To say this has been a roller coaster season so far for the Rangers would be an understatement. After starting the year 3-7 and getting embarrassed by some of the mighty Western Conference’s best squads, it looked like the team was starting to figure it out. They went 11-6 over their next seventeen, and genuinely looked like the team we all expected them to be this summer. Unfortunately, they decided to go 1-6 over their next seven, culminating in brutal 5-3 defeat to the Islanders. Following that terrible stretch of lost hockey, and presumably to drive Ranger fans to drink more, the team has since rattled off a 13-5-1 stretch to climb all the way to second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.
In most years, you can glean a front office’s assessment of their team by how they conduct themselves at the trade deadline. While my little season recap above could seem like fun with arbitrary end points, it has made the overall assessment of this team exceedingly difficult. Sure, there have been specific instances one can point to that explain peaks and valleys (Nash’s injury/return, Talbot’s call up, Cally injury/return, Carcillo, etc.) but now that everyone is healthy and playing well, is this the team we thought were getting in August, or are they just on another streak?
Only complicating this situation are the contract statuses on Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. Stralman and Boyle aren’t as significant for the purposes of our deadline analysis, as players like them walk from teams all over the league every year. You only try to maximize that type of asset value when you are selling at the deadline. It’s really Cally and Girardi that make this a tight rope situation. At this point, the salary/term demand of the pair are starting to come into focus. Now, this could all be agent speak/media hyperbole, of course, but most outlets are reporting demands in the $6m for 7 seasons (7/$42 total contract) for Cally and Jay Bowmeester money for Girardi (6-7 years at $5.5m).
The question that is ultimately begged is: what is the best course of action to maximize these assets? If you believe the team as currently constructed is a true Cup contender, you retain their services though the playoffs, hope their demands come down and try to re-sign them in July. If you think we are more pretender than contender, maybe moving the Captain and our top pairing D-man can accelerate a re-tooling that will make us true contenders in the short run. Or you can be in the talk radio camp that says “these are True Rangers, give them whatever they want”.
Dave and the Suit have done a fantastic job over the past week or so doing analysis on the comps, trade values and leverage, so I won’t rehash their quality work. This analysis does dovetail into the overall deadline strategy for Sather and Co., however. As per Cap Geek, the Rangers are projected to have just over $8.5 million of deadline cap space. That’s not a half bad chunk of change. If Cally ($4.275m) and Girardi ($3.325m) are traded before the deadline, it opens up even more. This flexibility allows the management team an opportunity to improve the roster, depending on prices. The Bettman Point (sidebar: can we please go to a 3 point Regulation Win, already?) has kept a staggering number of teams in contention late in the season (8 teams within 8 points of one another for seeds 4-8, in the East), which will presumably drive prices up.
Sather could also try something of a hybrid deadline strategy, and try to maximize useful short/long-term assets for Cally and Girardi, while gauging the market landscape for improving the team in earnest for the playoffs. The asking and offering prices from other organizations might very well force Slats’ hand on their own. For what it’s worth, its entirely possible Sather also looks to maximize returns on roster players who don’t fit in with the club’s long-term outlook under Alain Vigneault. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Derick Brassard or Dominic Moore moved either.
I suppose after going through all these scenarios, the question still belongs to the individual: is this team a true Cup contender, as currently constructed? There is room to improve the roster at the deadline, but cashing in assets and holding on to Callahan and Girardi only to let them walk for nothing is a move that vouches for this team as it stands now. Is that a risk you are willing to take? Obviously, depending on the return, but could this team still compete after moving Girardi and Callahan? It’s going to be an interesting run to the deadline with the Olympics throwing a major wrench into the analysis. What moves are ultimately made will be very telling about both the short and long term outlook for the organization.
What do you folks think? Trade the Captain? Load up at the deadline for a run? Sound off in the comments below.