After a terrific season that resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, the New York Rangers find themselves with a tall task in trying to return to the Cup. With multiple players needing raises and depth players potentially leaving to get those raises elsewhere, Glen Sather has his work cut out for him this off-season. Let's take a look at the do's and don'ts for Sather this off-season.
Do buyout Brad Richards- A decision that needs no explanation if you have paid attention to the figures. The Rangers can use their compliance buyout and avoid paying Richards for the remainder of his awful deal, or they can keep him and pay him $6M+ until he can't stand on the ice without a walker. Richards' time in New York brought the Rangers to the playoffs every season and even to the Stanley Cup Finals, but unfortunately for both sides it is up. If the Rangers bring back Richards they will not be able to afford any of their depth players that are so important, and the team will revert back to an average team at best.
Do keep Anton Stralman at all costs- Anton Stralman was a revelation for the Rangers this season, and a key part of why the Blueshirts made it to the Finals. Stralman's possession numbers were above average, and his strong defensive style stymied the top lines of opposing teams. Stralman was the second best defenceman on a team that had Dan Girardi and Marc Staal on it. The problem for the Rangers is that Stralman's contract is up, and he will most certainly be getting a raise. While the Rangers may benefit from the lack of appreciation for #fancystats among the NHL, Stralman will still make ~$4 million per season in free agency, a figure that will be difficult for the Rangers to commit to. Looking back at how important Stralman was, and looking forward to next season, it is essential for the Rangers to commit to Stralman, even if it means....
Do consider trading Marc Staal- Marc Staal is one of the longest tenured Rangers, but could be the cause of the end of Anton Stralman's run with New York. Staal, the second pair left defenceman, has been a rollercoaster ride of a player after his injuries that took him out of the NHL for quite a bit of time. While Staal can still be a solid defenceman, he doesn't bring the tremendous defensive style that Stralman does, or the offensive upside that a player like Ryan McDonagh does. Staal will be paid an equal or greater amount than Stralman, despite not specializing in a trade like the Swedish defenceman does.
Staal's contract expires after this upcoming season, so the Rangers would need to commit to him or Stralman-likely not both due to salary cap constraints. Staal has proven to be the easier defenceman to replace, and trading him now would get the Rangers some value out of him before it's too late. Conor Allen is waiting in the wings for a left defenceman spot, while there are also numerous low-$ signing possibilities for the second pairing if the Rangers aren't willing to commit to Allen yet.
Do consider trading Rick Nash: To be perfectly clear, I put the chances of the Rangers getting an offer for Rick Nash that actually makes sense for the team at below 0%. Nash's contract is too bad and he hasn't shown what GM's look for to be able to commit to his contract and give assets to the Rangers in return. The issue with trading Nash is that the Rangers would need to avoid eating a lot of salary, get a little bit in return, and replace Nash immediately. The Rangers cannot afford to lose Nash and not replace him on the top line.
So why is trading Nash under the "do" category? Scott Gomez was traded for Ryan McDonagh. Jaromir Jagr was traded for Anson Carter. Crazy things happen, and if the Maple Leafs call the Rangers and say "James van Riemsdyk for Rick Nash," the Rangers need to jump on it. I will be thrilled if I hear Glen Sather is putting out feelers to see if he can trade Nash and turn the assets or cash into a cheaper replacement. It's an almost impossible move, but it's worth at least considering.
Don't over-commit to a star and lose depth: A Ranger-like approach to this off-season would be to gut the depth that brought the Rangers to the Stanley Cup and instead spend that money on a player like Thomas Vanek or Paul Stastny. While Stastny makes sense in that the Rangers could use a second line center, New York will not be able to afford both Stastny and their depth players. Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, John Moore, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, and Anton Stralman are all restricted or unrestricted free agents that will be requiring raises. The depth got the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals, and gutting the depth will be spitting in the face of the 2013-2014 Rangers.
Don't feel the need to bring back the exact same players- While the depth players did bring the Rangers to the Finals, it is likely that at least one of Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore, or Brian Boyle will be overpaid by a team that feels they fill their specific need. It would be terrific for the Rangers to bring back all three of them, but if it comes down to bringing back Benoit Pouliot for $4 million a year or letting him walk, the correct move would be to let him walk and fill his spot with a youngster like J.T. Miller or Jesper Fast.
Contrary to popular belief, the Rangers do have a few young players that could be inserted into the third or fourth line to replace a depth player. Brian Boyle should be prioritized over the others, as he contributed the most.
Don't trade for Eric Staal or Joe Thornton: Or any other big name center that will cost the Rangers both the future and the present. With Staal or Thornton, the Rangers will lose more prospects than they can handle having already traded two first rounders for Martin St. Louis, and will lose their depth thanks to the contract being added to the books. The only way the Rangers can trade for a center, which is definitely an area of need, is if they can do so without depleting their prospect pool and without taking on a major contract. A player like Kyle Turris would be a solid target, though he may not be available.