Last off-season the New York Rangers were faced with a decision: extend the contract of Anton Stralman, or let him leave as a free agent. There seemed to be a split in the fanbase, as those that leaned towards the advanced statstics arguments wanted the Rangers to bring back the Swedish defenseman, while those judging with the eye test preferred the money be spent elsewhere. Team President Glen Sather ended up allowing Stralman get to free agency (where he signed with Tampa Bay), signing Dan Boyle to replace him.
This upcoming off-season Marc Staal is the center of a similar situation. Staal's contract expires at the end of the year, and while the team has attempted to re-sign him, the two sides have not come to an agreement yet. Similarly to Ryan Callahan, who was traded at the deadline last season, Staal is a career-Ranger that many identify solely with Broadway. The issue, as always, is if bringing back Staal is the best move for the Rangers?
Let's take a look at the options.
The first option is to sign Staal to the deal he wants, which is something similar to Dan Girardi's six-year, $33-million extension signed last season. While many blasted the Girardi contract straight off the bat, the Rangers looked at it as a way to get a steady d-man under team control and move on without further distraction. A concern of mine is that the team will replicate those negotiations, signing Staal to a similar deal, despite the fact that Girardi's deal is questionable and Staal is certainly not deserving of that much money.
The Staal that was a shutdown defenseman who sprinkled in a little offense might have been worth that money, but the post-Eric Staal concussion inducing hit Staal does not deserve that money. When considering Stralman's price, many pointed to his favorable pairing with Staal as reason to not pay him, but since being separated Staal's numbers have gone down, while Stralman has continued his excellent play.
There is certainly a question of how valuable Staal can be going forward to pair with how valuable he will be, but I would bet on neither being worth the contract he desires. Players making that much money include Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, Alex Edler, and even Stralman himself.
There are equal or better players available most off-seasons for less money, and the Rangers will need cap space since Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis will be free agents this summer. In a cap-strapped ecosystem every dollar adds up and might cost a general manager an opportunity to make future moves.
The second option, which in my opinion is the most likely of the three, is keeping Staal through the season whether there is any contract extension or not, and either signing or trading him before free agency starts in the upcoming off-season. At best the Rangers can get a 2nd or 3rd round pick for him, with a 4th being more likely, but what is most important here is that despite his faults, the Rangers need Staal this season. There are no free agents for the Rangers to sign to replace him right now, and with the likes of Matt Hunwick and John Moore taking important minutes, the Blueshirts cannot afford to further deplete their defensive corps.
A reasonable response to the situation would be to treat it like Stralman's last off-season and let it play out on it's own, while working towards winning every game possible until he officially stays or leaves. Missing out on one or two draft picks at the deadline is worth the potential playoff run.
The final and most appealing option is exactly what the Rangers did with Callahan last season. Despite his status as a *True Ranger* the team negotiated fiercely with him, with the clear understanding that if a deal was not reached there was the potential for a trade to be made. The two sides haggled over as little as $500K, and eventually the Rangers moved on on deadline day, trading the captain for St. Louis.
Sather turned a player he could have lost for nothing (along with a couple of draft picks) into a vital piece of the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final, while also addressing the future replacement for Callahan as well.
If the Rangers approach the deadline and Staal is not yet signed, the best move going forward is to seek a trade for a similar defenseman. It is absolutely easier said than done, but that's not to say it's impossible -- and let's not forget that Carolina holds two of Staal's brothers on their roster. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had interest in Staal in the past, and boast some excellent defensive prospects that have frustrated the organization. Perhaps in a time of turmoil the Rangers could swoop in and make a deal there.
Regardless, the possibilities are endless if the Rangers seek them, and replacing an expiring contract with a steady d-man would be brilliant if pulled off correctly by the front office.