Salary Cap Situation Has Tied Gorton's Hands Somewhat, But GM Has Been Smart To Avoid Knee-Jerk Deals

By Sean Hartnett
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The Fourth of July came and went and Rangers fans are still waiting to see fireworks. Unable to free up precious cap space during last month’s draft, the Blueshirts were not positioned to be major players in free agency.

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Instead, general manager Jeff Gorton targeted depth signings and came away with a couple of bargain buys. Speedy wingers Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe were signed for a combined cap hit of $2.25 million. They represent good judgment in terms of cap management as they should infuse Alain Vigneault’s third and fourth lines with speed and help improve a penalty kill that fell to 26th overall last season.

Grabner made his NHL debut under Vigneault during the 2009-10 season in Vancouver, collecting 11 points in 20 games. He has since gone on to establish himself as one of the league’s premier shorthanded specialists and plays with the kind of speed that rivals former Ranger Carl Hagelin. The absence of Hagelin loomed large over the Blueshirts last season and a lack of footspeed was apparent during their five-game first-round elimination by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Grabner’s $1.65 million annual-average value contract looks like a smart commitment by the Rangers over the next two seasons. He should be exactly what the doctor ordered to help bring efficiency to the Blueshirts’ ailing man-down unit.

Signed to a one-year, $600,000 deal, Gerbe appears to be a low-risk/potentially high-reward signing. When healthy, he usually hovers around 30 points over a full season and could be a productive bottom-six forward. Gerbe brings speed, tenacity and an ability to win the puck in the corners.

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Listed at 5-foot-5, Gerbe told the Raleigh News and Observer that he’s actually a shade shorter at 5-4. Over the years, he has battled back issues and missed 25 games last season due to a high-ankle sprain. He was nominated for the Masterton Trophy for a second consecutive year by the Carolina members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Additionally, the Rangers signed depth defensemen Adam Clendening and Michael Paliotta. Clendening had already played for four NHL clubs in two seasons. Perhaps, Vigneault and power play coach Scott Arniel can jolt Clendening’s offensive potential. He was a second-round draft pick in 2011 and starred for the United States at the 2010 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. Paliotta has played two career NHL games. He spent last season skating in 68 games for AHL Lake Erie, collecting 23 points in 68 games. He skated for one game with Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

Still, the Rangers have yet to make major changes to their top-six forwards or top two defensive pairs. A shakeup can still happen. Gorton wisely did not get overaggressive at the draft by completing a desperate trade on the floor.

It’s a long offseason and there are still deals to be made. Gorton has demonstrated patience and the Rangers still have some adjustments to make. They likely will make more alterations before they host the rival Islanders to open the regular season on Oct. 13.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey