I was going to save Viktor Stalberg for the end of this series, but since he's one of the team's most important unrestricted free agents (Keith Yandle obviously tops that list) I figured we might as well open the discussion floodgates here. Plus, the Yandle story is going to be much bigger, so I have to save my energy for that.
Stalberg is another shining example of the Rangers' ability to get quality players from the bargain bin come the middle weeks of free agency. Every year there are players looking for jobs who take one-year, very attractive deals to show they still have it. The Rangers have had massive success stories the past three years with Benoit Pouliot, Lee Stempniak (the Rangers throwing him away for nothing shouldn't take the bloom of getting him in the first place) and Stalberg all making an impact on Broadway.
For various reasons these players haven't returned to New York -- with the jury still being out on Stalberg. Pouliot hit the jackpot with a $20-million deal in Edmonton, while Alain Vigneault never liked Stempniak and the Rangers essentially threw him away. The hope is that Stalberg will buck that trend.
While it's true to say players like this are always available, you never know how a new player will fit into a system. Stalberg's speed made him an ideal candidate for the Vigneault offensive system, his defense helped fill some of the holes and he added an offensive punch. At a $1.1-million price tag there isn't much more you could ask for out of a depth player.
The real question, once again, comes from the monetary standpoint. The Rangers were sitting Oscar Lindberg for a good portion of the season because they somehow couldn't find a spot for him. Assuming Tanner Glass is in the everyday lineup -- and at this point it's foolish to not at least bring up his inclusion -- Lindberg could be a replacement for Stalberg who comes at a cheaper cap hit.
The Rangers are very deep in a money problem they've created for themselves. Hockey Stat Miner does a great job outlining how bad the salary cap situation is here, give it a read if you haven't.
I think Stalberg could have added much more offense than the nine goals and 11 assists he potted through 75 games had he been allowed to flex his muscles on the third line. When Stalberg was put on the third line it generally did really good things -- he meshed well with Kevin Hayes and Eric Staal -- but those moments were far and few between until the end of the year. Stalberg spent a good portion of his time on Broadway on the fourth line or in a far more defensive role. And while he was a spectacular on the penalty kill, rather than giving him more opportunities there the Rangers experimented with Daniel Paille.
Stalberg would be an interesting case on the open market. While I don't think he had the flair Pouliot did when he came into free agency with the Rangers (remember, Captain Taco had 36 regular season points and then 10 playoff points to go along with a Stanley Cup run), Stalberg could get himself a nice contract if he wants it. I wouldn't be shocked to see a team peg Stalberg as a top-nine player who can add some offense and throw him a $2.5-millionish deal.
To be honest with you, I'd almost be okay with giving Stalberg $1.8-$2-million over the course of a couple of years. He's the type of guy contending teams end up looking for at the trade deadline, and like I said above: He already fits in the system. At worst if the Rangers are crashing and burning next year you move him for assets at the deadline. Teams would pay for his services, and probably pay pretty well, too.
The Rangers can easily afford to give Stalberg the needed raise by either trading Glass and his $1.45-million cap hit or sending him to Hartford to save $900K. That money would be better used for Lindberg and Stalberg anyway.
Where I thought Moore was an easier decision to move on from, I think the Rangers would have a really hard time replacing a guy like Stalberg. Not only is he the defensive player the Rangers need for that role, he has the ability to move up and down the lineup to create offense. Plus, he offers speed, which was one of the biggest holes Carl Hagelin left when the Rangers shipped him out to Anaheim.
So to me, this is a keep situation. I want Stalberg around next year. As much as I'd love to see him back cheap, he's a player I'd be willing to spend a little extra on -- assuming the Rangers do the right thing with their bad contracts this year. And since he should be a Glass replacement, I think that's where the money would have to come from.