It's a strange offseason when Glen Sather and the New York Rangers are the team keeping things quiet, not spending freely and focusing on bolstering the internal parts of their machine rather than looking for help elsewhere. That's not a dig at the Rangers, mind you, but in this day and age teams with bigger wallets generally flex their financial muscles in early July.
Anyone who follows the Rangers regularly knew that wasn't going to be happening this year. When Sather and company made the decision not to buy out Brad Richards a few weeks ago the Rangers pretty much forfeited any hope they had to be real players during this year's free agency period. That might have been a driving point in the decision, actually.
Let's be real here, the crop of player's in this year's class aren't exactly the best of the best. This is one of the weakest free agency pools in recent memory, highlighted by some teams overpaying (by a lot) for massive mistakes.So Sather looked at the hand he was dealt and made a decision: He would keep Richards (who, if bought out, would have vaulted up to the top of this year's free agency list) and kept the money he could spend on his RFAs low and on potential UFAs even lower.
On Monday he used up some of that precious cap space to ink Ryan McDonagh to a six-year $28.2-million masterstroke of a contract. The Rangers have not only bought out three of McDonagh's UFA seasons but also keep him at a very manageable $4.7-million cap hit for six years. In addition to the numbers being very favorable for the team, Sather also got the job done quickly and without any bad blood. McDonagh was too important for Sather to take his tough line with. Team policies are meant to be broken for players of McDonagh's quality. It's a good problem to have if you have the cap space.
Now Sather needs to focus on Derek Stepan, then Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers have roughly $7.3-million for those three players without any moves. Sather has worked his magic already on McDonagh, but there's more work to be done right now. The Stepan contract (and potentially the negotiations) are going to be very interesting to see. Will Stepan get a bridge deal or will Sather elect to try and lock him up long term as well.
And what about Hagelin and Zuccarello? Hagelin is absolutely in the Rangers' future plans. I would think Zuccarello is, too, but depending on how much Stepan gets it might put him in jeopardy without another move coming.
Still, Sather needs to be applauded here. Not only did he keep a player he knew he wouldn't be able to replace on the free agent market (yes there are risks to keeping Richards, but it was the right move for this year) but he also didn't do anything more than make some no-risk, medium-reward signings. Oh yeah, he also locked up the Rangers biggest RFA in recent memory. Now the focus turns to Stepan.
He's pretty important, too.