult decision ahead of them. Wolski is signed for one more year at a $3.8 million cap hit. However, because he is under the age of 26, his buyout amount is only 1/3 that amount, as opposed to the 2/3 for someone over the age of 26, like Chris Drury. Thus, the Rangers find themselves in an interesting predicament, as Wolski’s cap hit for a buyout would be $466k next season –a savings of roughly $3.3 million– and $666k extra for the following season. In essence, if the Rangers decide to buyout Wolski, they will have traded Michal Rozsival for $4.5 million in cap space this offseason.
(And yes, I have full confidence that Glen Sather knew exactly what he was doing in acquiring a player under the age of 26 in the trade.)
That cap space goes a long, long way when courting someone like Brad Richards, who will command big time money this year. However, Wolski’s history shows that he excels with a play-making center, something he didn’t have in New York. Arthur Staple of Newsday is convinced the Rangers will buy him out, but that appears to be more speculation on his part than truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that buying out Wolski makes tremendous sense for the Rangers. In a battle between him and Drury, Drury serves a much bigger role with this club as its captain and best face-off man. A buyout of Wolski does make fiscal sense, but it does leave the Rangers with a pretty big hole on LW, a position they are weak in to begin with, as Brandon Dubinsky –a center– is their best flanker on the left side.
By opening up a hole on LW, they fill a hole at #1 center. Of course, that hole could be filled by Chris Kreider, who will likely be returning to Boston College for another season, or Christian Thomas a natural RW who can probably be taught to play the off-wing. Regardless of how they plan on addressing a top-six LW, it appears that in the choice of Drury and Richards or Drury and Wolski, Wolski will be the odd man out.