With the New York Rangers parting ways with their captain Chris Drury, it appears that President/GM Glen Sather is setting the stages for an active opening to the NHL Free Agent Frenzy that starts on noon on July 1. As everyone expects, UFA Brad Richards sits at the top of Slats’ wish list. In a perfect world, signing Richards would be a no-brainer. Sadly, the Blueshirts and their fans reside in the real world.

While bringing in Richards might solve the Rangers need for a first-line center and a player to quarterback the power play, it also brings a whole new set of problems.

If the various rumors are true, then Richards is looking for a deal in the seven to eight year range that is worth $50 million plus. In that case, you have traded off one expensive contract for another one. Granted Richards is better player than Drury, but how long will that last?

The last time we saw Richards, he was sitting out the final 10 games of the Dallas Stars season because of a concussion. While no one can ever tell how a player is going to respond from the aftereffects of a concussion, the likelihood of it happening again increases.

The question then changes from will Richards be a better free agent signing than Drury and Scott Gomez to does Richards become the next name in this list: Jeff Beukeboom, Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros and Mike Richter.

Even putting aside the concussion question, and factoring in the cap space the Rangers have, signing Richards to a Drury-like contract still leaves salary cap implications. The organization has to make decisions on their own UFAs like Steve Eminger, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Gilroy, Bryan McCabe and Vinny Prospal.

Even if the Blueshirts decided to pass on all of those players, they have even more imperative decision to make regarding the futures of RFAs like Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer and Pavel Valentenko.

All it takes is for one team below the salary cap floor to offer a Callahan or Dubinsky an over-the-top deal like Edmonton did with Tomas Vanek to push aside all the best laid plans of mice, men and Sather.

Craig Custance of the Sporting News listed Callahan as one of five RFAs who might be at the receiving end of a “poaching effort” from another team. Oh by the way, Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, was the agent who got Vanek his $50 million offer sheet from the Oilers.

Even if we set aside the salary cap implications for the 2011/2012 season, there is potential trouble looming with a new CBA on the horizon. No one knows how the salary cap will work under a new labor agreement.

The NHL instituted a $39 million salary cap for the start of the 2005/2006 season. Entering this season, the salary cap floor is at $48 million. You can bet there are small market teams that are going to want to roll back a salary cap whose floor is $9 million more than the maximum was at the start of the salary cap era seven seasons ago.

No one can envision what kind of amnesty provision will be provided in the new CBA. Will teams be able to buy out any number of players? Will there be a penalty for buying out players – such as a “luxury tax”? Will player salaries be rolled back in order to fit the new cap scale?

Even if we set aside the uncertainty over future salary cap implications, there are current roster implications that have to be considered. The Rangers still need to address their defense corps. They have to find a way to add a veteran or two to help bolster and solidify the blue line. It is hard to fathom a Tim Erixon-Michael Del Zotto third pairing because that would leave the Rangers pretty much with a four defenseman rotation.

If Richards does sign with the Rangers, big lineup decisions will have to be made among the team’s forward corps.

Obviously, Richards becomes the first-line center and Anisimov would most likely return as the second-line center. Now the question becomes what do you do with Boyle and Derek Stepan? Does Stepan move to the wing – most likely on the third line – or does Boyle or Stepan drop to the fourth line? The problem with moving one of them to fourth-line center is John Tortorella is a coach who prefers to run three lines as opposed to playing four lines. Also, do you really want to waste Stepan on a checking line (third line) or on the fourth line?

Quite honestly, out of all of the problems, this last one is the least of the Rangers worries. If it were up to me, the Blueshirts would roll four lines in an effort to ratchet up their forechecking which, in turn, might lessen the time spent in the Rangers defensive zone – thus eliminating the constant need/urge to block shots and risk season-altering injuries.

The one thing that I would not worry about in reference to signing Richards was the negative results the Rangers received in bringing in Drury, Gomez and Wade Redden and in re-signing Michal Rozsival. Signing those players was not the problem. The contracts they received caused the big problem.

Sather’s ultimate mistake was paying all four of those players as if they were top-line players – which they weren’t. Both Drury and Gomez are second-line type centers and would have been fine additions if they were paid as such. In addition, giving Drury a no-movement clause wasn’t one of Sather’s best moves either. There should not have been a need to overpay Drury to return home to the Tri-State area and there should have been no reason to overpay Gomez to stay in the Tri-State area.

As for Redden and Rozsival, the same thing applies to them as well. Both were being paid top defenseman salaries while they were second-pairing defensemen. Rozsival’s career resurgence with the Rangers should have been enough so they did not have to overpay to keep him and Redden was not an elite d-man and should not have been overpaid like one.

In the end, I just don’t know what is best for the Rangers in this case. Just because they have the money to sign Brad Richards doesn’t mean they should sign him. All of the implications I mentioned doesn’t mean they shouldn’t sign him either.

In that perfect world, the Rangers would sign Richards to a very team-friendly contract. If Richards was adamant about getting a deal in the $7-8 million range, then it would be for a short-term deal (four years or so). If he his goal was to get a seven or eight year deal, then it would be for less money ($5-6 million).

The problem is with the likes of Brian Burke trying to restore the Toronto Maple Leafs; the Rangers might not have the luxury of Richards giving the team a hometown discount because of his relationship with Tortorella.

For one of the first times in the 14 years that I have been writing Ranger Ramblings, I honestly do not have an answer as to what the Rangers should do. This might be one of those cases where I won’t be able to decide and will have to wait until Training Camp starts to see how the dust settles.

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