Saving the biggest problem area for last, the Ranger wingers are a mixed bunch as you have some very hard workers, some highly frustrating performers and some who are going to have to step it up or be replaced by others.
You expect your goal scoring to come from your wingers and when the best your team can manage is a high of 24 goals then you have a serious offensive problem.
That is why the Rangers will need to make some very tough choices but one very easy one.
Ryan Callahan has come a very long way from people swearing that he was too small and too skinny to ever become an NHL regular. Off a breakout season where he put up 22-18-40, Callahan is a no brainer when it comes to the Rangers resigning.
One of the very few Rangers who there was never any worry about his work ethic, Callahan by rule can be offered no less than 660,000 and no more than 1 million. Given what the Rangers have paid to others then Callahan is a bargain even at 1 mil.
We can only hope that Sather does not follow his traditional pattern of making his own restricted agents go through hell by low balling them. Callahan has earned his raise so just give it and move on to the next player.
On the other hand there is Nikolai Zherdev also a restricted free agent who the Rangers really need to think hard about whether or not to resign him. Under the CBA the Rangers are required to offer Zherdev 100% of his 2008 salary which was at least 3.25 million depending on which salary site you believe.
Zherdev may have been the Ranger's 2nd leading scorer on the team but it was very clear that he did not always work hard or simply did not think out his game plan. There is no question that Zherdev is very talented and if the Rangers can find a way to harness his talent then Zherdev has the potential to be a 40-50 goal scorer.
The problem is that Zherdev has found himself in the doghouse of every NHL coach he was ever played for. How can the Rangers gamble on Zherdev finally deciding to work hard when they have so much already tied up on bad contracts?
Marcus Naslund's retirement had the bonus of freeing up salary cap money but it did have one drawback; let Zherdev walk and that means the Rangers lost their top 2 goal scorers from last season. It means that the Rangers just might be forced to resign Zherdev or gamble that they can find a replacement at his salary.
Then we have the other Russian with some serious question marks about should the Rangers keep or let go in Nik Antropov who is an Unrestricted Free Agent. If you look strictly at the overall numbers then you see Antropov was 28-31-59 which were career highs for him.
The problem in using those numbers is that what gets lost in the stats is that the goals for the most part came in bunches of 3 game spurts (5 total) and that Antropov found himself called out in public by Toronto's GM Brian Burke for his play.
Watch what Brian Burke says about the Anropov trade and it should also make you nervous about resigning someone who in 9 seasons has been a true underachiever. One year deal at 2 million only if that is your only option but no long term deal for Antropov.
Sean Avery left the Rangers for Dallas, said a dumb remark which led to an even dumber suspension by Gary Bettman which in turn led to Dallas exiling him and eventually back to the Rangers where Avery got the money he wanted and the Rangers only having to pay what they wanted. Oh and did we forget to mention how the Ranger spin cycle swore up an down how the Rangers were better off with out the cancer AKA Avery in the locker room?
The Sean Avery soap opera took away from how for reasons that nobody has ever figured out why the Rangers have a great record with Avery in the lineup. Avery has his demons still but IF he can decide to concentrate on playing hockey without the outside stuff then the Rangers have a player who can put up 20-25 goals for them.
Take away all the distractions and Avery is a pretty good hockey player, he is an effective penalty killer, a player willing to fight to set up in the crease and a player who can draw penalties for you. Avery though is best suited for a 2nd-3rd line role not 1st line responsibility; limit him to 15-18 minutes a game and he stays in control of himself, the more he plays the higher the risk for a meltdown.
Lauri Korpikoski had an uneventful rookie season with the Rangers for the most part. Korpikoski (also a Restricted Free Agent) was 6-8-14, -10 in 68 games with the Rangers but the biggest problem we felt was as in the case with most rookies a very undefined role on the team.
Korpikoski was used in a variety of ways by both Ranger coaches but never for more than a few games at a time which is a mistake in our eyes when it comes to player development. Define what you want out of Korpikoski and then allow him to become that kind of player (if you ask us we say us his speed on offense).
The Rangers have to offer Korpikoski 1 million to keep his rights and again because of the CBA the Rangers would only be entitled to a 3rd round pick should they not sign Korpikoski. A 3rd round pick for the player selected 19th in the 2004 draft would mean the Rangers took a bath on both first round picks from that draft.
Expect the Rangers to resign Korpikoski more for his low cap number than anything else.
Colton Orr has come a very long way since being a scrap heap pick up in 2005. Orr is considered one of the top enforcers in the NHL but the question is does he have a role in the John Tortorella system.
Orr, an unrestricted free agent saw his playing time disappear towards the end of the regular season but until the Rangers add some legit toughness to the lineup remains a must have. Lose Orr who is an Unrestricted Free Agent and all the Rangers have are middle weights or unproven youngsters.
We will be surprised if Orr is resigned and we very much hope to be wrong as in our eyes Orr is very much needed.
Aaron Voros is a player who basically leaves us scratching our heads as we wonder how he kept his spot on the roster. Voros like he did the year before while with the Wild got off to a fast start on the season and then disappeared.
Voros was a scratch in 18 straight games under John Tortorella and to be honest we wonder why bother carrying someone you are not going to use? Were the Rangers that afraid that someone would have claimed Voros and be on the hook for half his salary?
We see no reason to expect that 2009-10 will be any different so cut your losses now Rangers and open the roster spot for someone who just might bring more to the table like a Dane Byers or Greg Moore next season.
Fredrik Sjostrom is someone who we knew about before he became a Ranger as he once played for Calgary in the WHL. Sjostrom is someone who we really wonder what happened to his development as this was a solid player when we first saw him.
If you would have told us back in 2003 that Fredrik Sjostrom would wind up as a 4th liner for the Rangers only scoring 7 goals we would have laughed at you. Sjostrom was once full of promise as witnessed by his being the 11th pick in the 2001 Entry Draft.
In the WHL, Sjostrom played with an edge to his game, a flair for scoring (34 goals) and a willingness to mix it up (95 PIM) but in the season plus with the Rangers we have seen none of that. We see a player who skates fast but does not finish strong and that sadly is why we think the Rangers should not offer him a contract.
As a Restricted Free Agent, Sjostrom is entitled to an offer of 924,000 and we are sorry but the Rangers with their cap issues need to pass on it as again their are options in Hartford that come cheaper and offer more potential.
So if we are the Rangers then:
Keep: Callahan, Zherdev(only because he is younger than Antropov), Avery, Korpikoski, Orr
Do not bring back: Voros, Antropov, Sjostrom
Next is the Hartford/Prospect look at the options for wingers.
(All pictures courtesy of the Rangers/NHL)
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