First, and foremost, please do not judge this article as coming from the opinion of an Islanders fan. I am as unbiased as humanly possible in this aspect, and I truly tell it how it is. It is for this reason that I felt obligated to put together a little piece on the Rangers, and how the toughest part for them, and their management, actually begins now. Granted, they just played a tough, and physically demanding series with the Capitals, the Rangers problems are just as much off the ice as they are on the ice. Let us take a look at one of the biggest problems the Rangers faced this past series and a big problem the Rangers face heading into the offseason.
You had to know this was coming, but Sean Avery was detrimental to the Rangers during this playoff series. In fact, I truly feel it was his distractive ways that harmed the Rangers, and their focus, enough to sway the series. Granted he played very well in games 1, 2, and 7, he was detrimental to the Rangers focus in games 3, 4, and 5, and his play in game 6 was less than stellar. With foolish penalties being taken at inappropriate times, especially in games 3 and 4, and a lack of offensive production in the first four games of the series, Tortorella knew that he had to sit Avery for game 5. If Tortorella had played him, in my opinion, he would have suffered the consequences of possibly seeing Avery play his selfish, detrimental game that had haunted the Rangers in games 3 and 4, regardless of the Rangers win in game 4. By sitting Avery, Tortorella taught Avery that his nonsense would not be tolerated, and that if he ever wanted to play under him again, he would stick to the team game rather than his perennial selfishness.
To be fair to Avery, he was definitely a nice spark plug, once again, when he was picked up by the Rangers on re entry waivers. His production, which was good overall (18GP, 5G, 7A, 12P, +4, and 34PIM), coupled with the fact that he was able to draw a tremendous number of penalties and put a fire under the Rangers, led the Rangers to yet another playoff birth. His play last night in game 7 reflected these 18 regular season games more than his play throughout the rest of the series. Tortorella, who took notice of his great play last night in game 7, hopes that Avery can return next season and play every game as well as he played last night. Tortorella furthered his comments by explaining that he feels Avery plays best when he is on the edge, but not crossing that edge. Avery did just that last night, and for the sake of Ranger fans, I hope he can continue to play that style of hockey. Hopefully, for Avery as well, his teammates will learn to trust him, and they will not let his negative displays become a locker room issue.
Since the 2008-2009 season is over for the Rangers, I think it is best that we look forward to analyze one of the biggest hurdles the Rangers will have to overcome in order to be prepared for a more successful 2009-2010 season. Ironically, this problem is geared more towards management that it is towards the players. To narrow the focus even more, this problem lies on General Manager Glen Sather’s shoulders. With 9 players locked into one way contracts for the 2009-2010 season (Gomez, Drury, Naslund, Voros, Avery, Redden, Rozsival, Girardi, and Gilroy), and Staal locked into his entry level deal still (and obviously going to make the roster), the Rangers have only 10 players locked up for $43.735 million. If the cap remains the same, for arguments sake, the Rangers will have only $12.965 million to fill out the remainder of the roster, which is approximately 10 to 11 more players. While it is not an impossible task by any means, there are some problems that Sather does face, as he has a few very talented free agents looking for raises.
Restricted free agent Brandon Dubinsky, a truly talented center and playmaker, has proven that he belongs at the NHL level beyond a reasonable doubt. With the Rangers already having two centers, Gomez and Drury, signed to absurd contracts for lengthy periods of time, Dubinsky finds himself in quite a bind. Although he has been able to play his natural center position on the second line, Dubinsky’s future financial situation is where the problems arise. This past season, Dubinsky earned approximately $633,333.00 in the final year of his entry level deal. Thanks to his stellar and physical play, Dubinsky is in line for a huge raise. In my opinion, it would be fair to sign a player of Dubinsky’s caliber for about $3.5 million for three years, as the money is not really over the top, and the three years gives a fair amount of time to assess just how far Dubinsky will develop. Furthermore, if an unproven player like Gilroy can receive a contract of $1.75 million from Sather, why shouldn’t a proven player like Dubinsky receive much more than that? I can almost guarantee teams will come knocking with offer sheets in that range of money, if not more. Does Sather match the offer, or just take compensatory picks for allowing him to walk? What do you think?
Next, onto Zherdev and Antropov. These two players, hands down two of the most naturally talented Rangers on the roster, are also in their free agent year. Nikolai Zherdev, a restricted free agent who was acquired in a very crafty trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets (props to Sather for pulling that one off), had an excellent and productive regular season for the Rangers. Watching him handle the puck is truly a thing of beauty, as he might have some of the best hands in the game today. Although his point production remained about the same this year, Zherdev worked on his defensive game and finished the regular season with the first plus rating of his career. Earning $2.5 million this season, it is fair to say that he will earn a decent raise, and a decent term contract. If the Rangers wish to sign him, I’d say Sather would need to offer somewhere between $3.5 and $4.0 million over three to four years in order to keep him on the roster. As for Antropov, the moving tower, his play helped to spark the Rangers immediately from deadline day right into the playoffs. His playoff production, which was less than spectacular to say the least, could affect his market value, but only slightly. With the need for big players who can skate, Antropov should find himself in a nice bargaining situation. This past season, Antropov earned $2.050 million and is looking at a decent raise as well. If the Rangers wish to retain him, he could be seeking between $3.5 and $4.0 million for two years, at the very minimum. Considering the similar and impressive offensive output from these two talented players, and the need for more goal scoring on the Rangers roster, these two could get just what they want. What do you think?
As you can see, these are three of the many problems Glen Sather has cut out for him this offseason. If these three players do get the contracts I stated above from Sather, the Rangers could be looking at approximately $6.5 million to spend on 7 to 8 players. Obviously, this is not going to happen, especially considering the Rangers need to sign a back up goalie, as well as a solid shutdown defenseman. Sather truly has a tough decision of whether to keep one or two of the aforementioned players. If I was Sather, I would keep Antropov and Dubinsky, as Antropov provides some size that the Rangers sorely need in the offensive zone and along the boards. Although Zherdev had a good season, he would be the player I let go. I would, however, qualify him and allow teams to make offers to him. In the event that I do not match the offer, at least I get some decent draft picks in return.
If you were Glen Sather, dealing with many more free agents (both unrestricted and restricted) than just listed in this blog (Morris, Mara, Betts, Callahan, etc.) what would you do this offseason?
-Justin Marques (NYIsles16)