2010 Off-Season Articles

As we sit at the beginning of August, Ranger fans can start to see the foundation for the Rangers 2010/2011 roster being established. Two seemingly opposite transactions will go a long way in how the final Blueshirts roster will shake out.

By trading Donald Brashear (and Pat Rissmiller) to Atlanta, the Rangers were able to remove Brashear’s $1.4 million hit against their salary cap. While they did add Todd White and his nearly $2.4 million cap hit, the team will have the ability to stash that salary in Hartford and have it removed from the books.

The other transaction involves the St. Louis Blue re-signing former 2006 first overall pick Erik Johnson to a two-year contract worth about $2.6 million per season.

So how does this signing help the Rangers roster?

Rangers President/GM Glen Sather’s biggest concern this summer is making sure he signs defenseman Marc Staal. Johnson’s contract should help push along negotiations between Sather and Paul Krepelka, Staal’s agent. Johnson has better offensive numbers that Staal despite the Blues blueliner missing a full season due to his self-inflected golf cart injury.

Johnson went from $850,000 per season to $2.6 million per season so it should be well within that Staal’s pay increase (from $750,000) should take a similar rise).

However, there is still one problem to that logic and it comes at the hands of Sather himself. Slats loses argument points because he is just re-signed Daniel Girardi to a four-year contract extension at $3.25 million per season – doubling his 2009/2010 salary of $1.6 million.

Hopefully, cooler heads prevail as Sather and Staal agree to a four year deal in the vicinity of $3.5 to $4.0 million. Both sides need to avoid a repeat of the battle that Sather and Brandon Dubinsky had last season.

Coach John Tortorella has already thrown down the gauntlet and gave his opinion as to what happens if Staal does not have a contract.

“If a player is not signed, I don’t want him in camp,” Tortorella told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com. “I just think it’s nothing but a distraction. I don’t have full say but I think if Marc Staal is not signed, I don’t think he should be at camp.”

Since we are a month or so away from training camp, neither side is feeling any pressure to compromise. The only action that would cause negotiations to heat up would be if the Restricted Free agent signed an offer sheet wit another team – something that is not likely because Sather has said he will match any offer sheet.

The main end result of the moves the Rangers have made the last couple weeks point to the end of Wade Redden’s Ranger career. He will have to be assigned to Hartford to remove his $6.5 million cap hit.

Depending on how the Staal signing plays out, the Rangers could have enough cap flexibility to add a veteran defenseman – something they will need once Redden is a member of the Wolf Pack. It is possible they could have as much as $5 million worth of cap space and here is how – using capgeek.com’s salary figures (rounded up) and factoring in Staal at a cap hit of $4 million per season.

Frolov ($ 3.0m)-Christenson ($925,000)- Gaborik ($7.5m)
Dubinsky ($1.9m)-Anisimov ($821,667)- Callahan ($2.3m)
Prospal ($2.1m, bonus included)-Drury ($7.1m)-Avery($1.9m)
Boogaard ($1.6m)-Boyle ($525,000)- Prust ($800,000)

Staal ($4.0m estimated)-Girardi ($3.3m)
Del Zotto ($1.09m)- Rozsival ($5.0m)
McDonagh ($1.3m)-Gilroy ($1.75m)
Eminger ($1.125m)

Henrik Lundqvist ($6.9m)
Martin Biron ($875,000)

The above lineup would leave the Rangers with approximately $5.3 million on cap space. Depending on how they wanted to address the defensemen, the Rangers could look to add a veteran depth blueliner like Willie Mitchell or they could look to go after a better player and possibly sacrifice a Matt Gilroy in order to offset any big salary/big impact defensemen.

Depending on how everything plays out and how the roster is juggled, the Rangers could add a veteran defenseman and still be players for a big time first line center – especially if it were someone like Brad Richards who has a contract that expires at the end of the season.

It is kind of amazing when you consider the Rangers could actually have some decent salary cap space in which to maneuver. I guess Glen Sather was paying attention to what Donnie Walsh was doing with the New York Knicks after all.

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Hell is about to freeze over because I am going to do something I don’t often do – I am going to praise Glen Sather for his trading of Donald Brashear and Pat Rissmiller to the Atlanta Thrashers for Todd White.

At first look some fans must be wondering what do the Rangers need with the 35-year-old White who suffered through an injury-plagued 2009/2010 (seven goals and nine assists in 65 games). Some fans might be wondering why acquire yet another veteran to take the place of a prospect.

However, fans who are questioning the deal are overlooking one point. Even if the Rangers assigned Donald Brashear to Hartford, his $1.4 million contract counts against the salary cap this year because he signed a multi-year deal after the age of 35. White, who is the final year of a four-year deal signed his when he was 32 so his salary would not count against the cap if sent to Hartford.

While Sather replaces Brashear’s $1.4 million cap hit with White’s $2.375 million cap hit (he will make $2.6 million this year), the Rangers President/GM gained some valuable salary cap flexibility because White’s cap of $2.375 million can be removed by running him through waivers and assigning him to the AHL.

There is even the possibility that Sather could deal him before the season depending on other team’s needs and/or injuries.

At the very worst, White could end up earning a job at the expense of fourth line center Brian Boyle. While that is a lot of money to spend on a fourth line (even though Chris Drury was demoted last season to the fourth line) White would be an improvement over Boyle and only adds $450,000 to the salary cap (Brashear and Boyle make $1.925 million and White’s cap hit is $2.375 million).

White is just one year removed from posting a career season in 2008/2009. In 82 games, he posted career-best numbers in assists (51), points (83) and PPG (12). Of course, he spent a lot of time centering Ilya Kovalchuk so those numbers are inflated.

One thing to remember is that White spent two seasons with the Minnesota Wild and averaged 16 goals and 26 assists while a teammate of Marian Gaborik and Derek Boogaard. The influx of ex-Wild players is not just a coincidence given that former Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough works for the organization as a “scout/hockey consultant. It will be interesting to see if Risebrough’s name is thrown around as a potential successor when Sather decides to end his reign of error (hey you didn’t expect me not to take a shot at Sather at some point).

Here is Todd White’s Scouting Report from the Toronto Star:

ASSETS: Possesses excellent skating speed. Has sound offensive credentials and always gives maximum effort. Can play either center or wing.

FLAWS: Lacks size and strength. Tends to struggle when the checking gets tighter. Is somewhat prone to scoring slumps.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Complementary forward on the decline.

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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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IF the NFL can award the 2014 Super Bowl to a cold weather venue, then the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders can make a trade. The Blueshirts acquired 19-year0old defenseman Jyri Niemi from the islanders in exchange for a 2010 sixth round draft pick. The trade is the first one between the two New York teams since November 14, 1972 when the Rangers sent RW Ron Stewart to the Islanders for cash.

The 6-foot-3 and 210-pound blueliner was the Islanders third round draft pick (72nd overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft (three spots ahead of Rangers third rounder Evgeny Grachev). The Islanders were forced to deal Niemi because they were unable to sign him and would have lost all rights to him as of June 1. Perhaps the Islanders were concerned about signability because Niemi was a second round selection of SKA St. Petersburg in the 2009 KHL Junior Draft

Niemi has signed an entry level contract with the Rangers and is expected to participate in the Rangers’ annual Prospect Development Camp that will follow this year’s Draft.

Back in 2008, NHL’s Central Scouting rated Niemi as the 25th best North American skater.

Central Scouting’s Director E.J. McGuire said of Niemi, “Jyri is adjusting well to the North American game. He has good poise and stickhandling ability from the back end. He quarterbacks the power-play, with a heavy shot from the point. He has an offensive flare to his game and is an entertaining player to watch.”

McGuire continued his assessment of the Hameenkyro, Finland native, “More dependability in the defensive zone will guarantee that he projects into a number three or four defenseman in the League, with the potential to be a one-two defenseman.”

Niemi, who turns 20 on June 15, spent the last three seasons playing with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. The defenseman has battled various injuries that limited him to 159 games (29 goals and 66 assists) in Junior career. During his draft season of 2007-2008, Niemi battled wrist and foot issues and eventually has hip surgery – which might have caused him to drop into the third round.

While Niemi might have problems with the injury bug, he has no problem showing off a blistering slapshot. He won the hardest shot competition at the 2008 CHL Prospect Game (97 mph). Prior to joining Saskatoon, Niemi played for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s Junior League.

He is no stranger to international hockey as he has represented Finland in various international tournaments including captaining Finland in the U-20 World Junior Championships.

The International Scouting Service (ISS) rated him as the 65th best player. Here is what they wrote about him in their 2008 Draft Preview.

“Niemi is an offensively gifted d-man who has a canon for a shot. He put up good numbers for Saskatoon and moves the puck well. He is a power play specialist but is improving in 5 on 5 play as well. Players are starting to shy away from getting in to the path of his slap shot that has become even more accurate. Needs to add some toughness to his play and consistency in the d-zone. His passing ability is improving as well.”
The youngster still has some work to do on the defensive end, but he does have a bit of an excuse. Much like Rangers rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy, Niemi began his career as a forward before being shifted to defense – a switch that was explained in his Central Scouting report.

“Four years ago, my coach told me to be a defenseman because I was big, could skate backwards and forwards – he told me that I’m a new defenseman. As I heard it and left the rink, I thought, ‘no way’.”

The official New York Rangers press release included the following statement from their newest blueliner.

“This has been a great day for me,” Niemi said in a phone interview from Finland on Tuesday night. “This is something that I’ve been looking forward to for years — to get a chance to be part of an NHL organization, and I couldn’t be more happy right now. I’m just looking forward to joining the team and meeting all the guys.”

While one defenseman joins the Rangers organization, another one is departing after one year. Finnish blueliner Ilkka Heikkinen signed with HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL. Reports say the Rangers were offering a two-way contract, but Heikkinen had expressed his desire to return to Europe rather than spend another season in the AHL.

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On Wednesday the New York Rangers confirmed hockey’s worst-kept secret – The Hobbit is coming to Madison Square Garden as the Blueshirts signed RW Mats Zuccarello-Aasen to a two-year contract worth $900,000. Ranger fans will have to add MZA to their lexicon much like they added MDZ for Michael Del Zotto.

If what Damien Cox wrote in the Toronto Star (3/23/10) is true, then the Rangers beat out a group teams including the Atlanta Thrashers, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Edmonton OIlers, and Detroit Red Wings. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported that the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs expressed interest as well.

Aftonbladet said that Rangers President/GM Glen Sather spoke with MZA in late March and invited him to visit New York to better acquaint himself with the team. In response to Sather’s interest Mats responded, “I was speechless…I’m not used to this. It’s a really big deal…. I want to go to a club that can have patience with me and believe in me. ”

The 22-year-old native of Oslo, Norway does not have your prototypical NHL body (5-foot-7 and 170 pounds on a good day), but he does possess, what Larry Brooks of the NY Post called, “world-class skills”. MZA represented Norway at the 2010 Winter Olympics Games and scored one goal and two assists in four games. As a member of the U-20 and U-18 teams, he has played 22 games and scored four goals and 12 assists.

The Rangers could not announce the signing of the Swedish Elite League (SEL) superstar until the World Championships were completed – as per the NHL’s deal with the SEL, according to Brooks. MZA lit up the SEL to the tune of a league-leading 64 points (23 goals and 41 assists) in 55 game with Modo while racking up an impressive 62 PIM for someone of his size. For his efforts, MZA won the Guldhjälmen Award as the SEL’s Most Valuable Player. In his first year with Modo, MZA scored 12 goals and 28 assists in 35 games with 38 PIM.

Among his teammates in Sweden were former Rangers Markus Naslund and Niklas Sundstrom. According to Brooks, Naslund once again came through for the Rangers. After opening salary cap space with his NHL retirement, Naslund helped out the Blueshirts by recommending Zuccarello-Aasen to the Rangers.

While Zuccarello-Aasen can play both wings, his biggest contribution might come on the point on the power play as that was his big selling point when talk of him signing with the Rangers first surfaced.

Of course, the inevitable comparisons to Fabian Brunnstrom were made in the press. Brunnstrom made a big splash when he signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent prior to the 2008-2009. The much sought after Brunnstrom made history when he became the third player in NHL history to score a hat trick in his first game. However, it has been all downhill since. In 99 NHL games, Brunnstrom has scored 19 goals and 21 assists.

Gabe Desjardins of BehindTheNet.ca developed a formula that translates points from other leagues into an NHL Equivalency. Using Desjardins’ formula, Zuccarrello-Aasen’s 99 points in 83 SEL games would translate into about 70 NHL points.

In comparison, Brunnstrom played only one year in SEL (54 games) and scored 37 points – which translates into about 29 NHL points.

Granted, player outcomes are decided on the ice and not on paper based on mathematical formulas. However, it seems that MZA comes to the NHL with a better statistical resume than Brunnstrom. At the very least, the Rangers het a third or fourth line forward who pays for himself by injecting some life into the Blueshirts inconsistent power play.

Rangers Assistant GM/Assistant Coach Jim Schoenfeld offered his take on MZA after scouting him during the recent World Championships. MZA tallied three goals and an assist in Norway’s six games.

“I wanted to get a good look at him,” Schoenfeld told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com. “He didn’t disappoint.”

If Zuccarello-Aasen’s stellar play in the SEL does translate into NHL success, then Brooks is correct when he wrote “… the greater challenge would then fall to Blueshirts’ equipment manager Acacio Marques (an Iona College graduate like myself), who would then have to figure out how to sew the player’s name on the back of his uniform.”

Here is Mats Zuccarello-Aasen’s scouting reports from EliteProspects.com:

Assets: Fantastic technical skills and great passing ability. Can finish with aplomb. A magician who can do spectacular things with the puck. Great vision and can man the power play point. Defensively responsible and doesn’t mind heavy traffic.
Flaws: Size and strength. Not a great physical player.

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Before the New York Can Rangers can fathom wading into the 2010 free agent pool, they have many in-house decisions to make above and beyond clearing salary cap space. They have to address their own Restricted and Unrestricted free agents and decide which holdovers return and which ones are traded or released.

In this edition of Ranger Ramblings we will be taking a look at the Ranger free agents to see who should stay and who should go.

Every Ranger fan knows that the first step for the Blueshirts is to address the need for cap space space. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as most people think because merely assigning Wade Redden and Michael Rozsival to Hartford does not immediately help the Rangers in their quest to create cap space.

As Larry Brooks of the New York Post pointed out, all of an organization’s one-way contracts count against the salary cap until the start of training camp. The only pre-camp relief teams get is that the NHL allows teams to go over the season’s salary cap by 10%. As a result, the Rangers salary wiggle room will be restricted until training camp, in other words, far too late for the Rangers to make any meaningful signings.

Here is a breakdown of the Rangers free agents along with their 2009-2010 salaries:

    Unrestricted Free Agents:

Olli Jokinen, C; 32, $5.5 million
Vinny Prospal, LW, 35, $1.1 million
Alex Auld, G, 29, $1 million
Jody Shelley, RW, 34, $725,000
P.A. Parenteau, RW, 27, $500,000
Anders Eriksson, D, 35, $600,000
Corey Potter, D, 26, $550,000

    Restricted Free Agents:

Marc Staal, D, 23, $765,000
Dan Girardi, D, 26, $1.6 million
Erik Christensen, C, 26, $750,000
Brandon Prust, LW, 26, $525,000
Enver Lisin, RW, 24, $790,000
Dane Byers, LW, 24, $500,000
Ilkka Heikkinen, D, 25, $875,000

The big number is the $5.5 million that is coming off the books as the Rangers say goodbye to Olli Jokinen. The Blueshirts will need those funds in order to keep Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Jokinen has all the tools to be a top center, but somehow he just hasn’t managed to find the toolbox for them. If he were willing to come back on a barebones contract (say $2 million) for one year, then he might be worth the gamble. Odds are the Rangers should just look in another direction.

Keeping Staal is a no-brainer as he is the Rangers best all-around defenseman who has to be
re-signed to a three-year deal at the very least. He is the Rangers stopper on defense and always draws the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. He also has shown signs of becoming an offensive threat as well. You have to figure he is due a contract in the Ryan Callaghan neighborhood ($2.4 million or so).

Girardi has drawn much discussion on various Internet sites. While he might not have progressed as much as most fans had hoped, everyone has to remember we are still talking about a non-drafted free agent who slugged his way out of the ECHL. The Rangers are going to need his experience especially if the expected blue line overhaul is completed with Redden and Rozsival leaving the Garden.

Vinny Prospal has said all the right things about wanting to return to New York. He is a veteran leader who has been around John Tortorella long enough to held his teammates navigate the maze that is Torts. There are some concerns that injuries and age slowed him down as the season progressed, but he is still worth a roster spot at a reasonable salary.

Alex Auld was probably the backup goaltender the rangers needed all season. He would have been an improvement over Steve Valiquette and Chad Johnson and has had experience as a number one netminder in the past. It seems that the rangers are looking for an even better upgrade. There will be a number of goaltenders on the UFA market, so the Blueshirts might be able to latch onto a Martin Biron or Johan Hedberg at a reasonable price (say $1.5 million or so because both goalies made less than that last year).

All reports indicate that Jody Shelley helped steady a dressing room that Tortorella felt still needs improvement. His presence fills the bodyguard role that went unfilled when Colton Orr signed with Toronto. In addition, he proved to be a player who could skate a regular shirt and helped turn the Rangers fourth line into the team’s most reliable line – which is a big reason why the Rangers did not make the playoff because teams being carried by their fourth line are in BIG trouble.

With all of that said, can the Rangers afford to go down the mid-30s route with another aging enforcer? Signing Donald Brashear to a two-year deal is an albatross that will remain around the Rangers neck for one more season.

Shelley’s play at the end of the season might have earned himself a contract that will prove to be rich for the Rangers blood. With Torts calling for the Rangers to get younger, the team might want to leave a spot on the fourth line for a Dane Byers or Dale Weise to fight their way on to the roster.

P.A. Parenteau is another Ranger whose play at the end of the season might have earned him a contract too expensive for the Rangers. If Parenteau were a baseball player, he would be referred to as a Quadruple-A player – he is too good for the AHL (or Triple A in our analogy) but not quite good enough to be a top nine forward in the NHL (an everyday player in the Majors). Odds are he is going to look to sign with a team that will allow him to challenge for a regular spot in the lineup. The Rangers should be able to replace him in Hartford with another veteran Quadruple-A player.

Anders Eriksson was the veteran seventh defenseman the Rangers needed all season. The team thought they had that player in Alexei Semenov, but he decided to sign a two-year deal with the KHL. I am not so sure I would have benched Matt Gilroy for Eriksson down the stretch because the veteran was not really an upgrade over the rookie. As for 2010-2011, if the Rangers continue to go with youth on defense, they will probably need an upgrade as far as the veteran seventh defenseman spot goes. If the Rangers have a blend of youth and experience on defense, then Eriksson might be a cap friendly choice to sit on the bench.

Corey Potter is among a group of young Hartford blueliners who never got more than a cup of coffee with the Rangers. It seems that fans thought more of Potter than the Rangers brass. It is probably best for Potter and the team for the defenseman to move on to another organization where he will get a chance to play. The Rangers might be able to include Potter in a deal involving Redden and/or Rozsival as sort of a “throw-in” considering he does not fit into their plans. At the very least, the Rangers should be able to trade him prior to the start of the free agency and get a mid-round draft pick.

Since we have already addressed Staal and Girardi, we turn our attention to the UFA by looking at Erik Christenson. The journeyman center seemed to find a home as the first line center with Marian Gaborik – yet another indictment of the Rangers lack of top nine forwards. Christensen is better suited for third or fourth line work. However, with Chris Drury, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky on the team, there is not much room for Christensen. At best he would be battling Boyle for fourth line duty. Given that Boyle will make just $525,000 next season, Christensen might be too expensive for fourth line duty on a team that has salary cap issues.

Who would have thought that Brandon Prust would be the main thrust and Jokinen the second wheel in the deal with Calgary? Prust reminds me of a kinder, gentler Sean Avery in that he does the most with the talent he has. In addition to be willing to drop the gloves, Prust was able to get valuable ice time as a penalty killer and along with Anisimov and Shelley made Torts change his coaching style by forcing him to play all four lines. Prust is not only a keeper, but his style of play might give Torts the ammunition he needs to talk Glen Sather into moving Avery.

Enver Lisin showed flashes of being a player who could step up and give the Rangers a much needed sniper. However, his hot and cold play quickly placed him Tortorella’s doghouse – a position that Lisin never had a chance of getting out of. It is highly doubtful that the Rangers will re-sign him and I would bet that Lisin is not all that thrilled to stay in New York. Sather would be wise to try and trade him prior to the NHL Draft and try and get something for a player who will surely leave the organization.

Dane Byers is a player who has seemed to become the forgotten prospect at Hartford. He was overshadowed this year by the hype of Evgeny Grachev and the breakthrough season of Weise. Byers has the ability to step and gibe the Rangers the same kind of grit that Shelley gave the Rangers. At the very least, Byers should be re-signed and given every chance to earn a spot on the fourth line.

If Byers was the forgotten forward, then Ilkka Heikkinen was definitely the forgotten defenseman. The Finnish blueliner played seven games with the Rangers, but only once did he log more than 10 minutes in a game. During a season when the Rangers needed to have a seventh defenseman on the roster, Heikkinen’s experience in Europe should have afforded him more of a look than he got. While it is uncertain where Heikkinen plays next season (odds are he will return to Europe), it is pretty much a done deal that he will not return to the R

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