By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers are at a critical point at the start of free agency. If they do nothing and stick with their roster as currently constituted, they figure to have another solid year that will get them to the second or third round of the playoffs.
They will not win the Stanley Cup. They almost certainly won’t get past the Eastern Conference Finals. They might not even get that far.
The Rangers need to become a more explosive team. They need more goal scoring and they can’t continue to depend on solely on the ability of their players to block shots and Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
If the Rangers don’t make moves, they probably won’t be as good as they were this past season. They face some free-agent losses of their own, including winger Brandon Prust. General manager Glen Sather knows that Prust will likely cost too much to keep him in the fold for his 12 minutes of action per game.
The Rangers have to be concerned with beefing up their offense by adding a front-line player. They signed Brad Richards last year and they have to look at the top options this year. Sather has been trying to work a reasonable deal with Columbus for Rick Nash, but the bumbling Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has his hackles up.
Instead of trying to work out a deal that will help his team rebuild efficiently and smartly, Howson is interested in showing the hockey world that he’s not going to be taken advantage of by any New York general manager.
Sather is doing the prudent thing by not gutting his roster for a chance to get Nash. The other trade possibility is Cherry Hill, New Jersey native Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks. While Anaheim general manager Bob Murray is more reasonable than Howson, he’s certainly not going to give a four-time 30-goal scorer away.
The best way to find a scorer is through free agency because the Rangers won’t have to give away any core members of their team to make a deal. Zach Parise of the Devils seemingly dismissed the Rangers when he said he didn’t want to play in New York a day or two after the Kings beat New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Parise was fully emotional at that point. Emotions will never be completely divorced from the situation, but July 1st is all about business. If Parise has softened his stance even a bit, Sather will make a move to join the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild as Parise’s primary suitors. The Kings may also get involved as well. Parise would turn the Rangers from solid team to Stanley Cup favorites.
When it comes to making a free-agent splash, Sather has shown that he is unafraid to make a big deal. The Richards deal last season shows he knows how to blow away the field.
If he can’t turn Parise around, Sather needs to look at Alex Semin of the Capitals, P.A. Parenteau of the Islanders, Shane Doan and Ray Whitney of the Coyotes and Jiri Hudler of the Red Wings. They are all offensive players who can give the Rangers separation on the scoreboard.
Semin has been unhappy for the last year or so in Washington as the Capitals look for an identity. Would New York be an ideal spot for him given John Tortorella’s demands for defensive responsibilities? Maybe not, but when Semin is allowed to free wheel, he has a vicious and accurate shot. He scored 40 goals in 2009-10 and he could do it again.
Parenteau, a former Ranger, has never reached the 40-goal mark, but in his two years with the Islanders he has proven to be a power play sniper. He scored nine power play goals in 2010-11 and added six more last year. He has a quick release and knows how to find the dead spots in the defense to score with the man advantage.
Whitney, 40, does not have a lot of time left but he is a sniper. That’s just what the Rangers need. He’s smart and dangerous. Doan seems more likely to stay in the Western Conference, but he is a dynamic all-around player who can score and also play the physical game. He will remind you of Brendan Shanahan when you see him on an every night basis.
Hudler could turn out to be an X-factor. He is a 5-9, 178-pound keg of dynamite who uses his speed and quickness to create highlight-film plays. Hudler, 28, is in the prime of his career and he scored 25 goals and 25 assists with the Detroit last year. He’s the kind of player who can create instant offense with his quickness and create a scoring opportunity when his team is in an offensive funk.
Sather can’t just sit tight. He has to make a move and give the offense more firepower. It’s 18 years and counting and there’s no reason to wait around.
Rangers fans, who do you want Sather to sign in the off-season? Be heard in the comments below…