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.