Since July 1st there has been much discussion regarding the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez by the New York Rangers. It is true that Gomez and Drury are both very talented hockey players but it is also true that they were overpaid by the Rangers. This begs the question: Was it worth it?
The Rangers needed to add (or resign) two free agent centers in the offseason. There were four top-tier centers on the free agent market. They were: Michael Nylander, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Daniel Briere. Nylander was the oldest and least talented of the four but had enormous upside when considering his proven chemistry with the team's best player, Jaromir Jagr. Drury was known for his leadership abilities in addition to a great hockey sense and an ability to come through in the clutch. Gomez was the speedy playmaker who seemed like a great fit to feed pucks to the puck-loving Jagr. Briere was the most talented scorer who, with a wicked wristshot, was a major threat, especially on the power-play. In my opinion he was the best center available and I envy the Flyers for getting him at a lower price than the NYR did. Glen Sather planned to pick up two of these four centers and he did just that. But did he pick up the right ones?
Nylander, who did not become a free agent until July 1st had the most time to officially negotiate with the Rangers. He was clearly the best short-term choice for the Rangers having proven chemistry with Jagr and coming at a considerably lower price than the other three centers. However, being much older than the other players, it was not worth it for the Rangers to sign him for more than three years. When Jagr and Straka retire, he loses his status as a first line center. Nylander was made by Jagr and not the other way around. And when Nylander fired his agent who had an independent agreement with the club, it was understood that Nylander would not take the "hometown discount" that the Rangers wanted him to take. At that point, it was clear that the Rangers needed to make a splash in the free agent market and sign two new centers. Obviously, best case scenario was to sign Nylander for 2-3 yrs, keep the chemistry going and keep money free. But a long term deal was not worth it for the Rangers. It was certainly worth it for the Caps, though, who would put Nylander on a line with the YOUNG Alexander Ovechkin. So they made the splash by pursuing these three players. Briere made it clear early into free agency that he had narrowed his options down to four, the Rangers not being one of them. Sather then had to go 2-for-2 in order to accomplish the offseason goals. So he offered contracts to both Drury and Gomez. Both in the vicinity of 7 million per year because of the already inflated market. Both lasting until each respective player turned 35. And the both accepted. And with that the Rangers acquired two excellent hockey players approaching the prime of their careers. Yes, almost 15 million per year for two players is overpaying but with the market price so high, there were certainly other teams who would have signed the two free agents for similar deals, both in value and years. But they chose to come to New York because that is a place that they felt they could win the cup. And thus, they enabled the cup to be won in New York.
Many people have claimed that the signings of Gomez and Drury were detrimental to the Rangers. It is not a given that Gomez or Drury will have good chemistry with Jagr. That is something you gave up with the loss of Nylander. But good chemistry with Jagr is a short-term goal and the Rangers were looking to improve long-term. If Gomez and/or Drury do not find chemistry with Jagr, the next two years will be disastrous. After that, who knows? Gomez did not have good stats and 13 goals isnt enough to be paid over 7 mil per year IF he was being signed by a defensive-minded team, i.e. the Devils. But just as Nylander is more valuable to the Capitals, Gomez is more valuable to a more offensive-minded team, i.e. the Rangers. However, he will probably not produce as well offensively as his salary indicates he should. Drury is a better player in my opinion and if Drury is worth his deal, then Gomez is being overpaid. His play may prove me wrong and may prove me right but that is yet to be seen. And if he is not better than he was last year, Sather will be crucified by the fans because, after all, hindsight is 20-20. However with the limited sight we have now, Gomez may be worth the 7 million dollars. If he is, great. If not, its the same old Rangers and I understand why people are saying that. But the fact is, the Rangers had holes to fill, needed two top-tier centers and got them. If they only got one, wouldnt the team look alot worse?
Those who believed that the Rangers needed a defenseman more than a center are mistaken. Because the under-rated defense of the Rangers ended the season with the second-best goals-against in the eastern conference, and that being done with the likes of Sandis Ozolinch and Aaron Ward playing half the season. Tyutin, Girardi, Mara and Staal are young, solid defensemen who will only get better. Defense is not an issue, especially with Lundqvist playing great in goal.
Drury is known for his leadership on and off the ice and anyone who questions his ability is either foolish or jealous. The guy has been successful wherever he has gone. He was well worth his contract. And there might be no worries about locking up a lot of money for the future because with Jagr, Straka and Shanahan leaving within two years, and with the salary cap going up, there will be plenty of cash to go around. Then again, with Lundqvist geting an extention this summer, Jagr's cap hit 4+million more next season (if he opts to stay) and most of the defense becoming free agents next summer, the Rangers may find themselves strapped for cash in 2009. If the Cullen trade was not to make a trade, than Sather may have realized that he reverted back to his old ways and tried to correct himself. And if the salary cap doesnt go up for whatever reason, they are definately in trouble. At this point, however, this doesnt seem to be the same old Rangers MENTALITY because the old Rangers would be so focused on short term goals that they would overspend for old, big name players. Now, granted they are overpaying, but at least they are paying MARKET VALUE prices for young players. Will the result be the same as when Holik, Lindros etc. were signed? Possibly.
All I can say now is that we will see how Drury and Gomez play this season for the next 5-7 seasons and how the Rangers manage with less cap room and no big-name defensman. After all is said and done, we can decide whether it was worth it or not. All of my justification of the signings may be wrong and this offseason may have been awful for the future. But until then, the Rangers SEEM to have had the best off-season of any NHL team. But for anyone to give the cup to the Rangers now or to say Sather ruined the team again is wrong. You can say that five years from now. See you then.