New York’s top two offseason needs are a No. 1 center and an offensive defenseman. There’s not much denying that, but sometimes there just aren’t players available to fulfill those needs, and sometimes the cost of doing so makes for unwise decisions.
With Andrei Markov now off the market, the lone offensive-minded blueliner of note that’s set to hit free agency next week is Matt Niskanen, who’s sure to be overpaid based on one standout season. There doesn’t seem to be a solution on the trade market either, so the Rangers seem be out of luck.
On the other hand, there is a bevy of top-line centers available, including Paul Stastny, Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton. Unfortunately, only Stastny can be had for money alone, and the contract he’s about to receive will be massive for yet another center that’s best served as a No. 2 (sound familiar Rangers fans?). Stastny is poised to cash in on a monster playoff year, but he’s had injury problems and is coming off his first 60-point season since 2009-2010. He is best served as a secondary option, so the funds and term required to land him would create a Brad Richards problem all over again.
The other possibility, a trade, is largely unrealistic after GM Glen Sather packaged two first-round picks to acquire Martin St. Louis in March. Keep dreaming if you think a package headlined by J.T. Miller is enough to catch the interest of San Jose or Ottawa. Prospects like Miller would have to be part of the blockbuster no doubt, but the attention of those teams wouldn’t be attracted without the inclusion of someone like Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Carl Hagelin, Derrick Brassard or Derek Stepan. Dealing any one of those core pieces would be foolish, as they’re all next to impossible to replace and would create gaping new holes immediately.
No, despite Sather’s all-in mentality, there’s just not a great way to dramatically improve the club’s depth chart this offseason.
So what would I do if I were Glen? After acknowledging the aforementioned truths, I’d aim to retain some of the irreplaceable pieces of the Stanley Cup Final roster and improve my depth down the middle by trying to sign 30-year-old center Mikhail Grabovski.
Grabovski is by no means a top-line guy, but adding him to the mix along with Stepan and Brassard would give the Blueshirts three very capable offensive lines while providing a much better on-ice fit than Richards at this point in his career. Grabovski is much more fleet afoot than the departed Richards, is strong in the faceoff circle, and has long been a strong puck possession player. He’s been inconsistent at times, but Grabovski has two 50-point seasons under his belt in the last four years and could have broken that milestone last season if he didn’t miss time with a lingering ankle injury. Grabovski isn’t a star, but he was under-appreciated in Toronto and turned out to be a nice fit with Washington last year.
Though his price is sure to be driven up by the pack of teams chasing Stastny and the teams reluctant to part with the assets necessary to land Thornton or Spezza, the Rangers might be able to land Grabovski for a multi-year pact at somewhere around $4.5 million annually.
All of these cap hits are obviously estimates, but here’s how I envision the roster:
And before you get all upset because this hypothetical move blocks Oscar Lindberg temporarily, remember that depth is always a good thing and that Dominic Moore is hardly such a crucial piece toward the future that he can’t be bumped out of the lineup if the kid is indeed ready to make an impact. If you prefer to keep Pouliot instead of Moore, that move can be accommodated as well.
Is it a perfect solution? No. But there isn’t a perfect solution to be found this summer, I’m afraid, and signing Grabovski might be the best way to improve the club in the short term without blowing the bank or sacrificing critical pieces to the puzzle.