It used to be a day of excitement and anticipation, like Christmas morning. Now it’s about dread. Nobody is sure what the Rangers ought to be doing Thursday, or might do, but a lot of you are understandably nervous.
Because a lot of things could happen July 1, and a lot of those are bad.
So I’m going to make a suggestion to Glen Sather and Co., and use the same word George Costanza used when pitching his idea for a sitcom to NBC executives: “Nothing.”
To which the president of NBC replied” “What does that mean?”
Honestly, if the Rangers did absolutely zero on Thursday, I think that would be fine. I also wouldn’t mind if they dipped their toes into the pool and came out with one or two upgrade-type players … guys who are better than what they have at any position, but not at the ridiculous price of a, for example, Ilya Kovalchuk, who is going to want $9 million or something in that ‘hood.
I know the Rangers are in desperate need of top-line forwards and first-pair defensemen. But even if they get one of each, they’re only a team that can contend for a playoff berth. So I say, stay the course.
The course was good last year, even if the result was not. The course included incorporating more youth into the lineup, and there’s more (Evgeny Grachev, maybe Ryan McDonagh) coming behind it.
Stay that course. Then in the fall, take Wade Redden’s contract off the cap books by sending him to Brashear country, the city with the crooked mayor. And if you can trade Michal Rozsival, do that. Then continue to develop the kids, see what you’ve got this year, see if John Tortorella can cultivate it (if not, he’s out) until the next wave (Chris Kreider, Ryan Bourque, Ethan Werek) start to produce NHLers. By then, you’re getting to the end of Chris Drury’s contract, too. And you will have all this youth and all this cap space, and then, who knows, maybe you can have something that resembles the Chicago Blackhawks, not a patchwork collection of players that can’t contend for the big prize.
So for now, this July 1, I’d take a look at players like Matthew Lombardi (age 28) and Colby Armstrong (27, but apparently headed to Pitt), or any of the under-30 guys who might fit with Marian Gaborik on the top line, if they will come for a reasonable price. Once they start talking $5M per and more, walk away.
Then I’d take a look at my own guys, and re-sign Marc Staal and Brandon Prust, try to re-sign Jody Shelley (or another legit enforcer) and maybe even Vinny Prospal if the market brings nothing else, and maybe Eric Christensen. I’d re-sign Dan Girardi, too, unless I could trade him. I think the Rangers could definitely use an upgrade on defense.
As for McDonagh, I get the feeling he’s testing the water before he makes like he wants to sign. He has leverage in that he would be going back to a great situation if he returns to college for his senior year. I am guessing that he wants some assurances that he will have a job, and that he will play, and that he won’t be in Hartford (with Redden and Brashear).
I think the Rangers are still high on Matt Gilroy, even though he found himself in street clothes in the stretch drive. He needs work. I think they have bigger plans for Artem Anisimov this season. So I don’t see what good it will do to bring in older, expensive free agents to push these kids down. Let them grow into something big together. Then you can spend whatever Jim Dolan has leftover after the Knicks’ shopping spree to make a good team better next year or the year after.
I just don’t think that happens by signing one player to a gigantic contract this year. Signing a Kovalchuk or another offensive star improves their chances to make the playoffs, no doubt, but it doesn’t help the goal of becoming a Cup contender. Staying the course might accomplish that.
Maybe I’m wrong about that. I don’t know. You could argue that signing Kovalchuk now gives you two top threats for the next four years, and though that will tie up your cap space for that time period, you can then build around them with your youth. That’s a gamble the Rangers’ management has to consider, I suppose. In other words, two years from now, would you rather have all these young players and cap space and hope there’s a player of Kovalchuk’s caliber on the market; or would you rather have Kovalchuk already in hand, all the young players, and no cap space?
Here’s the sure thing: We can expect the unexpected on Thursday.
AFTERNOON UPDATE, 1:05 P.M..: Sad news. Willie Huber passed away at the age of 52.
One of the most misunderstood and underappreciated Rangers ever. Booed often because of his size and his lack of real toughness. If he’d been 6-1 instead of 6-5 or whatever he was, maybe the physical stuff wouldn’t have been expected. He was a terrific puck-handler, passer, shooter, pretty good at moving people out of the crease, too. Just not a banger and not a fighter.
And this: He was a good, good man. A guy his teammates truly liked. I knew him pretty well, and he was a gentleman who never complained about the booing. He will be missed.