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Hartnett: Rangers Will Be Hard-Pressed To Make Big Splash In Free Agency

Cap At $69 Million Hampers What They Want To Do, Given All Their Own Free Agents
The Rangers’ Anton Stralman, left, hip checks Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 11, 2014. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Rangers’ Anton Stralman, left, hip checks Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 11, 2014. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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

At the stroke of noon on Tuesday, NHL free agency kicks into gear. General managers will immediately race to sign star names from their respective free agent wishlists. Signings will be sealed and announced in rapid succession. One by one, the big-name dominoes will fall.

July 1 will either a celebratory or frustrating day around the offices of clubs depending on whether that particular team succeeds in landing its top targets, or ends up with the short end of the stick.

The free agent frenzy is usually a day of great anticipation and excitement for Rangers fans. When last summer’s signing period got underway on July 5, general manager Glen Sather completed some astute business. Sather sprung to sign undervalued winger Benoit Pouliot to a one-year contract worth $1.3 million and reliable veteran forward Dominic Moore to a one-year deal at exactly $1 million.

Both of those free agent acquisitions turned out to be absolute bargains for the Blueshirts. First-year head coach Alain Vigneault was able to summon an unforeseen level of consistency from the notoriously streaky Pouliot. The Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello line was the Rangers’ best line from early December through the conclusion of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Returning to where his career began in New York, Moore provided versatility, expert penalty-killing and spirited checking line play. The inspirational 33-year-old is a positive influence on youngsters in the dressing room and is a beloved teammate.

But this time around, the fans are dreading what free agency has in store. Things changed quickly for the Rangers on Friday when the NHL announced that the 2014-15 salary cap maximum will be $69 million. It was previously expected that the upcoming season’s salary cap would be closer to $71 million. That $2 million difference hamstrings the Blueshirts’ ability to re-sign their own players and severely damages their hope of competing over the most desirable free agent talents.

The Rangers can forget about signing free agent center Paul Stastny. The prized 28-year-old would be an ideal fit, given his play-making acumen and outstanding puck possession abilities, but it’s becoming clear that the Rangers simply cannot accommodate the lucrative salary Stastny will command into their cap structure. Expect the St. Louis Blues to land Stastny.

The Rangers traded fourth-line winger Derek Dorsett to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday for a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Even though the Rangers were able to shed Dorsett’s $1.633 million cap hit and make Brad Richards’ $6.667 million salary vanish through their final compliance buyout, the salary cap squeeze is incredibly tight. According to Capgeek.com, the Rangers have roughly $45.69 million in cap payroll committed to 11 players, leaving approximately $23.3 million in available cap space. That number does not include unrestricted free agents: Anton Stralman, Pouliot, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Dan Carcillo and Raphael Diaz, or restricted free agents Brassard, Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, John Moore and Justin Falk.

SEVERAL RANGERS RECEIVE QUALIFYING OFFERS

A Rangers spokesman confirmed on Monday that restricted free agents: Brassard, Zuccarello, Kreider, John Moore, Danny Kristo, Ryan Bourque and Jason Missiaen received qualifying offers. Justin Falk, Kyle Beach, Kyle Jean, Scot Stajcer and Jason Wilson did not receive qualifying offers.

The offers received by RFAs are as followS: Brassard — $3.7 million, Zuccarello — $1.5 million, Kreider — $850,500, Moore — $850,500, Kristo — $826,875, Missiaen — $715,000 Bourque — $687,500.

NOTABLE RANGERS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:

STRALMAN: The Rangers will make every effort to keep hold of the 27-year-old defenseman, but his free agent earning potential could exceed $4.5 million over a five-year term. Stralman showed just how valuable and reliable he was to the Blueshirts during the playoffs. His puck possession numbers were at an elite level during the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Stralman is an expert penalty killer and fully capable of working the point on the power play. For whatever reason, Vigneault gave Stralman scarce minutes on the man advantage. Another team is likely to offer Stralman a more lucrative contract and, perhaps, a full-time power play role. Should Stralman sign elsewhere, it would be a huge blow to the Blueshirts.

Long-term security is Stralman’s greatest desire. He hopes that security will come with the Rangers.

“We’ve been moving a lot, four teams in seven years. All we’re really looking for is stability, to stay in one place. This is obviously where we want (to be.) I’d like to stay. I hope it can happen. We’ll see,” Stralman said at breakup day on June 16.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 1 goal, 12 assists, and 26 penalty minutes in 81 games.

Previous contract: two-years at an annual average value of $1.7 million.

Likelihood of remaining with Rangers: 45 percent.

BRIAN BOYLE. The 29-year-old forward has grown very comfortable in New York. Yet, he’s seeking an increased role either with the Rangers or a new organization. Vigneault admitted during the regular season that conversations took place between himself and Boyle about the 6-foot-7 forward’s role. Boyle was in Vigneault’s ear, suggesting that he could step into a larger role beyond the fourth line when injuries hit the Rangers.

“I know what my role would be coming back here,” Boyle said at breakup day on June 16. “In the playoffs and on a team that’s going to win in May and June, it’s an important role. But everybody wants to score more goals.”

“I was on the fourth line, and I didn’t really like it, but it wasn’t the fourth line I was used to,” Boyle said. “We had three lines that could score on any shift. It was different, it was just different.”

A number of teams could offer the durable Boyle an increased role, as he will be a coveted free agent due to his penalty-killing prowess. Boyle is an expert defensive zone face-off winner and rugged, all-effort penalty-killer. He is likely to command a mega-raise, above $3 million annually in a three-year contract. Those figures are likely too rich for the Rangers.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 6 goals, 12 assists, 56 penalty minutes in 82 games.

Previous contract: three years at an annual average value of $1.7 million.

Likelihood of remaining with Rangers: 35 percent.

POULIOT: The 27-year-old forward fit like a glove in his first season with the Rangers. It appears that Sather does not want to mess with the chemistry of the in-sync Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line. The Rangers are willing to keep Pouliot around as long as his salary demands aren’t excessive.

Roughly 10 teams have reportedly reached out to Pouliot’s representatives. Back on break-up day, Pouliot said “he really wants to stay” with the Rangers.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 15 goals, 21 assists, 56 penalty minutes, 7 power play goals in 80 games.

Previous contract: one-year, $1.3 million.

Likelihood of remaining with Rangers: 70 percent.

DOMINIC MOORE: The 33-year-old forward proved to be a very cost-effective signing for the Rangers last season. Now, he’s in line for a significant raise. Sather would be wise to keep Moore around should his salary demands stay below $2 million. It hurt the Rangers when Sather dealt Moore to the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2006. They do not want negative history to repeat itself. Moore is renowned for his penalty-killing work ethic, but he is also capable of playing a top-six forward role in a pinch.

It’s clear that Moore wants to remain with the Blueshirts. He loves representing this city and the Rangers. New Yorkers rallied around Moore after he opted to return to hockey after taking a season off following the tragic loss of wife, Katie, to a rare form of liver cancer.

“Obviously, I’d love to come back,” Moore said earlier this month. “It was a lot of fun to be here this year. Especially after coming back from time off, it was very rewarding here in a lot of ways.”

2013-14 regular season statistics: 6 goals, 12 assists, 18 penalty minutes in 73 games.

Previous contract: one-year, $1 million.

Likelihood of remaining with the Rangers: 60 percent.

DAN CARCILLO: Dorsett’s departure has led many to ponder whether Carcillo has a future with the Rangers. Yet, Carcillo’s history of suspensions and frequent injuries could scare off the Rangers. The rugged 29-year-old forward is replaceable and the Rangers might be better off giving a youngster a chance to compete for a fourth-line spot during training camp.

2013-14 regular season statistics: four goals, one assist, five points and 100 penalty minutes in 57 games.

Previous contract: one-year, $825,000.

Likelihood of remaining with the Rangers: 50 percent.

POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS:

DAN BOYLE: At 37, Boyle is on the decline. The veteran defenseman is no longer the 50-point force of his youth. Even considering his advanced age, Boyle is a very capable power play quarterback and a solid all-around blue-line presence. The Rangers have lacked an outstanding point shot on the man advantage for some time, and Boyle would fill that need. He is seeking a two-year term and wishes to sign-on with a Stanley Cup contender. Boyle was a long-time teammate of Martin St. Louis in Tampa Bay. That relationship could persuade Boyle to choose New York over a number of potential free agent destinations, including Detroit and Toronto.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 12 goals, 24 assists, 32 penalty minutes and six power play goals in 75 games.

Previous contract: six years, at $6.667 million per year.

MASON RAYMOND: The 28-year-old winger is familiar with Vigneault’s system, given that he played for the Rangers’ coach for six seasons in Vancouver. The speedy lefty shot is capable of playing on either wing and is coming off a solid season with the Maple Leafs, with whom he played significant roles the power play and penalty kill. Raymond would be worth going after should Pouliot’s demand become too costly.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 19 goals, 26 assists, 22 penalty minutes and six power play goals in 82 games.

Previous contract: one-year, $1 million.

RYAN CARTER: New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello has repeatedly expressed his desire to keep the Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier fourth-line together. That being said, the Devils do not appear equipped to contend for a Stanley Cup in the near future.

Carter, 30, could indeed follow the path of many beloved Devils before him by crossing the Hudson to sign with the rival Rangers. He is capable of playing all three forward positions. Carter’s penalty killing experience would come in handy should the Rangers lose either Brian Boyle or Dom Moore through free agency.

2013-14 regular season statistics with the Devils: 7 goals, 3 assists, 35 penalty minutes in 62 games.

Previous contract: two years, $0.775 million in annual average value.

MARK FAYNE: Another Devils’ UFA, Fayne would be a decent fit for the Rangers should Stralman sign elsewhere. Fayne, 27, is a capable puck-mover and Vigneault might be able to harness his full offensive upside. The postionally-sound defenseman would be able to slide into a spot on the penalty kill.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 4 goals, 7 assists, 30 penalty minutes in 72 games.

Previous contract: two years, $1.3 million in annual average value.

SAKU KOIVU: The Anaheim Ducks announced earlier this offseason that they are not bringing back the 39-year-old center. There is a lot of tread missing from Koivu’s tires, but he remains a face-off expert and an all-effort individual. Koivu’s fearless style of play, penalty killing expertise and dressing room wisdom would make him a decent alternative to Dom Moore. It’s unclear whether Koivu would be willing to move East after spending the past five seasons in sunny California.

2013-14 regular season statistics: 11 goals, 18 assists, 46 penalty minutes in 65 games.

Previous contract: one-year, $2.5 million.

RANGERS PROSPECT CAMP BEGINS ON MONDAY

It will take place in Westchester and last through July 4.

According to a list provided by the Rangers, 37 prospects will be attending, including Anthony Duclair, Brady Skjei, Pavel Buchnevich and Michael St. Croix. This year’s draft picks, Keegan Iverson, Brandon Halverson, Ryan Mantha, Richard Nejezchleb, Tyler Nanne and Daniel Walcott, will also be participating.

Monday’s prospects scrimmage is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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