For the last two months every blogger, fan, and front office has debated on how to go about improving their squad via free agency. The fun starts tonight at midnight, and every Ranger fan should know the situation the Blueshirts are in before the frenzy starts. Let's start with what the Rangers can control the most, and that is their own squad (All Ranger Salary information taken from Hockey Buzz' Cap Central).
Committed Salary Cap Space: $ 38,096,310
2009-2010 NHL Salary Cap: $ 56.8 Million (Up 100,000 from last year)
Total Ranger Salary Cap Space: $ 18,703,690
Unrestricted Free Agents: Nik Antropov (Forward), Blair Betts (Forward), Colton Orr (Forward), Derek Morris (Defenseman), Paul Mara (Defenseman).
Restricted Free Agents: Lauri Korpikoski (Forward), Brandon Dubinsky (Forward)
Arbitration-Eligible RFA's: Nikolai Zherdev (Forward), Fredrik Sjostrom (Forward), Ryan Callahan(Forward).
With the recent news that Nik Antropov is asking for too much money, we can count him out for a Broadway return. Derek Morris will most likely not be returning (no evidence, just a feeling), along with Colton Orr, who looks as though he may be on the outs with the recent trade for Brian Boyle (Center) from the Kings.
The rest of the group, although nothing is set in stone, is expected to be back. Blair Betts, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan are all beloved Rangers, and letting one of those guys get away will undoubtedly upset Ranger fans. Fredrik Sjostrom, Lauri Korpikoski, and Paul Mara are complete coin flips if you ask me, but when it comes down to it I think at least Korpedo will be signed, if not all of them.
So once these core guys are signed, I estimate that the Rangers and Sather have anywhere from 8 to 12 Million in cap space to use. What the Rangers need is pretty much unanimous, but how the Rangers go about doing it and who that key scoring machine will be is very much a debate. I for one believe the Blueshirts do not need a Gaborik or Heatley, but rather two solid players that will put up at least 40-50 points. I say this because I think just with the changes John Tortorella will make to the playing system the Rangers will become a better scoring team next season; where ever that scoring ends up coming from.
I have one last theory that I will stand true on for the next month. If Glen Sather decides to complete ignore the defensive core and only sign forwards with his available cap space, it could end up being a huge mistake. Don't get me wrong, I think the Blueshirts have a solid core in Staal, Girardi, and Rozival, but one more difference-making defenseman will really help Henrik Lundqvist. Tom Renney obviously ran a team-defense first system, which was part of the reason why the Rangers were so great in their own zone. But with a more aggressive system expected out of John Tortorella, the Ranger Defense could face more of a challenge next year than last, and ignoring this possibility could flip the problems the Rangers have right now come a year from today.
I see the Rangers movements in Free Agency this summer going one of two ways. Either the Yankee way or the way the club operated at the draft just last weekend. The Yankee way will remind you that baseball team in New York that hasn't won a world series this millennium, who thinks it's still the 90's and that buying a championship is possible. It will also remind you of the last two summers for the Rangers, where aggressive over-spending has led to major cap issues for the next couple of years. Ironically, this way will probably please most fans, as a big singing gives every team and its fans big hopes. Or, the way I hope to see it, the Rangers could somewhat fly under the radar and pick up players that want nothing else but to win. This would consist of grabbing two, three, or four players that will give you the most bang for your buck.
So sit back and enjoy come midnight, as the Rangers will slowly begin to sculpt their roster as September inches oh so closer every day. And don't get me wrong; I will be just as excited as the next guy if the Rangers land Gaborik or Heatley. Just understand that what comes with high reward is usually an even higher risk.