While, he isn’t the Russian Unrestricted Free Agent fans wanted the Rangers to sign, Alexander Frolov has sparked a lot of conversation among Blueshirt fanatics. Sentiment runs from those who think it is a win-win situation given his one year contract to those who see Frolov as another Russian enigma following in the footsteps of Nikolai Zherdev.

The 28-year-old LW/RW reportedly spurned a multi-year deal with the KHL to sign as one-year deal at $3 million for the Rangers because he wanted to stay in the NHL. It is gratifying to see a player actually take a pay cut (he made $4 million last year) to come and play for the Rangers.

The 6-2/205 Frolov has had an up-and-down type career, much like Zherdev. However, unlike the newest Flyer, the newest Ranger forward has five seasons of 20+ goals (two of them 30+ goals) as compared to Zherdev who has had only three seasons of 20+ goals. Last season was the first time since Frolov’s rookie season in 2002-2003 that he hasn’t scored more than 20 goals – and even then he missed by just one goal.

Of course Frolov’s scoring has been on the decline during the last seasons after posting a career year in 2006-2007 (82-35-36-71). To be fair, Frolov did miss time in 2007-2008 (groin) and 2008-2009 (lower body injury – could it have been a return of groin problems?).

According to Scott Cullen of TSN.ca, Frolov’s problems last season (81-19-32-51) stemmed from a lack of ice time – especially on the power play. During his record-setting season, Frolov saw nearly four and a half minutes of power play time as compared to just 2:17 last season (the lowest amount of PP time since his rookie season 2002-2003).

Cullen wrote that the Kings were “under-utilizing” Frolov because, “As a player with his point-producing pedigree, Frolov wasn’t being put in the best position to score by the Kings. He was relegated to the second power play unit and spent much of his even-strength time on a line with Michal Handzus; a solid veteran two-way pivot, but not a game-breaking scorer by any means.”

Rich Hammond of LA Kings Insider provided some insight when he interviewed LA GM Dean Lombardi in October 2009 after Frolov was benched for a game.

“Well, I don’t think it’s the first time that a player who hasn’t been performing has been taken out of the lineup. It’s either, you can cut down on their ice time or they’re not going to dress, Lombardi explained to Hammond. “There’s two issues here. When a player with ability is not performing to the best of his ability, it’s not only him that you’re trying to get going. You’ve got to be aware of the message it sends to the rest of your team. Is this going to be acceptable?”

You have to admit that Lombardi’s explanation does leave room for some fireworks around the Rangers if Frolov lives up to the nickname his opponents are giving him online – “Fro-loaf” – something that Coach John Tortorella will not take lightly.

For his part the coach is saying all the right words a month or so before training camp starts.

“He’s a guy that has produced offensively in the NHL and has had a struggle the past couple of years,” Tortorella told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com. “I think that was a situation he was put in, but I was not privy to watching all of their games. I know he wasn’t getting the offensive minutes he was getting early in the year. We’re excited about having him. He’ll get the opportunity right away to see if he can play on the left side with Gabby. I’m not sure who the center is going to be. But I’m anxious to see them play together. He’s killed penalties. I think he’s fairly responsible away from the puck. It was a good signing. We need to up the offense.”

Say what you will about Frolov’s declining numbers or his possible inconsistent play, the day he put his name to a Rangers contract was the day he became the Rangers second best offensive threat behind Marian Gaborik. Only Gaborik and Vinny Prospal had more points and those two players along with Brandon Dubinsky had more goals (Ryan Callahan also scored 19).

While Tortorella and Glen Sather have paid lip service the company line of giving their younger players every chance to make the team, Frolov’s signing shows that management does not have as much faith in their prospects ability as they are letting on in the media.

Torts spent time at the end of the season talking up Dale Weise and how he wanted to see the youngster take that next step. While taking a look at possible lines for next season, it is hard to see how Weise, or any youngster, fits unless a couple of moves are made – which could be a strong possibility given the team’s needs both on the ice and in terms of salary cap space.

Here is one version of how the lines might look:

Alexander Frolov-Erik Christenson-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan
Vinny Prospal-Chris Drury-Sean Avery/Brandon Prust
Derek Boogaard-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust/Sean Avery

It is possible that Weise or another youngster could take Boyle’s spot, but that would require the Rangers entering the season with their captain as a $7 million fourth line center – hardly the type of image the Blueshirts want to project from day one.

The other possibility is that the coach’s favorite whipping boy, Avery, could be traded to open up a roster spot and about $2 million in cap space. If Avery is dealt, a spot would open up on the third line.

Another roster casualty could be Mats Zuccarello-Aasen – especially if capgeek.com’s numbers are correct. They list his salary at $1.7 million – which includes a bonus payment. However, if his cap hit is closer to his base salary of $900,000, then MZA still has a shot at making the Opening Night roster.

Whether Frolov’s signing prevents MZA, Weise or another prospect from making the team or forces the trade of an Avery, there is one thing we can be certain about – Wade Redden’s run as a New York Ranger is over as of Training Camp 2010.

The Rangers are about $1 million or so under the regular season cap of $59.4 million and they can go 10% above that during the summer. If you figure Marc Staal’s new contract to have an annual cap hit of $4 million or so, then you can figure the Rangers summer cap hit to be about $63.5 million. Once you subtract Redden’s $6.5 million, then the Blueshirts would be at about $57 million.

However demoting Redden means the Rangers defense corps would only have one veteran – Michal Rozsival. Odds are the team would have to go and get a veteran via trade or bargain basement free agent signing.

The Frolov contract not only spells the end of Redden, it also eliminates the Rangers ability to go out and acquire a bona fide first line center. The Rangers would not have the cap room to loom to trade for a Brad Richards (one year left at $7.8 million) or Marc Savard ($4 million cap hit through 2003/14).

In the long run, even if the Rangers didn’t acquire Frolov, trading for one of these centers would present another set of problems. Even with Redden demoted, the Rangers would probably need to move another salary or two to fit in Richards. As for Savard, it might not make sense to make a four year commitment on a player who has a history of concussion problems – even if his cap hit is reasonable.

With all things considered, the Frolov contract is probably a win-win situation because it is only a one year commitment to a player who is desperate to put up a big year so that he can get one final shot at a big contract in the prime of his career.

While the Rangers might be near or at their salary cap threshold, it appears that the Blueshirts might not yet be done with the wheeling-and-dealing.

“I don’t want to put words in Glen’s mouth,” Tortorella remarked to Gross. “I don’t think you ever stop. We need improvements, maybe up the middle of the ice and we’re still fairly young in the back end. I’m not sure how it will work out but I still think you’re always looking to improve the hockey club and Glen is doing that. A lot of things personnel-wise before the season could change. You can’t get locked in. Things could change the rest of the summer.”

Here is Frolov’s scouting Report from the Toronto Star:

ASSETS: Has excellent size and reach. Can be an impact forward at both ends of the ice. Is great at maintaining possession of the puck in tight space and excels in the corners.

FLAWS: Is inconsistent in all areas of the game and needs to do a better job of bringing his ‘A’ game to the rink more often. Passes up too many shots.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Inconsistent two-way winger.

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