Fri 1 Jul 2011
As expected, and to no one’s surprise, an older grey-haired GM has been the hit of the first day of the NHLs’ Free Agent Frenzy. However, it has been Florida’s Dale Tallon who has channeled his inner Glen Sather. Then again, the Panthers had to spend like drunken sailors because, if some reports are true, they needed to add at least $18 million in salary to reach the NHL’s salary floor.
As the Rangers wait their turn to make their pitch to Brad Richards – and they are not among those suitors who are in Toronto to meet with the free agent today – they still have to be the leading contender. TSN reported that Larry Brooks of the NY Post is saying that the Rangers will have a chance to match, or better, Richards’ best offer.
While researching this article, TSN reported that the Rangers have signed Michael Rupp to a three-year contract worth $1.5 million per season – nearly doubling the $850,000 he made last season. While it seems to be a high contract, TSN also reported that as many as 10 teams made offers to the 31-year-old LW.
Rupp was originally a 1998 first round draft pick of the New York Islanders (9th overall). Rupp did sign with the isles and re-entered the draft in 2000 and was New Jersey’s third round selection (76th). Rupp played two tours of duty with the Devils, Phoenix and Columbus before playing the last two season with Pittsburgh where he posted similar numbers in 2009/2010 (81-13-6-19-120 PIM) and 2010/2011 (81-9-8-17-124 PIM).
Here is Rupp’s Scouting Report from the Toronto Star:
ASSETS: Has excellent size. Often plays as a poor man’s version of a power forward. Can play some center, as well as wing, and is also willing to stick up for teammates.
FLAWS: Will go into prolonged scoring slumps, which hurts his ability to see greater ice time. Can take a few too many bad penalties during the season.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Physical winger with some versatility.
Richards and Rupp aside, the Blueshirts have other holes to fill and there are still some UFAs who might be of interest to the Rangers.
If bringing in a first-line center is priority number one, then bringing in a veteran defenseman has to be priority number two – and a couple of blueliners who were bought figure to be at the top of Sather’s list.
Sheldon Souray was said to be on the Rangers radar last season and expects to be at the top of the list once he clears waivers and Edmonton completes the buyout. The 34-year-old Souray definitely owns the big point shot and offensive capabilities to serve as the quarterback on the Blueshirts’ power play. However, if fans were cringing at the way Bryan McCabe played defense, they might be doing more cringing watching the 6-4/233 Souray play defense.
This was the point i nthe article where I was going to make my pitch for the Rangers to sign former Chicago first round draft pick Cam Barker. However, TSN just reported that Barker signed with the Edmonton Oilers on a one-year/$2.25 million contract.
Whether or not the Rangers sign Souray, there are a couple other blueliners who should be in the Rangers sites as a spare defenseman. As part of full disclosure, I do not believe in having a young player like a Tomas Kundratek or Pavel Valentenko sit on the bench in the NHL. Rather it makes more sense to get regular playing time in the AHL.
The first defenseman has a connection to Coach John Tortorella. 27-year-old Shane O’Brien played 96 games with Tortorella’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The 6-3/230 defenseman would bring a much-needed physic al presence on defense and would give them a player who can help Brandon Prust in terms of defending his teammates. On the down side, O’Brien really has no offensive game to speak of and he does have a propensity for taking bad penalties.
The other veteran blueliner is no stranger to Ranger fans. 35-year0-old Jason Strudwick played 125 games with the Blueshirts in two years and change. Like O’Brien, the 6-4/225 d-man doesn’t have much offensive upside and both defensemen have troubles with speedy forwards.
On the plus side, Strudwick would bring leadership and veteran experience to a relatively young Ranger defense corps – something that is important given the fact the team does not have a full-time coach dedicated to working with defenseman.
In addition to bringing some depth/help on defense, the Rangers should be in the market for some inexpensive help at forward. One player I really liked has already been scooped up by the Chicago Blackhawks – Andrew Brunette.
The signing of Rupp does change the Rangers landscape, but I still believe there is a forward who would be worth the gamble. In fact, I might have offered Rupp’s contract to 26-year-old Anthony Stewart.
The 6-2/235 RW is the older brother of St. Louis blues forward Chris Stewart. The former Florida 2003 first round pick (25th overall) set career highs with Atlanta last season in games (80), goals (14), assists (25) and points (35).
Stewart used his size well and is strong on the forecheck and in the corners and is a player who still has more room to grown into a prototypical power forward.
Like Barker, Stewart needs to find a consistency to his game and he has to play close attention to monitoring his weight and conditioning.
Given that he made just $632,000, he is a candidate to receive a large salary bump from some team looking to reach the salary cap floor. Conversely, the Rangers might be able to bring him in at a reasonable two-year deal worth about $1.25 million per season.
While Tortorella has been quoted as saying the team would sign free agents for the sake of signing free agents, there is one player who might be on the team’s wish list – especially if they pass on signing Richards.
With Philadelphia bringing in Jaromir Jagr on a one-year deal at $3.3 million, Maxime Talbot on a five-year/$9 million deal, re-signing Jakub Vorachek, and signing Andreas Lilja, there might not be enough money for them to keep Ville Leino.
The 27-year-old Leino came into his own once he was traded from Detroit to the Flyers in 2010. That season, the 6-1/190 RW was a playoff star scoring 7 goals and 14 assists in 19 games. While he did not live up to the numbers in the 2011 playoffs (11-2-3-5), Leino scored 19 goals and 34 assists in 81 games.
While Leino played RW, he is a lefty shot and might be able to shift over to LW on the first line with Marian Gaborik. Leino is more playmaker than goal scorer and probably could be more of a goal scorer if he shot the puck more, rather than looking to pass first. While he has nice size, he is not a physical player and is not the fastest of skaters.
The Rangers, or any team that signs him, has to decide if Leino’s season was a career year or was it merely his best season in a career that better years to come.
Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News posted an interesting tidbit about various reports in reference to Richards’ contract. Carpiniello wrote, “Brad Richards will get max money, $12.8M per, for year 1 and 2 of contract, including a huge signing bonus for year 1.”
If that is the case, then the Rangers need to move on as quickly as possible. I would take a look at a couple of the players I have mentioned. At that point, the Rangers would be wise to take care of their own free agents and use their remaining salary cap space to bring in a forward via a trade, especially if they can bring someone in on a modified salary dump – which should limit the quality and quantity of players/prospects/draft picks being dealt.