This past weekend's news that the Rangers would not be qualifying restricted free agent defenseman Matt Gilroy at the necessary $2.3 million came as no surprise. GM Glen Sather's inference that the 26-year-old out of Bellmore, New York would likely test the market when free agency begins on Friday, on the other hand, was something new. With that, the chances of Gilroy's career on Broadway coming to an end this summer have risen despite the Blueshirts distinctly saying they would love to have the former Hobey Baker award winner back, just not at such a high price.
Gilroy's entry-level contract expired after his second season with the Rangers this year. Those two seasons, to put it simply, gave Gilroy quite the ride at the National Hockey League level. At times he felt wanted, at times he felt rejected, and right now he is stuck in the middle with tough decisions to make. There's no disputing that Gilroy has dropped on the Rangers' defensive depth chart since he entered the league out of Boston University in 2009. The acquisition of Tim Erixon from the Calgary Flames earlier in the month reinforced that and gave Gilroy his doubts.
The Rangers, specifically head coach John Tortorella, have had some qualms with Gilroy's game over the past two years. He lacked the physicality, the aggressiveness and the bite that they wanted to see from him on a nightly basis. That resulted in an assignment to the AHL in his rookie year and also much time spent in the press box rather than on the ice. Since the day Matt became a member of this team, he has been fighting for a roster spot and that fight never seems to come to an end.
This past season he saw both Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh come in as rookies and earn guaranteed spots ahead of him. There's been a lot of talk about Tim Erixon since he was brought here, so there's a possibility that he follows in Sauer and McDonagh's footsteps and does the same. Seeing this and knowing that he could potentially spend another year in the press box because of all the up-and-comers, Gilroy wants to see what he can get elsewhere on a team that he will have a much better chance at earning a permanent roster spot. It's not about the money with Matt, because there is no way even he thinks he is worth $2.3 million - it's more about the opportunity.
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As many of you know, I was always a fan of Gilroy and should make clear that I still am. I always felt that he had something to prove that we were not getting the chance to see, and part of that blame falls on the way in which he was managed here in New York. I think the coaching staff chipped away at Gilroy's confidence with the AHL assignment and continued to do so by regularly scratching him. Early on in his rookie year we saw what he was able to add offensively to the squad, but Tortorella didn't want that - he wanted Gilroy playing his style of defense, and the transition obviously was not a very smooth one, therefore there were consequences to face.
I think if Gilroy would have been granted more freedom at that early stage and wasn't pressured into transforming his game, we may have seen him blossom into the puck-moving defenseman that the Rangers are ironically in search of now. Their hope is that Michael Del Zotto fills that role, but that is a whole other discussion for another time.
You cannot blame Gilroy for wanting to test the waters of the open market because in many ways he wasn't given a fair chance while a member of the Rangers. His solid performance in the playoffs back in April instilled some hope in both sides, I think, but that wasn't enough convincing evidence for either. Gilroy doesn't want to be trapped in a situation where he won't be getting an opportunity to play, and that is very understandable.
If signing with another club gives Gilroy a greater opportunity, then I honestly believe he should go ahead and end his career as a Ranger and sign a contract elsewhere. Obviously I would love to see him back in red, white and blue, but I also want the best for the kid and unfortunately that isn't here in New York.
I just hope that the Rangers look back on Gilroy's time here and realize that they chased him away (if he ends up leaving), not the other way around, and do not make that mistake again with any of the other young prospects on their way up.