FAN-FARE with ADAM GAVRIEL

New York RangersBY: Adam Gavriel

In our ever-expanding pursuit of making Howlings.net the best coverage possible on the entire New York Rangers organization, we have been looking long and hard for a young person who could write well, knew the Blueshirts and could share what they felt in an intelligent, cognitive and logical way. We think we’ve found that person in Adam Gavriel.

Adam has been writing his Rangers-centric blog, NYRBlueshirts.com for the past couple of years. Adam is NOT a professional journalist, but he is an avid hockey fan and his passion is the New York Rangers.

Adam begins his new column writing strictly from the fan perspective about things concerning the Rangers. We’re calling it Fan-Fare.

Plan B: No Richards, No Trade, No Problem

The day that unrestricted free agents are eligible to be signed by all teams is just around the corner.

Last year it was Ilya Kovalchuk, the year before that it was Marian Gaborik, 2008 was the Wade Redden year and 2007 was Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.  July 1st 2011 the biggest name on the market will be Brad Richards as it has been disclosed that the Dallas Stars will not be offering him a contract.

As it seems to be every year, the New York Rangers will once again be going after the biggest name on the market.

There is no denying that Richards fills two of the Rangers’ biggest holes. He can step right in and be the number one center this team hasn’t had since the Nylander-Jagr connection and at the same time he can also be the power-play quarterback they’ve lacked since the departure of Brian Leetch.

Richards is performing at nearly a point per game clip during his NHL career and he has an excellent history with Rangers head coach John Tortorella.

Seems like a match made in heaven, however in the NHL cap world, nothing is ever that simple.

According to Larry Brooks and the NY Post, Richards will hit the free agent market seeking a long-term contract worth a minimum of $7million per year. If this reporting is accurate, I’d advise the Rangers to stay away! Not only that, but you have to believe with Richards refusing to waive the no-movement clause he has with the Stars before free agency starts, it appears that Richards wants to hit the market on July 1st as a free man with all the leverage in his pocket as teams bid for his mercenary talents.

Richards, although a very impressive player and one of the best centers in the NHL, is 31 years old and looks to be at the beginning of the decline of his career. Coming off a shortened season in ’10-’11 due to a concussion, you just never know how those injuries heal (see: Crosby, Sidney) or how they will affect him long-term.

Throwing another seven-figure long term deal at a free agent just doesn’t seem reasonable for a Rangers club that has been talking so much about growing from the youth from within their system. But yet the team is planning on buying out their team captain to make cap space for some move.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the Rangers don’t bring in Richards, and they don’t trade for a bona-fide number one center like a Stephen Weiss or Paul Stastny…what then?

Well, then the same holes remain at #1 center and power-play quarterback.

If I were the Rangers GM, here’s how I’d do it…

Operating at a $61.5million cap the Rangers currently have $20,512,500 of cap space available. Add in Drury buyout savings of $3,333,333 and that brings NYR to a total of $23,845,833.

First and foremost, the restricted free agents need to be signed.

Brandon Dubinsky should be offered a three-year, $3.8million per contract. Comparatively, the Sabres’ Drew Stafford scored 31 goals and added 21 assists this year and when he signed as an RFA recently it was a four-year deal at $4mil per.

Sign the captain-in-waiting, Ryan Callahan to a five-year $22 million contract ($4.4mm per). The five-year deal buys out four of Callahan’s unrestricted free agent years which is why the huge raise is necessary.

Make Michael Sauer an offer he can’t refuse for two-years for $2 million. It’s a very generous raise from Sauer’s current $500K contract and he will still be a RFA when the contract expires.

If we have learned anything about Sather recently, it’s that he’s going to play hardball with some of his RFAs who are not arbitration eligible. Sadly, Artem Anisimov is just such a case. When it’s all said and done Anisimov will have a similar contract to Duibinsky’s second contract of two years at roughly $1.8million each.

Offer Brian Boyle a very competitive two year deal at $1.25million per.

Let Matt Gilroy walk. With the acquisition of Tim Erixon and other prospects like Michael Del Zotto, Pavel Valentenko, Mikhail Pashnin, and Tomas Kundratek all pushing for spots in the Rangers top six this  coming year, I think the 27-year old Matt Gilroy is expendable.

With all these signings the Rangers available cap space will come down to $11,595,833.

For the unrestricted free agents I would let Vinny Prospal and Bryan McCabe walk, and with Alex Frolov already signed to the KHL, that leaves just Steve Eminger and Ruslan Fedotenko.

Fedotenko and Tortorella appear to have a strong relationship. I believe we’ll see Feds get another contract. Something like a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. I also believe that Eminger’s play last season proved to the staff and front office that he can be a serviceable bottom pairing or seventh defenseman. I get Eminger back into the fold with a 1 year $1.333 million deal.

The cap space now stands at $9,012,500.

So where does NYR stand right now?

Wolski – Hole – Gaborik
Dubinsky – Anisimov – Callahan
Avery – Stepan – Zuccarello/Grachev/Hagelin
Fedotenko – Boyle – Prust
Staal – Girardi
McDonagh – Sauer
Del Zotto/Erixon/Valentenko/Pashnin – (Same as LD)
Eminger

What I propose is this.

Knowing that the Rangers belief right now is to get and stay young, it’s hard to believe that they’re going to bring in a veteran guy to take a spot away from a kid that could have it. However at the end of the season John Tortorella went on record stating that this Rangers team lacked skill and that was their ultimate demise. After Richards the UFA market for skilled forwards takes quite the plunge, and I would avoid them.

However there is a move that I would make to beef up the defense and that would be to…

Sign James Wisniewski to a two-year at $4.5mm per. The 27-year old offensive d-man has signed back to back to back one-year contracts, and the $4.5 I’m willing to offer him is a nice raise from his current $3.25 million. Wisniewski would add a veteran presence to the extremely young Rangers blueline and slot right in as the Blueshirts’ #1 power play quarterback. Coming off a season split between the Islanders and Canadiens, Wisniewski recorded 51 points in 75 games including 29 on the power-play (7 goals, 22 assists). No player on the Rangers had double digit power-play assists last season. Wisniewski isn’t afraid to bring it from the point either recording 158 shots on goal in 2010-‘11 which was good for 23rd among NHL defensemen last season.

This brings the cap space available to $4,512,500, enough room for the Rangers to have a ton of wiggle room at the trade deadline if necessary.

My opening night Rangers roster would be…

Wolski – Stepan – Gaborik
Dubinsky – Anisimov – Callahan
Avery – Christensen – Zuccarello
Fedotenko – Boyle – Prust

Staal – Girardi
McDonagh – Sauer
Erixon – Wisniewski
Eminger

This allows Derek Stepan to grow into the role of top line center. Last season for a while remember that the combination of Wojtek Wolski – Stepan – Mats Zuccarello was the Rangers most offensively creative line, and it was the lack of a sniper or finisher that did them in and halted their production. This allows Gaborik to play every night with arguably the two most offensively gifted Rangers players on the roster. Plus with what Barbara Underhill did to Boyle last year, I’m excited to see what a summer under her watch will do for Wolski.

Assuming a constant, steady growth rate of the Rangers young players we can only assume that this Rangers team will fare better than it’s last season counterpart. Throw in the addition of Wisniewski to settle the power-play down and we’ve got special teams down. In today’s NHL it can be argued that special teams wins games. Wisniewski will certainly help the Rangers test that knowledge.

The addition of Wisniewski and the growth of the Rangers young core automatically makes this Rangers squad a better team than last season.

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