OffseasonState of the Rangers

It’s more likely that the Rangers will sign stopgap UFA forwards than big names

The Rangers should be keeping a seat warm for Oscar Lindberg.
The Rangers should be keeping a seat warm for Oscar Lindberg.

Every year as free agency approaches Ranger fans spend most of their time talking about the big fish, the top five or so guys available.  We’ve kind of been trained to do that thanks to the free-spending ways of GM Glen Sather, but it’s also only natural to think about the impact that recognizable players might be able to make on New York’s lineup.

Though we’re exercising the same behavior this June, it probably makes more sense –for a couple of reasons– for us to discuss stopgap third and fourth liners that could be inked for just a year or two. First, this just isn’t a great free agent class and there aren’t many players that are worthy of long-term financial commitments.  Secondly, the Rangers will need to spend most of their available cash to re-sign their own free agents.  Even if New York does buy out Brad Richards, management must still keep an eye on the bevy of significant players up for new deals next summer.

But perhaps most importantly, the Rangers have at least four key prospects that are expected to be ready for Broadway in the next 18 months.  Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller have both already impressed in extended auditions on Broadway and will likely start the season with the Blueshirts next fall, especially with Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan on the shelf.  And the two Swedish imports, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast, have both already enjoyed great success in a man’s league overseas.  They both should have good chances to stick out of training camp in part due to the aforementioned injuries, but also because the jump from the Swedish Elite League to the NHL isn’t as extreme as other minor leagues.

So that’s four forward spots to pencil in for the near future; when you add in the no-brainers – Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin and likely Mats Zuccarello – you’re quickly up to 10 forwards, almost all of which would fill top-nine roles.  Even if Lindberg and Fast spend time with the CT Whale, they are certainly a part of New York’s short term thinking.  Combine that with the lack of appealing options available on the free agent market and it seems far more likely that the Blueshirts will be looking for capable veterans that are willing to sign short deals without any guarantees.

That’s not to say that New York shouldn’t seek some instant offense, but the Rangers hopefully realize that considering both financial points above, splurging on a long-term deal for an overrated free agent this summer doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It’s more likely that if the Rangers go big game hunting, it will be on the trade market than in free agency.  So rather than discussing the sure to be overpaid David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and Valtteri Filppula, it might make more sense to focus on the guys that can be signed to Taylor Pyatt/Arron Asham-like bridge deals.

Who might fall under that category?  Guys like Matthew Lombardi, Dainius Zubrus, Chad LaRose and Eric Nystrom, perhaps.  Players that will come cheap, but can help hold down the lineup until the younger players are ready to push them down the depth chart.  It may seem like the Rangers already have too many guys like this, but when Micheal Haley and Kris Newbury are getting into playoff games it becomes clear that they really can’t ever have enough.

Given New York’s financial status and the dearth of talent on the market, investing in the future makes a lot more sense than overpaying a free agent.

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  • There might be some steals after the buy-outs this year. Think about Danny Briere as an example, he could come cheap and provide some 3rd line scoring. That is the way to go, or the trade route, if we don’t pursue the likes of a Clarkson!!

        • I think Sather is a better haggler in the trade market. He’s done much better at it than in Free Agency. A guy like a Micheal Ryder may be a cheap 30 goals if he makes it to FA but I’d rather use the defensive forwards and defenseman where he has a surplus to go after a Wheeler. Not a huge fan of Offer Sheets either. Draft picks shouldn’t be given away. Who knows what kind of value you can find with Buyouts this summer.

  • Solid post, Kevin. I agree on everything except for the Haley/Newbury comment…I actually thought both of those players played extremely well given the circumstances, and both had numerous chances to score some huge goals (though they didn’t, so in that sense you got me). I like the idea of bringing in a guy like Lombardi or Larose. Both of those guys can skate well and are solid 3rd liners that can provide some much needed competition for the likes of Fast, Miller, Kreider, and Lindberg, and they would be relatively cheap and risk-free investments (I still want Bozak though).

    Walt, I see your point in getting a veteran like Briere with some scoring touch, but I would much rather bring in a younger guy who is cheaper and knows how to play 3rd and 4th line minutes. Washed up scorers like Briere and Richards play 1st line hockey, and as Richards proved, that doesn’t go too well when they are on the 3rd or 4th lines.

    I think the Pyatt signing was a good idea, like a Lombardi, Nystrom, or Larose signing would be, but Pyatt can’t skate and these guys can. I leave Zubrus out of this post because I hate Zubrus.

    • Randy – Agreed they both played fairly well, my point was just that it should have never come down to inserting 2 AHL guys at that point in the season.

    • To put Zubrus in perspective, consider this. I grew up in a split household in the sense that my brother is as strong of a Devils fan (born ’90) as I am a Rangers fan (born ’87). Since the departure of Parise, his 2 favorite Devils (Marty aside) are Zubrus and Henrique.

      Zubrus has a big frame, is strong on the puck, dominant on the boards, and plays solid defensively. Really, there no knock on his game and he is a fan favorite. Would slot beautifully into a bottom 6 center role.

      I have a feeling the Devils will pay a bit to keep him… Clarkson, I’m not so sure.

    • Randy

      Briere was the only name that came to my mind at the time, and was just an example, but you guys get the point!

  • Speaking of possible buyouts to come right after the SC Playoofs are over, I can see the Bolts buying out Lecavalier and the Rangers signing him on the cheap. Say a 2 or 3 year deal at $3.5Mil. Would love to see him with Zuc on one of his wings.
    My cousins in Montreal say he is nort interested in playing for the Habs…hope they’re right.

    • He would appear to be a strong buyout candidate, Tampa is cash strapped but might wait until next offseason. If Torts was still here then that connection would be a no-brainer. Still makes a bit of sense, but I’d bet he gets another 4 years somewhere else.

  • In light of Bettman’s rosy “State of the Hockey Union” address the other day, how might a pending elevated salary cap play into things going forward?
    The metrics of running an NHL team are dizzying…

  • I fear that if we go into next year with 10 of 12 forward already on the roster, we will have the same scoring woes as this year. While I like all these players, I am not opposed to packaging 2 for a bonafide scorer. Open minds, new coach and a new offense is needed. Also note, none of the current players scares you on the PP. Is there a forward out there who is a real PP threat?

  • Just read an article that Oscar Lindberg has been placed on the initial 35 man roster for the Swedish 2014 Olympic team. Along with him are Hank, and Hags. The reason stated was his strong play in the SEL, strong two way game, and face offs skills. He also can work the PK, and has soft hands.

    This is very interesting, because I believe that this kid is the real deal, and he could be the answer for the 3rd line center. Step-Brass-Lindberg-Boyle would be the 4 centers, giving us the options to use JT Miller, or Boyle at wing. Maybe this news is all Slats needed to buy out Richards, and go with Oscar.

  • the Rangers have enough front line players. Just strengthen the 4th line, and lets see what happens. AV never had a defensive core like this in Vancouver, so lets see what he can do with this group… Quick question: was I the only one expecting Dan G to be a Norris finalist befor the season started? Hope he returns to 2011-12 form.

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