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Off-Season Game Plan: Rangers

Scott Cullen
6/11/2008 10:38:17 PM
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After reaching the second round for the second time in a decade, the Rangers enter the summer with a substantial to-do list.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at what the Blueshirts may do in order to stay in the playoff mix.

Free agency has been a big part of the Rangers' history. Back in the days before the salary cap, the Rangers were one of those teams that used to spend big money to get the free agents they wanted.

Then, it took a couple of seasons to reel in the spending and then, last summer, the Rangers were back in spending mode to get Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.

This year, the Rangers have their own free agents -- including Jaromir Jagr, Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan -- to worry about and that is going to require some nifty financial work to stay under the salary cap.

General manager Glen Sather has already started laying the groundwork for negotiations.

"I think, if you're a player and you really decide you want to play someplace - you like the people, you like the staff, you like the city - you know all the eggs can't be in your basket," Sather told the New York Daily News. "They have to be in the team's basket so you can build a winning team."

Boy, how times change.  If that means the Rangers need guys to take paycuts in order to bring them all back, then get prepared for some roster changes.

To their credit, though, the Rangers enter the summer with a lot of flexibility under the cap, thanks to an influx of young talent, that allows them to pick and choose how they will spend their bucks this summer.

See? It's not just the same old Rangers.

GM/COACH
Glen Sather/Tom Renney

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Scott Gomez 78.47 $8.0M
Brandon Dubinsky 72.82 $635K
Chris Drury 72.74 $7.1M
Ryan Callahan 66.41 $600K
Petr Prucha 60.76 $1.6M
Blair Betts 55.88 $615K
Ryan Hollweg 54.53 $525K
Colton Orr 52.95 $550K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Jaromir Jagr 81.98 UFA $8.36M
Sean Avery 73.79 UFA $1.9M
Brendan Shanahan 72.54 UFA $2.5M
Martin Straka 72.23 UFA $3.3M
Nigel Dawes 69.67 RFA $475K
Fredrik Sjostrom 61.32 RFA $800K

Top Prospects: Alexei Cherepanov, Artem Anisimov, Lauri Korpikoski

The big issue for the Rangers up front will be the future of Jaromir Jagr. Though he led the team in scoring, his total of 71 points was his lowest since he scored 70 in 48 games in the 1994-1995 lockout season. However, Jagr came alive in the playoffs and showed that he still has the ability to play at an elite level. Does that earn him a lucrative new deal with the Rangers? Another NHL club? In Russia? The answer will determine just how flexible the Rangers can be on the free agent market.

One of last summer's marquee signings, Scott Gomez, had a slow start and finish, but was quite productive for much of the season even though he never clicked with Jagr. Gomez is a quality playmaking centre, but it's hard to justify the cost of a player who has topped 20 goals just once in his career.

New York's other big signing last summer, Chris Drury, can play in all situations and he's seen as a character player, but it wasn't until the second half of the season that he finally started to produce at the level expected. Going forward, Gomez and Drury are still two solid building blocks.

Brandon Dubinsky's sudden emergence as a rookie gave the Rangers outstanding depth down the middle. The feisty 22-year-old ended up playing alongside Jagr and was surprisingly productive.

Hard-working Ryan Callahan earned his place with tenacious forechecking but he's shown some offensive skills in the minors that indicate he could be a 20-goal scorer if given the right opportunities.

Petr Prucha was a sensation in 2005-2006, scoring 30 goals as an NHL rookie, but he managed just 17 points last season and couldn't get a consistent spot in the lineup. Maybe he'd be better off with a new team, or the Rangers ought to give Prucha a chance to prove whether he can play consistently in a scoring role.

Checking centre Blair Betts takes face-offs and kills penalties, but he's put up 30 points in three seasons with the Rangers. It takes a lot of great checking to hold a regular spot in the lineup despite that lack of production.

Ryan Hollweg is one of the league's most aggravating players, but is singularly focused on that part of the game, scoring a dozen points in 200 career games.

Enforcer Colton Orr has taken on all of the league's heavyweights and he more than holds his own, but he doesn't produce much beyond the mayhem.

Speedy winger Nigel Dawes proved that he could put the puck in the net, at least a little, and should be in line for a bigger role next season.

Acquired from Phoenix at the deadline, Fredrik Sjostrom has the size and speed to be a solid checking winger and, on occasion, has a nifty pair of hands.

In addition to Jagr, the Rangers have several significant free agents, all of whom would generate interest from other teams if they reach the open market. Should too many of them head out the door, the Rangers would have to hit free agency in pursuit of scoring or shift disturbing (if Avery goes).

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Daniel Girardi 72.43 $1.5M
Fedor Tyutin 70.62 $2.25M
Marc Staal 65.63 $765K
Christian Backman 64.42 $3.4M

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Michal Rozsival 74.40 UFA $2.3M
Marek Malik 67.27 UFA $2.5M
Paul Mara 66.92 UFA $3.0M
Jason Strudwick 59.81 UFA $500K

Top Prospects: Bobby Sanguinetti, Ivan Baranka, Michael Sauer

There's been a turning of the tide on the Rangers defence and Dan Girardi may be foremost among the next generation. Undrafted out of junior, Girardi has climbed through the organization quickly and the 24-year-old proved that he can play in any situation.

Fedor Tyutin is a strong, defensive defenceman, punishing hitter and stabilizing presence on the back end. Only 25, he should only get better as he gains experience.

21-year-old Marc Staal had a solid rookie season before elevating his game in the postseason. Staal plays with a maturity that belies his youth and he's set for an increased role next season.

The Rangers made an underrated move at the deadline, picking up Christian Backman from the Blues and the 28-year-old was a nice addition; a big body who also has the requisite puck skills to work the power play.

Free agency is going to shake up this unit, but it may not be a bad idea, as Marek Malik and Paul Mara both fell out of favour at times last season. The one unrestricted free agent that may still be in the Blueshirts' plans is Michal Rozsival, and underrated power play performer who is coming off hip surgery but has been very durable.

When the Rangers look to free agency, they'll likely want one puck-moving blueliner. If Brian Campbell is too pricey, then Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles or Mark Streit may be good options to consider.

The Blueshirts also need to look at some depth and guys like Jeff Finger, Dmitri Kalinin, Mark Eaton and Aaron Miller would be the kind of safe, reliable types to man the No. 6 spot.

If a prospect, like Bobby Sanguinetti for example, is ready to make the jump, then that should be considered a bonus. There's enough young blood in this group that the Rangers don't need to rush to add any more.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating Salary
Henrik Lundqvist 83.47 $7.75M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Stephen Valiquette 78.77 UFA $635K

Top Prospect: Miika Wiikman

Though he went through a mid-season funk, Henrik Lundqvist was strong overall and ranks among the league's best in goal. The 26-year-old should just be hitting his prime, so the Rangers should feel comfortable in goal.

Stephen Valiquette didn't play a lot, starting ten games in 2007-2008, but he was quite effective when he did step into the crease for Lundqvist, making it well worth it for the Rangers to bring the free agent back.

If Valiquette is lured away, the Rangers can get a veteran backup, but don't need to break the bank considering Lundqvist should be starting 70-75 games per season.

DRAFT
20th - Colby Robak, Greg Nemisz, Jyri Niemi

FREE AGENCY
The Rangers have approximately $35-million committed to salaries for next season.

 

Needs: Three top nine forwards, Three defencemen

What I said the Rangers needed last year: Three top six forwards, One top four defenceman

Who did they add? Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal

TRADE MARKET
Petr Prucha

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca 




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