The acquisition of Wojtek Wolski in January sure did make a lot of people happy, as it resulted in the jettison of Michal Rozsival to Phoenix. At the time of the trade, Wolski represented three things: 1) a young, tremendously skilled forward who has the potential to be great; 2) another body to fill out injury-ravaged roster; and 3) some cap relief ($1.2 million to be exact). The potential for Wolski was there and will always be there, but he was maddingly inconsistent in the half season with the Rangers.
He burst onto the scene in NY with eight points (3-5-8) in his first ten games with the Rangers, but quickly cooled off. In his final 27 games of the 2010-2011 season, Wolski netted just three goals and 11 points. His production wasn’t too poor, as was scoring at a 40 point pace, but it was the inconsistency that drove the fans –and coaching staff– mad. Wolski’s effort seemed to disappear for games on end, and he failed to score a goal for 17 games, a span that covered late February to early April.
Wolski has tremendous talent, and has been a savior in shootouts, but he simply doesn’t play defense and is so inconsistent that it drives most people up the wall. He wound up as a healthy scratch for a few games late in the year, and spent a significant amount of time on the fourth line of cast-offs with Erik Christensen and Sean Avery. Once Chris Drury returned, he was bounced from the lineup on days were Christensen or Mats Zuccarello were in the lineup.
Even though Wolski was the team leader in points in the playoffs with a goal and three points in five games, his future in New York is up in the air. He has a year left on his contract at a $3.8 million cap hit. However, he is under 26 years old, thus making his buyout ridiculously cheap. In short, buying out Wolski saves the Rangers $3.4 million in cap space. But, buying him out leaves another roster spot to be filled, either via free agency or with kids. I find it unlikely that Wolski will be traded as there are few teams willing to give up much for an inconsistent player. So if the Rangers decide to dump Wolski, it will likely be via the buyout.
I personally do not think the Rangers will keep Wolski around for next year. They have enough spare forwards in Christensen, Avery, and possibly Drury that they don’t need Wolski and his $3.8 million cap hit to sit on the bench. The question then becomes who will replace Wolski in the lineup? Is Carl Hagelin NHL-ready? Are there potential free agents that can fill as a stop-gap? In the end, the cap hit saved by buying out Wolski far outweighs any lineup questions the Rangers may have, as they need all the cap space they can get with the possibility of Brad Richards looming.