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Hartnett: The Rangers Must Go All-In On Free-Agent Target Paul Stastny

Paul Stastny (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Paul Stastny (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The Colorado Avalanche are playing hardball with prospective free-agent center Paul Stastny. It’s no secret that the cost-conscious Avs wish to sign Stastny to a discounted contract.

Stastny earned $6.6 million per year over the course of his expiring five-year contract. Colorado is essentially asking one of their prime-aged stars to take a pay cut to remain with the organization that drafted him in 2005.

The 28-year-old center will have to choose between taking a reduced salary to remain with the Avs and potentially earning more money via unrestricted free agency. All signs are pointing toward Stastny becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

According to Adrian Dater of The Denver Post, Stastny is open to listening to offers from other NHL teams.

“I’m hearing more that Stastny will listen to other offers,” Dater tweeted on Tuesday night. “Possibility he could circle back to the Avs, but count me as a pessimist.”

Colorado’s stance could result in Stastny slipping through its fingers. Should the Avs allow Stastny to hit free agency, they will have little chance of retaining the two-time NHL All-Star.

Starting on Wednesday, June 25, NHL teams and player agents are allowed to discuss the general parameters of what it would take to sign a potential free agent. This intriguing change to the existing June 25 to June 30 free-agent interview window could lead to some quick-fire deals being struck when free agency begins on July 1.

STASTNY WOULD BE A GREAT FIT FOR VIGNEAULT’S RANGERS

Having shed Brad Richards’ $6.67 million cap hit, the Rangers should be the first team in line seeking Stastny’s services.

The Rangers’ five-game Stanley Cup Final defeat to the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings served as evidence that the Blueshirts must upgrade at center. L.A. was able to cause all kinds of matchup problems for the Rangers due to its excellent center depth, boasting Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards down the middle.

The Rangers must do everything in their power to sign Stastny, as he is a dominant possession player with outstanding playmaking vision. He is not the fleetest of skaters, but Stastny has a strong skating stride, tremendous hockey sense and an innate ability to come up with loose pucks.

Alain Vigneault’s system is all about maintaining possession and out-chancing opponents. That’s why acquiring a player of Stastny’s breed is a must. He’s difficult to knock off the puck and is a solid two-way player.

Through eight NHL seasons, Stastny has eclipsed the 70 point-mark three times. He’s scored over 20 goals in six seasons and has twice recorded 50 assists or greater. Stastny finished the 2013-14 regular season with 25 goals and 35 assists for 60 points, notching four power-play goals and four game-winning goals. In seven games during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stastny scored five goals and registered five assists for 10 points.

It is going to take a few tough calls to accommodate Stastny’s potential annual cap hit above $6.6 million. Even with Richards out of the picture, the Rangers have roughly $47.325 million in cap payroll committed to 12 NHL players. One of those players is 21-year-old winger Jesper Fast, who could begin next season in either New York or Hartford. That leaves about $23.7 million to work with as the 2014-15 NHL salary cap is projected to be $71.1 million.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather’s offseason checklist includes agreeing to new deals with restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore, attempting to keep hold of potential unrestricted free agents Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore and signing key defenseman Marc Staal to a long-term extension. Staal is set to earn $5.45 million ($3.975 million cap hit) in the final year of his current contract.

All of these priorities plus the need for an upgrade at center puts a tremendous strain on the Rangers’ cap space. In an ideal scenario, the Rangers would be able to re-sign Stralman and Boyle, but their salary demands could become too costly.

Should Stralman become an unrestricted free agent, he is likely to command a four-year contract with an average salary above $4.5 million. Boyle is capable of earning above $2.5 million per year, possibly in a three-year pact. Both players were key reasons why the Rangers’ penalty-kill finished the regular season third overall and was the third-best during the postseason.

Losing Stralman and Boyle would be jagged pills to swallow, but freeing up cap space to sign a center of Stastny’s caliber is the Rangers’ No. 1 need.

Providing the main competition for Stastny’s services is likely to be the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Unless the talent-starved Leafs make Stastny an insane offer, the Rangers would stand a solid chance at landing Stastny given their win-now credentials.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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