A Look Ahead To Free Agency
By Jared Sexton at RangersUnlimited.com (Twitter: @NYRUnlimited)
Free agency kicks off on July 5, a little less than a month away. It’s a time of the year that’s been a bit of an adventure during the Sather administration. It’s produced such blunders as Bobby Holik, Wade Redden, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Ales Kotalik and Donald Brashear. Below I list five targets on which I feel the Rangers should lock in, and three players I feel they should avoid.
Players to Target:
1. Mark Streit
The Rangers’ need for a strong power-play defenseman needs no introduction. Streit definitely fits the calling, as he’s averaged 3.63 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 4 ice time in the past five seasons. A spot in the lineup could be opened up for Streit if Michael Del Zotto is traded for a scoring forward, and Marc Staal is moved to the right side to make better use of his one good eye. Of course, the problem is, Streit is going to get paid. He is the premier defenseman on the free agent market without competition, and he recently turned down $14.25 million over three seasons from the Islanders. To complicate matters, Streit is 35, so any contract he signs will be a 35+ contract. It would take at least a three year commitment to win Streit’s services, and I would be very hesitant to give him a fourth year.
2. Danny Briere
I’m operating under the assumption that Philadelphia will use an amnesty buyout on the final two seasons of Briere’s contract. Briere is another player who could help the Rangers’ hurting power play. Briere has averaged 4.04 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 4 ice time over the past five seasons. He is also one of the most established playoff performers in the league, with 50 goals and 59 assists in 108 career playoff games. I would figure Briere would project as a winger for the Rangers, while serving as some much needed insurance at center for Stepan and Brassard. Briere is also 35. It would likely take only a two-year commitment to secure his services.
3. Michael Ryder
Ryder is an alternate to Briere. He is another right-handed shooting forward with a history of success on the power play. Ryder has averaged 4.31 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 4 ice time over the past five seasons. Ryder, 33, is below Briere on my list, not because he’s an inferior player, but because he’ll likely command a great salary over a larger number of years. Ryder’s game isn’t pleasing to the eye, but his goal scoring record speaks for itself.
4. Raffi Torres
The downside to Torres goes without saying: he plays on the edge and the NHL will suspend him for just about anything at this point. His trouble with the law is well-documented, but his proficiency at scoring at even strength gets much less attention. Torres has averaged 1.82 points per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time over his past five seasons. To put that into perspective, the Rangers had only four forwards exceed that even-strength scoring pace this season. I feel that Torres is extremely undervalued and the contract he receives on the open market will reflect that. San Jose acquired him at the deadline for a third round pick, which illustrates how he value is negatively skewed among NHL GMs. Torres would bring some sandpaper in the games in which he is not suspended.
5. Matt Hendricks
Hendricks would fill the role of fourth-line center and penalty killer while adding a bit of snarl to the bottom six. Hendricks, who will turn 32 in June, hasn’t been an offensive producer for a while. It’s been two seasons since Hendricks has scored as much as a point per four games. He is however, an excellent faceoff man, as he’s been over 53% in each of the past three seasons, including a 56.8% rate this year. Hendricks can also play wing if another center pushes Boyle down the depth chart.
Players to Avoid:
1. Bryan Bickell
Bickell raises a number of red flags for me. He has scored 7 goals so far in the playoffs, and players who go on these miracle playoff runs tend to get overpaid when they hit free agency. Joel Ward and Sean Bergenheim both got lucrative four year deals after big postseasons. I’m also always cautious about giving physical players long term contracts that will expire in their 30s. You just never how a physical player’s body is going to hold up. The list of physical players who have signed long-term deals that have turned out poorly for the teams that signed them is long: Darius Kasparaitis, Darcy Tucker, Mark Parrish, Jay McKee, Mike Komisarek, Trent Hunter, Colin White, Mike Commodore, and Ethan Moreau among others.
2. Ryane Clowe
Clowe missed games this season with a shoulder injury and concussions, and when he played, he didn’t inspire confidence that his body was going to hold out much longer. Clowe will turn 31 before the season starts. The Rangers would have to forfeit their 2014 second-round pick if they re-sign Clowe, removing any desire I would otherwise have to re-sign the winger.
3. David Clarkson
David Clarkson is a hockey player that any team would love to have. Naturally, then, those teams that would love to have him are going to bid for him this summer, and he is going to get paid. Clarkson has to (and is willing to) grind for every point that he gets, and as for reasons described above, I don’t think paying for physical players on the free agent market works out well for teams too often.