First of all I would like to say I know there are a plethora of FanPosts about this subject, many of them being very informative and insightful, but it has been a while since my last contribution to the site and I hope to add something of value to the Banter. If instead I add yet another random bit of confusing, speculative chaos... well, I assign all blame to Mr. Glen Sather.
The 2010 free agent market is a perplexing and relatively shallow pool of talent. Even more shallow is the unrestricted free agent market. History would say the smaller the market, the more money the players will ask for, being all the more coveted by the teams that need them. There is something to consider in the potential of adding $2 million to the salary cap, but for the purposes of this FanPost I will assume that it doesn't come to pass.
Though this website will fluctuate and update with every signing the Rangers make, where the Blueshirts stand as of this minute can be seen here in regard to the salary cap. Some noteworthy statistics; the Rangers have 11 UFAs (four or five that could be considered 'regulars': Jokinen, Prospal, Shelley, Auld, Parenteau), 12 RFAs (5 of whom where starters for the Blueshirts: Christensen, Lisin, Staal, Prust, Girardi), and currently have $10,515,833 in cap space which is towards the bottom half of the league. The amount of players currently under contract is crucial to understanding the current free cap space, the Rangers have 15 players under contract that were regulars last season.
There has been plenty said about who the Rangers should pursue to re-sign, in my opinion the biggest decision for the New York Rangers is the contract of 23 year old RFA Marc Staal. There are many players who we deem 'fan favorites' that would fit handsomely under the cap but there seems to be an overabundance of them with hard-working, younger players knocking on the door in the farm system. The UFAs that are most desirable from last year's roster, in my opinion, are the following (though it would be foolhardy to assume we can get them all back).
Vaclav Prospal He was one of the most valuable players in the league in terms of his contract and the amount of points he produced.
P.A. Parenteau proved several times his value in the shootout and played with hunger that earned the respect of the Garden Faithful.
Corey Locke undersized forward in the AHL, outstanding offensive promise but was invisible in the game(s) where he came up to the big club despite being an All-Star in the AHL.
Corey Potter Admittedly I know little about Potter other than the time to make a decision about him has come, he is at the moment expendable despite having good size.
The RFAs of the Rangers are an even more challenging lot-
Dan Girardi In my opinion Girardi is the second biggest question mark, 26 years old and capable of hitting the net (when he chooses to shoot, which is not terribly often). Girardi has a great chemistry with Staal as a shut-down duo, though the pair hardly struck fear into the hearts of opponents. Getting something for Girardi in a transaction would be a victory in itself, as the Rangers signed him as an undrafted player.
Marc Staal Solid, young, and looking better every year. Staalsy may be the only first-round pick of the Rangers (along with MDZ) to amount to anything in recent memory. There is little doubt Staal will take a big chunk of the available salary cap, but one can hope that the Rangers find a way to make it work without adding another grossly overpaid defender to the blueline.
Enver Lisin Acquired for first-rounder Korpikoski, the 24 year old Russian never seemed to gel with Torts' offense or any linemate that wasn't Artem Anisimov. If the Rangers can get some compensation for Lisin, I would encourage it, as I do not see him working with the big club.
Erik Christensen The 26 year old came off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks (thank you Gordon Bombay) and was one of the few players on the roster that seemed to have any chemistry with Gabby, I think the general consensus on the Banter is to keep him around, I would have to agree wholeheartedly.
Dane Byers Looked good with the Blueshirts this year, though prone to penalties (many of them being fighting majors). Byers is a good size and still young at 24, he has great size and may prove to be cheaper to keep around than Shelley or even Prust.
Brandon Prust Perhaps undersized for a player that tosses the mitts as often as he does, Prust is still young at 26 and ignited the team several games with a filthy goal or taking on a guy a head taller than him.
Who is Available?
Two things I have to say before I go any further; Patrick Sharp is not a UFA or even an RFA and the likelihood of the Rangers getting Bobby Ryan are cripplingly low if not impossible. As I stated before (many, many sentences ago) this years UFA market is shallow but intriguing. The largest names that are out there are the following, I also included those players that I think are valuable to the Blueshirts are underrated. You can see a list of current UFAs here and see the entire UFA market yourself.
Ilya Kovalchuk Would be grossly expensive, I don't think the Devils are going to get him back and I don't care if they do. Kovalchuk would undoubtedly add scoring to any team that acquires him but his cost may far outweigh what he can contribute and what else the Blueshirts could do with the money. ($6.38 million last contract)
Patrick Marleau Would be far too expensive despite having a career year last year. ($6.3 million last contract)
Tomas Plekanec Coming off of a career year (70 points) and looking like a true playmaking center, Plekanec has ensured himself a hefty contract his offseason whether it comes from the Habs or elsewhere. ($2.75 mill)
Pavol Demitra The veteran Slovak has always had gorgeous hands and might find some chemistry with his countryman Gaborik, but he has been infamously injury-prone and the Rangers already hit the lottery once with Prospal. ($4 mill)
Mike Comrie 29 years old, undersized but shifty forward with a degree of grit to his game, has bounced around the league the last few years but is still a threat offensively. 21 points in 43 games with the Oilers. ($1.25 mill)
Jed Ortmeyer One-time Ranger and fan-favorite, Omaha would add to already solid penalty-killing core, Jed-O also apparently honed some offensive talent (though limited, obviously) with the Sharks. He chipped in 8 G, 11 A last year. He also happens to be a personal favorite of mine, so he makes my list. ($550k)
Maxim Afinogenov 30 years old, a classic speedy Russian winger that had a career renaissance with the Thrashers this past season. Tallying 61 points in 82 games Afinogenov proved his value as an NHLer, but might seek a lucrative KHL contract. Not to mention the Rangers seem to have crap luck with players of his type (Bure... Lisin). ($800k)
Alex Frolov 27 year old disgruntled Russian winger from the Kings has proven to be inconsisten despite playing him with talented players. 51 points in 81 games last year, abundant rumors about him going to the KHL. ($2.9 mill)
Matthew Lombardi 28 years old, 78 games with 34 assists and 53 points. Worth looking into. ($1,816,666)
Carlo Colaiacavo 27 years old, 32 points in 67 games including 7 goals. ($1,283,333)
Jason Strudwick Great for the locker room, former ranger. Maybe could finish those fighting lessons he started to give Dubi? He is a physical defenseman that will clear out the crease and come at a bargain because he getting older and slower at 34 years old. ($700k)
Paul Mara I mentioned Strudwick so I thought I'd bring Mara into theequation too, he is a towering defenseman that can play physical when he wants to and looked at home with the Rangers.($1.7 mill)
Zbynek Michalek Great first name for a game of Scrabble. 27 year old defender that made a name for himself with the 'Yotes. 17 points in 72 games, plays a solid defensive minded game. ($1.2 mill)
There are plenty of other players worth investigating and speculating over, but I decided to stop here because of two reasons; one- I have no absolutely no influence over what the Rangers do and who they sign, trade, promote, or demote (similar to the fact that I cannot will the puck into the net, though I have spent many nights of my life trying to do just that) and two- the hours I have spent putting this together will become wasted or moot when even one transaction occurs and the entire market changes, otherwise I would have poured even more thought, research, and opinion into this. With all of this being said I would like to point out I put in a few of my personal favorites here (Ortmeyer, Strudwick, Mara) that could easily and deservedly be replaced by other UFAs that are on the market. I hope in some small way this article has educated, informed, or entertained you. If not, I am happy to have wasted your time and my own by hammering away at the keyboard while waiting for game 4 of the Finals which is on now.
Let's Go Rangers.
[EDIT: Removed Holmstrom, he was signed to a 2-year deal by Detroit, thank you RangerSmurf)