2014 NHL Free Agency: Is Mikhail Grabovski The Answer?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

A smaller splash in free agency would allow the Rangers to keep as much of last year's team together as possible. How big of a factor should that play in this summer's upcoming decisions?

Here's how the offseason works in New York every single summer:

1) New York Rangers season ends.

2) Allow one day of "the season is over here's what happened" recaps.

3) Find every big name on the UFA Market.

4) Look to find anything even remotely linking a big name on another team to a trade and somehow connect them to New York.

5) Make the player fit on Broadway no matter the costs. Paul Stastny making $4.5-million a year? Do it. Dan Girardi for Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks 1st round pick? Deal.

This is pretty typical of some of the fans surrounding the New York Rangers and even some of the media/blogosphere. Even we dip our feet into the pool into the world of rumors (although I'd like to believe we're far more realistic than most). On some levels you have to, because you simply don't know what's going to happen, and Glen Sather does love to make the big splash when he thinks it will help.

What if the solution was actually to avoid the big name and go after the smaller fish in the pond? What if the solution to the Rangers' current problem (the void left from the Brad Richards buyout) is actually Mikhail Grabovski?

Here's the thing about this play if the Rangers choose to make it: It gives them far more financial freedom than if the team chased a big name on the UFA front, Grabovski is a UFA himself so he won't cost assets and the Rangers can use the leftover money they didn't spend on a big name to shore up their internal cogs.

There are a couple of "fine print" aspects to a move like this. Let's go through them here:

1) Accept Derek Stepan As The Number One Center: This is the most important part of this idea. If you're going forward with Grabovski to fill the Richard's void, you're not putting him on the first line. Instead, Derick Brassard and Grabovski would act at the 2 and 2A centers on the team. This idea is, to me, far more favorable than having J.T. Miller on the second line with Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin. That's, once again, assuming Benoit Pouliot does return and the Brassard, Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello line stays intact.

I don't see any reason why this doesn't work, to be honest. Stepan - despite a very slow start - was second on the team (ignoring St. Louis) with 57 points. Third on the team in Primary Points (goals + primary assists), third in Setup Passes (passes that lead directly to shots) and had a low 8.5 shooting percentage (career average is 11.4) to boot. He can handle top line defensive assignments if necessary and has proven he can create offense. All stats thanks to Extra Skater.

2) You're Probably Letting At Least One Of Brian Boyle Or Anton Stralman Go: Boyle is probably on his way out anyway, searching for a bigger role with another team. I'm not sure how much money Grabovski is going to make on the open market - a lack of UFA options will probably inflate his price - but it's safe to say he'll be around $4.5-million if not higher. That figure cuts into the extra money the Rangers will have to keep their UFAs (mainly Boyle and Stralman) thanks to the Richards buyout. Rumors have surfaced the Rangers have allotted $4-million to getting Stralman back in the fold. I'm not sure if that will be enough to get it done.

3) Money Will Be Tight. Like, Really Tight: Here are the totals I'm dishing out to the RFAs and UFAs I'm retaining in the above strategy:

Brassard - $4.2

Grabovski - $4.3

Stralman - $4.0

Zuccarello - $3.9

Kreider - $2.5

J. Moore - $1.2

D. Moore - $1.2

Pouliot - $1.7

If the above players signed for those cap hits the Rangers would have just shy of $700K to play with in terms of cap space. That worries a lot of teams, especially if they need to make adjustments during the year. The Rangers wouldn't have much wiggle room at all in the above scenario, which is something to keep in mind.

I also might be throwing figures out that aren't very accurate in the world of them being approved. Those are where I would like to see everyone come in, but we all know how these things work. The hope, of course, is that I'm somewhat in the ballpark for each player. A little high on one and a little low on another evens out in the end, right?

Anyway, if you can deal with the above doesn't this make sense? Stepan, Grabovski, Brassard and D. Moore is a pretty solid group down the middle. Exchange Miller in at C where you have to (injuries and what not) and keep him on a bottom six wing the rest of the way. The team will miss Boyle eating all those defensive minutes but Grabovski is fine in his own end, as is Stepan and Moore can play more minutes if needed as well.

This would also allow (assuming everyone can fit) the Rangers to keep 95% of last year's team together while upgrading their center position. There's no reason to assume Grabovski (depending on his usage) can't fill Richards' 50ish points and he's an obvious upgrade defensively. This still doesn't fix the power play consistency, but very few of those solutions are cheap enough to help the Rangers keep this group together.

Here, at the very least, you bank on some of the youth continuing to grow and you take your chances on the star power you already have (Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis) to carry the scoring when needed. You can expect reasonable offensive jumps from guys like Chris Kreider, Stepan (for all the reasons listed above), Zuccarello (he can get better, right?) and the rest of the supporting cast.

I don't think this is a bad strategy to walk into the season with. What about you guys?

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