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So, let’s examine what’s wrong with this team, where we want it to go, and how we can fit it all in under the salary cap. I think first we need to evaluate what Tortorella and Sather said after the season ended. The Rangers, in essence, want to get younger, want to get out of salary cap hell, want to get better, and need to score more goals. While Torts and Sather didn’t exactly say all those things verbatim, whatever they didn’t say is pretty much implied.

So, let’s tackle this thing from the net out. The Rangers have an elite goalie. The Rangers need to make sure they are competitive, and give Henrik enough days off to still be fresh come the playoff run. With that said I think the Rangers should avoid the traps of signing a backup on the free agent market, and instead go with Chad Johnson. In baseball there is a stat called WAR, which means wins above replacement. Henrik Lundqvist probably has one of the highest WAR’s in the NHL if such a stat was measured. In short, the fewer games Henrik plays, the worse off we will be record wise. The key here is to balance out the need to stay competitive, but not wear out Henrik. To me the ideal number of games for Henrik to play is about 70. So, if you are going to only play your backup goalie for 10-15 games in a season, there is no point whatsoever in paying a free agent to do so. Chad Johnson will be just as fine playing those games as anyone else. If Johnson fails, there are always goalies available on the waiver wire that we can pick up.

Next we have the blue line. In keeping with the mantra of wanting to get better, and younger, the Rangers must absolutely waive Wade Redden. They would probably be best off seeing of some NHL team could take him off our hands for a 7th rounder or future considerations (maybe a team that needs to get to the cap floor) but the odds of Sather finding another sucker to take a big contract off his hands are slim to none. Therefore the Rangers must get rid of Redden. Redden is no longer mobile, no longer physical, no longer has a first pass. Basically all Redden does anymore is tie up the puck and let his teammates come in and help him out. He’s useless on the man advantage, and isn’t a primary penalty killer either. He brings almost nothing to the table. Contrary to popular opinion, Michal Rozsival is just the opposite. Rozsival has been superb in his own zone after the first month or so of last season. While his offensive numbers took a significant hit last season, he still brings more than enough to the table to bring back. The Rangers will need veteran leadership, and he is the defacto leader in the blue line. Beyond that the Rangers will bring back Gilroy, Staal, and Girardi to a pretty stable blue line that is pretty underrated. The Rangers can then infuse Bobby Sanguinetti, and Michael Sauer to this years team, with at least 1 of those 2, or Matt Gilroy, sitting.

Up front the Rangers have a problem. They don’t have any offensive threats outside of Marian Gaborik. They had only 2 20 goal scorers after Gaborik, which is just pathetic. Now the age old mantra is that you need to build from the center out. But, I simply do not agree with this line of thinking. Never have, never will. To me, I would rather have defensively responsible 2-way centers (in an ideal world, think Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) with explosive goal scoring wingers. People seem to think that scoring needs to come from the middle, but if you really think about the way the game is played, your most important defensive forward, is your center. Your least important defensive forward are your wingers. Doesn’t it make sense then to have smart defensively responsible 2-way players to maximize that aspect of the game, while supplementing them with explosive goal scoring machines that don’t need to be set up? The Rangers already proved that the formula works just fine for several years now, first with Jaromir Jagr, then with Jagr and Shanahan, and last year with Marian Gaborik. We haven’t had any dominating offensive centers since we had Eric Lindros here. The Rangers were able to get quite a bit of supplemental offensive from the players who played with Gaborik. The big problem with the team were the 9 players who didn’t play with Gaborik. On most nights, they were nowhere to be found on the score sheet.

What the Rangers need, is Marian Gaborik…twice. They need a winger who can score, independent of whoever he plays with. They need a guy who can blast the puck like a howitzer from the point on the power play. They need a guy with speed to back up the opposition. And, they need to get this guy, while in the prime of his career and not give up any assets to do so. There is only 1 player that fits this bill. He’s, without a shadow of a doubt, the best free agent to hit the market in 10 years. Ilya Kovalchuk is the guy the Rangers need to sign. They need to do so for the good of the franchise, not just in the present, but more importantly for the future. They need a core to build around. Other teams always build around 3 superstars, and bring in key free agents and draft picks to go around them. The Rangers are going to need to be just the opposite. They are going to need to bring in their core from free agency, and use their draft picks to build around them. If you look at the Rangers farm system, they are filled with 2nd and 3rd line players, and stud defenseman. We have Evgeny Grachev, who has 2nd line winger written all over him. Derek Stepan, 2nd line center. Artem Anisimov, 2nd line center. Chris Kreider, 1st or 2nd line winger. Add in Dubinsky, Callahan, and the like, and you have a Rangers team that is set to be big time competitors within 2 years.

Signing Kovalchuk is key on a few levels. First and foremost it solves our secondary scoring problem. Second, it solves our power play problem at the point. Third, it prohibits the Rangers from giving out any further contracts to undeserving players by spacing things out so that they are resigning their own players just as our poor contracts expire.

Let me give you a breakdown of how I see this team next year, and 3 years in the future.

Next season:
Brandon Dubinsky – Eric Christensen – Marian Gaborik
Ilya Kovalchuk – Artem Anisimov – Ryan Callahan
Sean Avery – Chris Drury – Mats Zuccarello-Aasen
Dane Byers – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust
Dale Weise

Staal – Girardi
Rozsival – Gilroy
Del Zotto – Sauer/Sanguinetti
Sauer/Sanguinetti

Lundqvist
Johnson

Here is the math breakdown for that team:
2010-11 NEW YORK RANGERS
CAPGEEK.COM CAP CALCULATOR
FORWARDS
Brandon Dubinsky ($1.850m) / * Erik Christensen ($0.850m) / Marian Gaborik ($7.500m)
* Ilya Kovalchuk ($9.000m) / Artem Anisimov ($0.822m) / Ryan Callahan ($2.300m)
Sean Avery ($1.938m) / Chris Drury ($7.050m) / Mats Zuccarello-Aasen ($1.750m)
Dane Byers ($0.500m) / Brian Boyle ($0.525m) / * Brandon Prust ($0.650m)
Dale Weise ($0.700m)
DEFENSEMEN
* Daniel Girardi ($2.750m) / * Marc Staal ($3.500m)
Michal Rozsival ($5.000m) / Matt Gilroy ($1.750m)
Michael Del Zotto ($1.087m) / * Mike Sauer ($0.950m)
Bobby Sanguinetti ($0.855m)
GOALTENDERS
Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875m) / Chad Johnson ($0.850m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS
(these totals are compiled using the bonus cushion)
ROSTER: 22; CAP:$59.6m; PAYROLL: $59.052m; CAP ROOM: $1.861m BONUSES: $1.312m

Rangers have almost 2 million dollars to play with, if you want to swap out of the kids on D for a vet, or if you want to replace Byers with Shelley or what have you (or if you count Brashear against the cap if the Rangers are unable to deal him).

More importantly this roster maintains all the mantras the Rangers are looking for. They get younger, by subtracting guys like Shelley, Brashear, Prospal. They get more offensive threats out there in Kovalchuk, and potentially Zuccarello-Aasen. They get significantly faster on the top 9, while getting meaner on the bottom 3 by adding Byers. While this team lacks an enforcer, I feel that is a non issue as the enforcer is simply a figurehead nowadays, a physical player like Byers is far more valuable as he can bring some offensive game to the table. The main “problem” with this team is the youth on the blueline. This blueline may struggle, but these are the growing pains you invest in this year to be better next year and the year after. With Henrik back there, the Rangers will be in most games, and with the offensive firepower they would have, they should be able to offset the damage the D does, at least somewhat. Let us also consider that the main difference between the D last year, and my propose D, is replacing Wade Redden with Michael Sauer or Bobby Sanguinetti. That is addition by subtraction in most peoples opinions, so even the defense may be improved if you go by that line of thinking.

Now, next year the Rangers will be in a bit of trouble, as they will have to sign Dubinsky, MDZ, Callahan, and Anisimov. However, this can be fairly easily solved by the Rangers trading away Michal Rozsival. Assuming the cap goes up again by a few hundred thousand, and assuming the Rangers simply dump Rozsival off for a draft pick (which shouldn’t be a problem with Rozsivals play and his actual salary at that point (3 Mil))

In 2 years the Rangers roster should look something like this:


Dubinsky – Anisimov – Gaborik
Kovalchuk – Drury – Callahan
Avery – Stepan – Zuccarello-Aasen/Grachev
Byers/Weise – Boyle – Prust

Staal – Girardi
MDZ – Sanguinetti
McDonagh – Sauer

Lundqvist
Johnson/whoever

Take it a step forward, and in 3 years I picture the team looking something like this:


Dubinsky – Anisimov – Gaborik
Kovalchuk – Stepan – Grachev
Callahan – Drafted/UFA Center (Burmistrov??) – Kreider
Whoever-Whoever-Whoever

Staal – Girardi
MDZ – Sanguinetti
McDonagh – Sauer

Lundqvist
Johnson/whoever

So, not only is it possible to easily fit Ilya Kovalchuk into next years roster, it is equally easy for the Rangers to bring back all the kids in a few years. The Rangers have the depth to fill in around Gaborik, Kovalchuk, and Henrik. They just need to be extremely smart and not sign anyone outside of the organization for at least 2 years.

In my personal opinion it would be a colossal failure if we did not sign Kovalchuk. If Kovalchuk requests Avery be ditched, then we have to dump him as well, because we do not have talent like Kovalchuk coming up through our system, and there are no players of his ilk coming on the market in the next 5 years. Can you envision Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, etc ever becoming free agents? No, 27 year old superstar forwards are almost never available, especially when it costs you zero assets.

However, if the Rangers are unable to sign Kovalchuk here, then I feel we are best suited by simply playing what we have. Sign nobody. Say no to Marleau. Say no to Volchenkov. We do not need more overpaid underproducing players here. Ilya Kovalchuk would instantly bring 40 goals and 40 assists to our team every year. No other player available can even hope to sniff those numbers.

There you have it. On Friday, I plan on live blogging the draft.

See you all then!


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