Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free Agency

So, I had planned a big post talking about free agency and everyone's status and all that. I wrote about half of it, too. Then the Del Close Marathon happened, and now here we are, post-July 1.

The executive summary of the post-that-wasn't is "everyone's talking about Parise and Nash, let's clarify why those are totally different situations by talking about free agency." Parise is a free agent, which means he can sign with any team, now that July 1 has happened. Nash is under contract to the Blue Jackets, which means he'd have to be traded, which can happen any time (but probably, now that July 1 has happened, won't happen until after the big-name free agents get settled).

So, as for the Rangers, we can all just sit tight and wait for trades, in terms of the big names. The following players from last season remained under contract through at least 2012-13, and therefore are not going anywhere unless traded: Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Boyle, Rupp, Kreider, Stepan, Hagelin, Staal, Girardi, McDonagh, Sauer, and Lundqvist. (Not counting Mike Sauer, that's 10 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie.) Zach Parise is not coming to New York (seriously, everyone), and the Rangers have no interest in Ryan Suter, which runs us out of all of the useful free agents.

The bad news, of course, is about losing all our mediocre depth, most prominently Brandon Prust, whose free agency took him to Montreal on a 4-year, $2.5 million/year deal. Understand: Glen Sather is right in asserting that Prust is not worth that deal. For perspective, Brian Boyle is currently costing $1.7m under the cap, and Dan Girardi $3.325m. Prust is not worth $2.5m. At the same time, team chemistry is something you need to consider with your 3rd- and 4th-line guys, just like with your backup netminder. While I ultimately agree with Sather's decision to walk, it does make the Rangers a worse team.

Of the remaining Ranger free agents: Stu Bickel re-upped with a 2-year deal at $750,000 per, and Marty Biron returns on a 2-year deal at $1.3m per. Both are great deals for all involved. Meanwhile, John Mitchell went to Colorado with a 2-year, $1.1m/year deal. If he was willing to take that contract, I think the Rangers should have offered it to him, but I like him more than most people do. Jeff Woywitka is returning to his first NHL team, the St. Louis Blues, for a 1-year, $950,000 deal. (Fine, whatever.) Also, John Scott, who played a gargantuan 33:19 for the Rangers, earning 1 shot and 5 penalty minutes for a -1 (totally worth that 5th-round pick, eh?) has gone off and signed with the Sabres for 1 year at $600,000. I don't miss him; I miss the 5th-round pick he used to be.

If he hasn't played in the league for long enough yet, a free agent is restricted - this means that if his old team makes him a good-enough offer (called a qualifying offer), then he's not allowed to sign with any other team (even if he doesn't accept the offer). The Rangers had 3 restricted free agents going into this off-season: Zuccarello, Del Zotto, and Stralman. They sent qualifying offers to all 3, though none have been accepted yet, and Zuccarello is off to the KHL anyway. The only free agents that leaves (from the big club roster) are Fedotenko and Eminger, who are not restricted and have not yet signed with the Rangers or anyone else.

Finally, the Rangers made a couple of additions since the start of free agency on Sunday: a pair of useless "tough guys" to supposedly "replace Prust," which they will not do because Prust's biggest values were on the penalty kill and in the locker room, not in his willingness to lose fights to men twice his size whenever his team asked him to. Micheal Haley comes to us from the always-classy New York Islanders, 2 years, $600,000 per. And, of course, because he has his fingers on the pulse of the fanbase, Slats signed, consummate douchebag Arron Asham to 2 years, $1 million per.

Ultimately, these cheap tough-guy signings are dumb. The Rangers need to get bigger by bringing in bigger, more powerful forwards - guys who play like Jagr, Ovechkin, and Nash - not by bringing in pugilists with hockey sticks that Torts will play 3 minutes a game. Also, Asham is a fuck-for-fuck who shouldn't play at all, and who is already 34. Remember the great Donald Brashear experiment? So do I.

Other than a few AHL moves (reupping Kris Newbury while letting Chad Johnson go to Phoenix and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault go to Columbus...), that's the free agency summary so far. Now we sit tight while Zach Parise and Ryan Suter figure out what to do. In the meanwhile, maybe we hear news about Stralman, Fedotenko, Eminger, or Del Zotto. Once Parise and Suter are settled, we open our ears for trades again, ideally for either Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan.

PS: We can get into salary cap stuff another time, but basically: the Rangers have plenty of room to work with this season - something like $18 million free under the cap with already 18 players under contract. The concern, however, is not backing themselves into a corner for future seasons. In either next off-season or the one after, the following contracts expire: Sauer, McDonagh, Hagelin, Stepan, Anisimov, Biron, Lundqvist, Bickel, Girardi, Kreider, Rupp, Boyle, Callahan, Gaborik.

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