After what seemed like six months of frenzied trade talks between New York Rangers’ suddenly-savvy general manager, Glen Sather, and the reportedly over-zealous Columbus Blue Jackets general manager, Scott Howson, the Rick Nash sweepstakes is now comfortably in the rear-view mirror. Like a perfectly executed game of chess—or better yet, some chicken/chess hybrid-like contest—Howson blinked first.
To be fair, Blue Jacket’s management was ultimately pushed into an inescapable corner that allowed the Rangers to land the two-time 40 goal scoring winger in a blockbuster deal.
The Rangers parted ways with fan favorite Brandon Dubinsky, the young Artem Anisimov, and NHL-ready defensive prospect Tim Erixon—a deeply talented but very acceptable package to sacrifice for a game changing offensive weapon like Nash in the case of the offensively-starved Blueshirts.
With a possible lockout looming, the NHL has released their national television schedule. The Blueshirts are scheduled to be featured in 16 nationally televised games, including a tentatively planned Rangers season opener against the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Also on the schedule is the highly sought after Thanksgiving matchup between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins. ESPN Boston reporter, Jimmy Murphy, has suggested that the Nov. 23 contest has already been “circled” to be the first game of the NHL season.
Just spoke to three NHL players and growing feeling that NHL has 'Black Friday' game between BOS/NYR 11/23 "circled" as first game.— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) September 4, 2012
Amidst the NHL labor talks and Collective Bargaining Agreement uncertainty, hockey’s rumor mill has been hushed to mostly a whisper. Still, it appears that Nash is not the only big splash the Rangers have their sights on.
Ownership controversy has caused Phoenix forward Shane Doan to question the direction of the Coyotes and he is currently seeking a trade. On Doan’s short list of potentially acceptable destinations are reportedly, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vancouver Canucks—though, his price tag has served as a deterrent.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottowa Sun has reported that as things currently stand, there exists four teams ready to offer the 36-year-old a four-year deal worth $24 million. According to Garrioch, these teams are the Canucks, Penguins, Flyers, and Rangers.
A conflicting Vancouver Province report suggests that not only are the Rangers still very much interested in the services of the disgruntled star, but they are also prepared to match the $30 million offer of the Sabres.
After leading the Eastern Conference in points in 2011-12, the Rangers floundered in the playoffs falling two wins shy of their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1994. Blame it on lack of scoring depth. Blame it on the costly injuries that hampered key players like Marian Gaborik. You can even attribute it to the grueling, season long shot-blocking coaching philosophy of John Tortorella finally catching up to them. The fact is, New York was potentially just a piece or two away from hoisting the Cup in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”.
After landing Nash, the acquisition of Doan would undoubtedly indicate an all-in approach by the Rangers.
Perhaps surprisingly, the prospect of taking on the contract demands of Doan has left both fans and experts somewhat wary.
Thought to be an unfathomable possibility until the managerial decisions of very recent years, the Rangers came in at No. 59 on a list of the smartest spending franchises in sports, as compiled by Bloomberg Newsweek.
All things considered, this ranking should not be overlooked. A decade of—at best—highly curious managerial decision-making led to several years of futility and an abundance of well-documented cases of severe overspending on mediocrity. Names like Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik and Wade Redden alone are enough to make Rangers fans cringe.
They also prove a middling No. 59 ranking out of 122 professional franchises to be no small feat. It actually speaks volumes to the philosophical about-face the Rangers have undergone on their way to surging upward in the standings.
After miraculously ridding themselves of the contractual albatrosses handed out to Gomez and Chris Drury, the Rangers have appeared to learn the err of their ways. Rather than breaking the bank for overpriced free agents—sound draft strategy, vital international scouting, and an organizational wide focus on development has allowed the Rangers to build a perennial contender from within.
Within the last several years, the Rangers have benefitted from an influx of exciting young players like Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, captain Ryan Callahan, and gritty two-way forward Brandon Dubinsky who all came to form the Rangers’ core along with the prudent signing of Gaborik.
The recent emergence of homegrown defensemen Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have not only yielded one of the top NHL bluelines, but perhaps more importantly, it beneficially afforded the Rangers with the necessity of depth—once thought to be an impossibility under Sather’s guidance. Combined with the stellar play and high hopes for young forwards like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and playoff darling Chris Kreider.
New York officially came to find themselves with several attractive assets and the infinitely valuable payroll flexibility to spend sensibly. A plethora of depth at nearly every level left talented youngsters like Dubinsky and Erixon expendable when one of the final pieces to the puzzle came around in Rick Nash.
Some see the possibility of inking the 35-year-old Doan at a $6 million cap hit per season as an all-too-familiar dangerous step down the slippery slope towards a frivolous free-spending philosophy that led to a decade of struggles for the once proud member of hockey’s Original Six.
This proposition is an especially risky one given the fact that CBA discussions could lead to a lower salary cap for the upcoming season. While Del Zotto—paramount to the future success of the team’s disappointing power play unit—still remains unsigned, adding a contract like the one that is reportedly necessary to sign Doan could severely limit New York’s payroll flexibility for years to come.
Doan’s addition would not only handcuff the Rangers financially by impacting their ability to resign their own when the time comes, but is likely to leave the Rangers unable to make what could be more prudent investments in future free agent crops.
With Doan, the team’s goal will surely become Stanley Cup or bust and the Rangers’ window of contention becomes considerably shorter.
One cannot help but wonder what kind of impact the acquisition of Doan would have. Sure, without him the power play unit may suffer, but do not be fooled. The veteran forward,having registered just 14 total points on the power play, is no savior.
With Del Zotto fully capable of matching Doan’s level of production at this point in his career—and for just a fraction of the price—it has become time to focus on what the team’s current assets have to offer.
Fans should feel confident in the production of the Rangers’ top-six forwards, but the team’s bottom two lines present some uncertainty. Parting ways with John Mitchell, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust left the Rangers brass with plenty of space to fill. The Rangers revamped bottom-six is now made up of offseason acquisitions Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and the well-traveled and equally controversial Arron Asham.
“Putting the fatigue factor aside, the Rangers were done in by the New Jersey Devils in large part due to New Jersey’s fourth line,” according to BlushirtBanter.com analyst Michael Rappaport.
John Tortorella’s frustratingly constant line-shuffling notwithstanding, the players on Rangers top two lines are all but certain. The same can be said about their scoring expectations. However, if the Rangers want to build upon last year's success, the third and fourth lines will be depended on to provide the much needed scoring assistance that may have proven to be the team’s undoing last season.
With the organizational depth the franchise now has on the top two lines, those clamoring for the Rangers to avoid Doan’s high demands are more than justified. Rangers fans have more than proven to be a uniquely-patient lot of big market fans. Even in New York, there is no shame in embracing the virtue of patience when it comes to building a perennial contender.
As long as the Rangers can avoid the win-now temptation that has plagued them in the past, the franchise will be a Stanley Cup contender for years to come.