The New York Rangers opened up on Day 1 of free agency with a whole lot of -- nothing. Sure, they added a few incremental pieces and lost a few others, but this free-agency period doesn't have the glitz of years past -- a contrast to last year especially, when the Rangers added the coveted unrestricted free agent Brad Richards on Day 2. Typically, the big-spending team from New York inches to open its checkbook for every marquee free agent. But this year that is highly unlikely to be the case. A young team with a blossoming nucleus, New York can now add the right players on its own terms to fit its mix.
The Rangers really had three main goals for the offseason: re-sign Martin Biron, find a top-six winger and find a right-handed defenseman. For one, forward Zach Parise said on break-up day with the Devils that there was "no way" he'd sign with the Rangers, and they never made much of a play for him Sunday, at least according to reports. Though they could use his right-handed shot and strong two-way game, defenseman Ryan Suter doesn't appear to be a target for the Rangers, who is said to be seeking a 12-year deal worth $100 million.
To find a top-line forward, the Rangers realize they'll have to use the trade rout. It's clear that general manager Glen Sather wants Columbus' Rick Nash. A deal will get done, it seems, once its general manager, Scott Howson, lowers his demands. With the youth on defense on the NHL club and a guy like Tim Erixon ready to be given a shot, New York doesn't necessarily need to go crazy for a defenseman, though it lacks someone with power-play smarts on the right side. This piece will likely be added in the coming days, but the Rangers don't necessarily need to be in a rush and can afford to let the market take shape and possibly go after someone like Matt Carle after Suter signs. Beyond their three objectives, the rest of free agency is purely filling in the gaps.
Even though they don't seem to be in the discussions for the top-tier guys, the Rangers didn't sit around on Day 1. The theme of the day centered on toughness. Sather was prepared to lose Brandon Prust, a heart-and soul player, willing fighter and excellent penalty killer, but one with very low offensive upside. Prust earned $800,000 last season, and he will now get an average of $2.5 million per year for four season from the Canadiens. As much of a beloved Rarnger he became, the Rangers were right to pass on that price.
What the Rangers did to counter the reality that they'd lose Prust, was sign former Penguin Arron Asham, to a two-year $2 million deal. This signing was made official before Prust's, but the front office had the inkling Prust would be out of its price range. Asham, who had five goals and 11 assists last year, is more of an enforcer -- he had 76 penalty minutes as well. He's a bit less skilled than Prust and probably won't play on the penalty kill, but not $1.5 million worse. He and Mike Rupp will likely be the two to comprise the tough fourth line. New York also addressed keeping its big boys on the roster by re-signing 25-year-old defenseman Stu Bickel to a two-year $1.5 million contract. Bickel, beyond being another guy not afraid to drop the gloves, grew in the defensive role as the season went on and is not a bad sixth/seventh blueliner. The Rangers also re-signed Kris Newbury to a two-year, two-way deal. Newbury has a scoring knack for a bully-type, but will continue to be a tweener at the NHL level. Sather also brought in ex-Islanders tough guy Michael Haley, who has played 43 games tallied three points and has 151 penalty minutes. He's likely ticketed for the AHL.
The Rangers will have to make due without John Mitchell, who left for the Avalanche for two years at an average of $1.1 a year. Mitchell made $725,000 last season and was a versatile player who was good on faceoffs, though he's still just a bottom-six guy. Rugged fight-only John Scott left for the Sabres, while AHL goalie Chad Johnson left for the Coyotes on a two-way deal. All in all, Prust was the only player the Rangers lost who really exemplified and was crucial to the team's identity.
The Rangers have about $18 million in salary cap space and nearly a full roster to work with. Michael Del Zotto must be re-signed. Other than that, a defenseman or two and maybe a forward will be added in free agency. The Rangers have minor-league youth ready to vie for spots in the lineup next season, so they'll be careful to not add players that could block the the youngsters' chances.
Their most substantial pieces will be brought in via the trade route, though, so fans should not be disappointed with free agency period devoid of excitement.