When you’re under the bright lights and the marquees, the show you put on in New York better have some good production value or else you’re not going to win over the faithful who show up to all your shows. The New York Rangers have never been afraid to spend the money on the cast of their 41-night schedule at home and their road production of the same length, but in the past, they have handcuffed themselves to some bigger contracts, bigger names, that demanded the entire spotlight, not leaving much behind for the supporting cast, the ones that get your team through an 82-game regular season.
Love them or hate them, the Rangers sure know how to keep an NHL off-season particularly interesting, as they generally keep a good portion of cap space available for the madness that is the second (or third) season for this wonderful game on the ice. Glen Sather does a wonderful job of keeping everyone on the edge of their seats, as the rumours leak out into the public domain, giving little hints as to what they may be up to, who they may want to bring into the fold, who they’ll keep, who they’ll buyout and maybe there is someone on the roster who is considered as trade bait. This is where the real magic happens.
The 2010-’11 season wasn’t the most stellar in recent history for the Blueshirts on Broadway, but it was definitely a season that fans and pundits could acknowledge as a prelude to some better days to come. That level of optimism did have a question of cost associated and what were the dollar figures going to look like when it came down to the number of restricted free agents they were looking to keep, while trying to win the sweepstakes for the biggest prize on the free agent market.
Back in May, the outlook was actually quite rosy for the Rangers, having plenty of cap flexibility, also looking to add a little bit more. Chris Drury was the favourite among everyone to create that sort of flexibility, Drury, who was injured for the better part of the 2011 season, wasn’t going to stand a chance with such a large cap hit to manage ($7.05 million). This quickly became the team’s worst kept secret, likely kept in the same place that held the secret desire to sign Brad Richards on July 1st. Before buying out Chris Drury at the end of June, the Rangers already had around $23.2 million in projected cap space and then after the buyout, they were looking at around $25.7 million.
With cap space now open for Sather to play with, he could plan his attack on an impressive list of restricted free agents and a few unrestricted free agents. The list of players from his own team, the restricted free agents that needed plenty of attention, included Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Michael Sauer. A very impressive cast, especially the forwards, all of which had blossomed quite nicely in the 2011 season, combining for 86 goals in 301 man games, all of which improved their offensive output significantly in 2011.
As important as the restricted free agents are to the team, a very high priority indeed, the fruit of the unrestricted free agent market wouldn’t last very long, since the crops were decimated by lots of long-term contracts in the past few seasons, locking up a number of great players for extended periods of time, which made the players who were hitting the open market that much more significant and appealing.
As expected, the Rangers were getting their hands dirty in the Brad Richards negotiations, giving their presentation to the superstar centre that included a very cap savvy salary number over a long term and the chance to play with coach John Tortorella again, reuniting the pair that helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2004.
While waiting for the Richards decision, the Rangers did sign forward Mike Rupp to add some bottom six depth for $1.5 million per season and then re-signed forward Ruslan Fedotenko from the unrestricted free agency list at $1.4 million. Both were low cost, solid moves to keep the stability of the structure in good shape going forward.
Early on the Saturday, the second day of free agency, the Richards camp did decide on heading to Broadway, passing up on deals for more money from teams like Calgary and Los Angeles, to play with a Cup winning coach, a Slovakian sniper, a Swedish king and a pretty good system that was showing signs of being a contender. The Rangers did well to sign him to a 9-year deal, worth $58.5 million, which worked out to be a $6.5 million cap hit per season. His cap hit ranks third on the team, behind Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist, which is an amazing deal, considering the market circumstances.
With Richards, Rupp and Fedotenko now in the fold, the cap space had quickly dwindled down to $16.7 million and we haven’t even touched the big four restricted free agent forwards yet. In total, by my count, the Rangers needed the big four RFAs and two more defensemen on their projected roster to ice a full team in October, which worked out to less than $4 million per player for the season. Yikes!
First up, Michael Sauer, who signed a 2-year, $2.5 million deal to stay with the club. The Rangers are quite high on him, playing in 76 games and picking up 15 points in the process, with a deal that is on the top end of market value, the team has put some extra faith in an up-and-coming defenseman without breaking the bank, another good signing.
Next on the list, Artem Anisimov. Anisimov was doing well to gradually improve every year with the Rangers and possibly could have done quite well under his own personal circumstances, but he towed the company line, taking a shorter 2-year deal, which had a great cap hit of $1.875 million per year. His numbers were bottom end, compared to guys like Blake Wheeler, Sam Gagner or Devin Setoguchi, all in the same age bracket with the same amount of points. A hometown discount perhaps?
Brian Boyle wasn’t too far behind and he too towed the company line or possibly drank the same Kool-Aid that Anisimov had a few days before. Boyle was in line for a reasonable wage increase, scoring 21 goals in 2011, not to mention policing the ice as one of the resident tough guys. Boyle signed a 3-year deal, which would pay him $5.1 million over the duration, which worked out to be a $1.7 million cap hit. Any 26-year old that scored over 20 goals in the 2011 season will have a cap hit of over $3 million per year… except for Boyle.
The biggest target among the four restricted free agents, Brandon Dubinsky, was up next, whether the Rangers wanted to or not. Dubinsky used his rights effectively and filed for arbitration, which would give him a pretty good standard deal, in accordance to market value. Arbitration may have been a pretty good sticking point to the overall scheme of Sather and his plan to bring the Rangers to dominance, as any more money than what he had likely budgeted for could be the tipping point between a very successful Summer and season and an okay Summer with some pieces missing to make the 2012 season great. Fortunately for the club, the deal was done before the two sides met an arbitrator and they came to terms on a 4-year, $16.8 million deal (a $4.2 million cap hit) and all was settled. This deal may have saved the Rangers around $1 million per season, as comparisons to Paul Stastny and his $6.6 million cap hit could have been involved.
Sauer, Anisimov, Boyle and Dubinsky down, Callahan and a defenseman to go… approximately $6.6 million left to spend. This was going swimmingly.
The Rangers added that defenseman to the roster almost straight away, re-signing Steve Eminger to a 1-year, $800,000 deal, which gave the team some added depth on the blueline and for a very cap-friendly price. Eminger played in 65 games in his first season in New York, scoring 2 goals and adding 4 assists. He has bounced around from team to team over the past few seasons, but he may have found a home in the Big Apple with one of the best young bluelines in the league.
Finally, the last piece of the Summer puzzle, Ryan Callahan. A broken hand and a broken leg shortened his season dramatically, giving the power forward only 60 games to show us his stuff and he didn’t disappoint. 23 goals and 25 assists later, he was in a good position to make an impact with free agency. Looking at the deals that were done in the Summer to this point by Rangers management, the commitment to the core and adding a piece like Richards, made it very easy for Callahan to step in and get a little bit more money than Dubinsky for a shorter term, signing a 3-year deal worth $12.825 million (a $4.275 million cap hit per season).
Mission accomplished, I would say.
|Brad Richards||Dan Girardi||Henrik Lundqvist|
|Brandon Dubinsky||Marc Staal||Martin Biron|
|Ryan Callahan||Michael Sauer|
|Marian Gaborik||Michael Del Zotto|
|Derek Stepan||Ryan McDonagh|
|Artem Anisimov||Steve Eminger|
The Rangers are now carrying all kinds of flexibility, with 14 forwards, six defense and two goalies into a projected opening night roster, the Drury buyout on the books and a bonus overage from the 2011 season, giving the team an approximate annual cap hit of $62.8 million, $1.5 million short of the ceiling. The Rangers will likely have to move players in and out of the line-up for injuries and other miscellaneous power outages, but a solid buffer is encouraging.
It’s a refreshing change to see the Rangers getting players to buy into them, rather than the team buying players and creating a makeshift team. With all of these deals in place, some youth in the system like Tim Erixon, Dylan McIlrath and Lee Baldwin, the Rangers should be setting up for a pretty good run.
This Rangers team shouldn’t be in a hurry either, with the long-term deals that are in place and how difficult it is to win a Stanley Cup in this era, the window for the club is actually quite big and the core will get plenty of shots to take a good run.
And to think, Glen Sather is still GM of this newly revamped club. Maybe you can teach an old dog some new tricks.