What a dramatic course of events, going from the stresses of backing into the playoffs and giving the Capitals a decent run to free agency was arduous. It seemed like the Rangers underachieved this year, mostly because of Marian Gaborik having a measly 22 goal season (that breaks down to almost $341,000 a goal.) Captain Chris Drury playing in a paltry 24 games and scoring ONE goal (I think that breaks down to $7.5 million a goal.) Not to mention perpetual disappointment machines Woltek Wolski and Erik Christiansen. They combined for 46 points in 100 games played for the Rangers in '10-'11... Ryan Callahan scored 48 points in 60 games played and Brandon Dubinsky scored 54 in 77 games.
Which brings me to the point I'm trying to make here. Besides Callahan and Dubinsky this team was anemic in the offensive end. Sure, Brian Boyle had a career year with 21 goals; Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov scored 44 and 45 points respectively, but there is no guarantee Boyle (of 33 career goals) keeps that pace and there is certainly no guarantee the young centers don't regress in their second seasons. This was all worrying and troublesome until July 2nd...
Enter Brad Richards, 9 years $60 million. People scream overpayment, cap circumvention, and "another career going to NY to die." While I may agree with all three sentiments I still can make decent arguments to the contrary:
- Richards has said in every interview he's given since he signed that there were other teams offering more money (no doubt Toronto and Calgary) but he wanted to play in NY with Torts and was willing to take the discount to do just that... isn't that what we all want out of athletes? To take less money to join a team that's competitive? Isn't that how you build winners in the salary cap era? Develop from within and snag a few key pieces from the FA bin when the time is right? The Rangers have been missing a top line center ever since Messier was traded (yes I say traded because his second stint here he was not top line guy) and the chance to get such a talent rarely comes along in the NHL. Look at the money guys like Crosby, LeCavalier, Backstrom, Malkin, the Sedins, Thornton, Kopitar, and (very soon) Stamkos make. Look at the contract handed to Richards and you'll see that even as it seems like it's overpayment, it's not. Richards received just a fraction more than market value for a player of his talent and output.
- As for the cap circumvention issue, that's at the NHL's discretion to enforce. Is the deal too long or too front-loaded? Perhaps, especially considering Richards is coming off a concussion and to a division that Matt Cooke, the Flyers, and the Islanders call home. There is certainly plenty of risk to this signing, as there are with any long term deals (hello DiPietro) and as Rangers fans we have a perpetual history of being burned on high price free agents. The problem with this mentality, is that all of the players I can list off who were busts, not even Wade Redden can be held to the scrutiny of "he underperformed." Sure, given the money, Gomez and Drury didn't live up to their contracts, but niether of them played that far out of their career numbers to warrant the title of "bust" or "disappointment." That triumverate of failure is on Sather's resume as stupid moves. I am glad that with Gaborik and Richards he's finally giving top dollar to top players and not hoping for drastic improvements. Oh, and the NHL didn't step in and say anything about the deal circumventing the cap, huh, guess that argument was easy to resolve.
- Where careers go to die. Yes, maybe, but Naslund was a classy player, Marty Straka was fun to watch, and I don't think anyone will ever forget Donald Brashear's wonderful tenure. Ok so maybe there's a point or two in there, but Slats had the wherewithal to not resign Olli Jokinen, not sign his goaltender to a deal that expires in 2021, and not made a Forsbergian trade. Quite the contrary, McDonagh for Gomez? Brilliant. Wolski for Roszival? Good. The Frolov signing was even reasonable, regardless of how it worked out. More importantly, Mike Rupp was signed for a measly $1.5 million, so he can't really underperform on that contract can he? Glen Sather is making good moves.
Lundqvist is Lundqvist, he led the league in shutouts and was snubbed for Vezina consideration once again. That's fine, Hank thrives off of this sort of scrutiny.
When he gets complacent it's visible in his play, it's bad. Him working hard bodes well for the Rangers' hopes.
The real wildcard in all of this is Sean Avery, he was a force to be reckoned with under Tom Renney. I think he had more confidence under that coaching staff, only because they knew he'd do something over the top and draw a penalty and they were ok with that because it was just a part of his game. Tortorella doesn't have the patience for that nonsense and it clearly showed in the playoffs. Avery can be a great player, both agitating and passing the puck. He needs a certain amount of latitude from Torts to play his game.
Now, to the defense. The youngest, shotblockingest, the rootinest Fedor Tyutinest... oh wait, he was traded away? Ok well except for that last bit the Rangers defense is where this team is really stacked and can expect to see youngsters like Erixon and McIlrath thrown into the fire soon. Sure Del Zotto makes a little too much money and would probably be better suited moving to a forward position, but the Rangers are giving him plenty of time to get his defensive act together. Staal and Girardi aren't going anywhere, McDonagh is a solid defender, and hopefully Sauer comes back through an offer sheet or arbitration. Yes, McCabe is washed up and it didn't work on the power-play. Does that mean he's useless? Maybe not with Richards there, I wouldn't mind the Rangers giving him one more go of it, if the price is right. A shot like his would only help.
Speaking of right prices, the Rangers have just a shade under $13 million to get their 2nd line of RFAs Cally, Arty, Duby signed; Boyle is expendable, considering the youth in the system, but I'd like to see him brought back if there's room.
So in hindsight, last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. They were supposed to start down the path that the Islanders have been walking for the past half decade. The Rangers still made the playoffs. This is what rebuilding in New York has to be about: Hustle. This team hustles like no other in the NHL, sure they lacked talent at key positions and the aforementioned underperformers need to step their games up, but youth will continue to develop and Henrik is still one of the best. As long as they outhustle others on the ice they can make the playoffs. This team is heading in the right direction and received a nice bump with the reasonably priced aquisition of Brad Richards.
I do not think Richards should wear the C, sure he's the highest priced and most talented guy on the roster, but that doesn't make him captain. It has to be earned and the Rangers clearly missed Callahan in the playoffs. Callahan is the ideal captain for this team and he's put the team first with his shot blocking and his willingness to fight down low. Hopefully they can sign him to a longer term deal. Staal already wears an A on his jersey and I think Fedotenko should be given consideration for the other. If you think that is too much of a stretch, how about Wolski? He needs to feel pressure to perform, a "promotion" could go a long way to shedding his inconsistency. Then again, he may not even make it to training camp.
I'm not one for predictions but I see this season landing the Rangers a top 5 spot in the Eastern Conference (behind Was, Bos, Pitt, maybe TB) and a trip, at least, to the 2nd round of the playoffs. I'm not crazy and I won't say that they are Cup material as of yet. But with a couple more years of development and one or two more "right pieces" the New York Rangers fans may not have to wait a lifetime.