“FREE” AGENTS HARDLY…BUT EXCITING THOUGH

New York RBY: Adam Gavriel

This past week the New York Rangers brought in two new faces and brought another back.

The main acquisition, as everyone no doubt has learned, is that the team bought was Brad Richards but what President and General Manager Glen Sather is taking the most heat on regarding this signing is not the salary, but the terms of the deal, specifically the No-Movement Clause on a NINE year deal.

The NINE year commitment to Richards’ contract will pay him $57 million in the first six years of the deal, $24 million in the first two, leaves the Rangers new first line center only $1 million a year in the final three years of his contract. The contract from Richards’ point of view is that this is a retirement deal. From an observer’s point of view, this is clear, even to the naked eye, as  cap circumvention tactics. However, it is also perfectly legal according to the current NHL CBA.

When Richards (now 31) turns 37 and is winding down his career, he’ll have already earned $57 million of James Dolan’s money off this contract. Richards future grandchildren won’t exactly be applying for food stamps given that he  just finished playing out a contract that paid him $39 million. The measly $3 million left on the deal won’t exactly cause him many sleepless nights.

For the Rangers, buying Richards out at $3million won’t be nearly as painful as the $^million hit they technically should be taking. Richards will have plenty of reasons to walk away, basically, $96 million reasons.

In terms of what’s coming forward on the ice, t’s obvious to see what Richards brings to the Rangers; filling the hole of top center that has been around since the Michael NylanderJaromir Jagr days, and the role of PP-QB that the Rangers haven’t had since Brian Leetch departed, but what about the guys like Mike Rupp and Ruslan Fedotenko?

When Rupp signed many believed it was a safe bet that he would be taking Fedotenko’s spot as the Left Winger on the Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust combo that was so good to the Rangers last season, but a few hours later Fedotenko was back in the mix.

That leaves the organ-eye-zation with a glut of bottom six forwards, with  Rupp, Fedotenko, Prust, Boyle (who remains an unsigned RFA) and Sean Avery and Wolchek Wolski. Throw into the mix a slew of hopeful rookies, like the recently re-signed Dale Weise as well as Carl Hagelin and others, this will likely be the most competitive training camp for jobs with the Blueshirts in recent memory.

It is however times like these when speculation as to upcoming moves by the team take the front seat. Add to the mix, the ever growing list of solid defensive prospects in the system, it seem to be pointing to some sort of movement in the works.

The biggest hole remaining on the roster sits on the top tier to the left of Richards and Gaborik and if recent hockey history teaches anything, it’s not the talent the Rangers should be looking for, but chemistry.

Marty Straka and Nylander were talented NHL players. But their placement together with Jaromir Jagr on the Rangers top line gave the Rangers their best top line in several years. It wasn’t because they were the most skilled guys in the world, but because they had what it took to be successful working together. With Jagr, Straka experienced back-to-back 70-point seasons from 2005-2007 and Nylander recorded a career high 79-points in 2005-2006 only to better that with 83 in 2006-2007.

Jumping the gun to trade for a highly sought after name could be the death of Richards and Gaborik if it’s the wrong name as it was for Jagr when Scott Gomez was brought in to step into the pivot role when Nylander’s contract demands were more than Sather was willing to shell out.

The best solution may still be to go out and acquire that Top Six talent, but trying to solve the problem from within the house may be a better move.

Depth gives birth to competition; competition breeds the best in everyone and what the Rangers have right now is an ample mount of talented players to mine someone from.

Assuming the successful re-signing of all team’s remaining RFAs, the Rangers have a solid stockpile of capable left wingers and other forwards who have varying degree’s of proven worth.

Names like Wolski, Avery, Fedotenko, Rupp, Hagelin, and Brandon Dubinsky don’t jump  the screen as names that you might want in that pairing, but then who thought Straka would be what he turned out to be before the 2005-2006 campaign? Two skilled guys like Richards and Gaborik may not need another highly skilled guy to compliment them, what they made need is what is proven to work.

What’s that?

Richards is not a hard player to please. Being at near a point-per-game pace in his entire career he’s has proven himself to be as one of the rare players that makes those around him better. The thought may be to just pair him with anyone and he’ll find a way to make it work.

Gaborik on the other hand seems to be a rare exception to the rule.

It’s no secret that Gaborik struggled mightily last season, void of any clear puck handling and passing machine center to help set him up Gaborik struggled. Bringing in Richards should solve this problem.

Gaborik won’t be asked to handle the puck like he was asked to last season. Instead he’ll find the open spots in the offensive zone and set himself up for his the lethal wrist shot and put more pucks in the net. With a scoring threat and a playmaker on the top line, the call may be to go out and find a player unafraid of doing the dirty work.

In his first season on Broadway in 09-10, Gaborik played mostly with Vinny Prospal in the middle with Dubinsky on the other flank. Prospal was the playmaker and Dubinsky the grit and corner-man. If Dubinsky is not the choice, then perhaps it’s Avery, or even Rupp.

What questions remain?

What do they do about Proposal? Do they stand pat and let everyone and everything work itself out in camp? Who gets the top line LW spot? Who’s going to fill out the bottom defensive pairing? Who will round out the Rangers bottom sic forwards? What rookies, if any, are going to steal a job from a veteran and which veteran will that be?

Depth gives birth to competition; competition breeds exceptional players.

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