The New York Knicks of Hockey

The financial woes of the New York Rangers are well documented. The huge salaries of Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Chris Drury, and Michal Roszival are crippling the Rangers and are compounded by the lengths of their contracts. Even worse, the money problems that will hinder Glen Sather's ability to retool the roster this summer could continue to be obstacles until Drury and Roszival come off the books in the summer of 2012 or unless one of these contracts is moved, which is unlikely.

So it looks like the Rangers may struggle to emerge from this financial crisis for three more seasons. That's a truly bleak outlook, but it is the reality of the matter unless some foolish general manager, or former Rangers employee (hear that John Davidson and Don Maloney?), is willing to do the Rangers a huge favor.

The problem is not that teams don't invest heavily in a group of high priced talent like the Rangers have; it's that the teams that take this approach have stars that actually perform to their expectations.

Interestingly the two teams currently playing for the Stanley Cup nearly match the Rangers in big contracts. Assuming the Red Wings do re-sign Marian Hossa for $6 million or more, they will have Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Hossa for right around $32 million next season. The Pittsburgh Penguins will have about $31 million invested in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jordan Staal.

The difference is that for the $32 million the Rangers have invested in Gomez, Redden, Drury, Roszival, and Lundqvist, only Lundqvist is worth the money. The top five paid Red Wings were also the team's top five point producers this season and combined for 129 goals and 230 assists in 388 games played, roughly about .93 points a game. Three of the four highest paid Penguins were also their top point producers (the fourth, Sergei Gonchar, only played 25 games) and scored 96 goals and 188 assists in 266 games played, for 1.07 points a game.

The Rangers? Their four top paid skaters finished first, third, seventh and eighth in points but combined for a measly 49 goals and 121 assists in 315 games played, about .54 points a game. It's ok to pay players big bucks, but they have to produce. Otherwise, a team is crippled.

The Rangers cannot afford to bring in a big scorer like Marian Gaborik to rectify their offense because they're already paying four other skaters "big scorer" money. Those four aren't getting the job done and that's why the Rangers are in such a quandry.

For the Rangers, the financial woes could get even worse before they get better. Next summer, young phenom Marc Staal will become a restricted free agent. The Rangers must re-sign their prized defenseman, and it will cost them. If Michal Roszival makes $5 million and Wade Redden gets $6.5, Staal could command at least $6 million. The Rangers are likely to be quiet this summer in free agency because of their money shortage, but with that additional contract certain to be added to the books next summer, they'll be in even tougher shape financially.

Many Rangers fans recognize the financial constraints the organization faces this summer, but do not realize that this problem will continue to plague the franchise. The idea of waiting until next summer to make a run at Ilya Kovalchuk is good in principle, but the truth is that the Rangers won't have any more money next summer than they do now.

That's not to say the Rangers can't make the playoffs or improve in the next few years. By working in their young players at a suitable pace, drafting well, and acquiring undervalued players cheaply, the Rangers can be a good team. But they won't be able to be the Rangers of the last decade. There is no way the Rangers can make a run at Kovalchuk next summer, or Marian Gaborik this July.

The salary cap has caught the Rangers, and they will be forced to operate far differently than in recent years. What was once a pipedream may now be a forced reality; the Rangers can only get better by building from within and getting cheap guys. I

t's anyone's guess whether Michael Del Zotto, Bobby Sanguinetti, Evgeny Grachev, or Artem Anisimov are going to be good NHL regulars soon or at all, but that's what the Rangers are counting on. That's not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Rangers fans have been clamoring to "give the young guys a shot" for several years. But its disconcerting that's only about to happen because there are no other options rather than because the youngsters are ready. It will have to happen because Glen Sather really can't hire any more expensive mercenaries.

Obviously, the first priority for Sather must be to call every general manager in the National Hockey League and beg them to take one of his contracts. If and when that fails, he must immediately recognize that there will be no expensive free agent signings this summer. Instead, he must lock up his young restricted free agents, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, and decide how to economically fill out the rest of the roster.

The following is how that roster may fill out (all salary cap hits are estimates):

Players already on the roster:

C Scott Gomez ($7.3 million)

C Chris Drury ($7 million)

LW Sean Avery ($1.9 million)

D Wade Redden ($6.5 million)

D Michal Roszival ($5 million)

D Dan Girardi ($1.5 million)

D Marc Staal ($800,000)

G Henrik Lundqvist ($6.8 million)

G Stephen Valiquette ($725,000)

Total: $37.525 million

Current Salary Cap: $56,700,000

1. Assume that Aaron Voros and his $1 million are relegated to Hartford along with Pat Rissmiller and Mark Bell.

2. The salary cap for the 2009-10 season is still not public knowledge, but many project that it could drop by as much as $2 million.

3. Assume that it is a foregone conclusion that Artem Anisimov ($800,000) makes the team out of training camp.

Since this is clearly a gloom and doom story, let's assume the 2009 salary cap drops to $55 million. The Rangers need to add eight forwards and two defenseman with their $16.675 million of available space.

Restricted Free Agents

RW Nikolai Zherdev

LW Lauri Korpikoski

RW Fredrik Sjostrom

C Brandon Dubinsky

RW Ryan Callahan

Unrestricted Free Agents

RW Nik Antropov

C Blair Betts

RW Colton Orr

D Derek Morris

D Paul Mara

It is a virtual lock that the Rangers will make every attempt to bring back Dubinsky, Callahan, and Korpikoski (and if they don't Rangers fans will gather up their torches and pitchforks). Perhaps the Rangers can re-sign Dubinsky for $1.5 million, Callahan for $1.5 million and Korpikoski for $1 million. The Rangers then need five more forwards and two defenseman with their remaining $12.674 million.

Who else to retain hinges on several key questions.

1. Are any of the remaining players long-term solutions?

2. Can Zherdev become the scorer the Rangers sorely lack?

3. How important is it to keep the league's best penalty killing duo together?

4. Does it make more sense to acquire a mid-level scorer externally or to bring back Zherdev/Antropov?

5. Is Matt Gilroy a lock to make the team?

6. What free agents are possible solutions for the Rangers?

The Rangers must answer these questions in order to proceed.

1. No, with the exception of Zherdev, none of these players have much room for growth. While they have experience in New York, they aren't likely to improve the Rangers fortunes. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be kept, because at affordable salaries, the Rangers may be looking to fill out their roster with any body, literally.

2. He can. But that's an awfully expensive risk for the Rangers to take given their current state. Even if the Rangers take Zherdev to arbitration he'll get at least $2.5 million again and possibly more. If they re-sign him long-term under the belief that he can be a top flight winger and he fails, the Rangers will be far worse off than they are now.

3. It'd be nice. But it's not important. Betts would be nice to keep but the Rangers might be forced to overpay. I think it's more likely that the Rangers keep Sjostrom, a John Tortorella favorite, and a cheap, speedy forward to fill out the forward ranks.

4. It is highly unlikely that the Rangers will keep Antropov and Zherdev. But perhaps the best option is neither. Both will command at least $2.5 million and maybe more, and maybe that's money the Rangers can best spend elsewhere. Maybe not, but Sather must determine how best to maximize the scoring potential of his five remaining forward spots. He might be able to get a Brian Gionta, for example, at a slightly cheaper price, and then spend some of that extra money on a few more goals from depth forwards.

5. The 24 year-old defenseman out of Boston University was a briefly celebrated signing by the Rangers in the midst of their postseason run, but it may not have been a wise move to invest $1.75 million this season in an unproven college player. It is believed that the Rangers could option Gilroy to Hartford should they choose, but clearly the intent is that Gilroy was signed to play with the Rangers. That would leave the Rangers with $10.924 for five forwards and a defenseman.

6. The Rangers probably won't look too hard into the defensemen pool in free agency as they have plenty of nearly NHL-ready prospects. But there are some intriguing forwards who could provide the Rangers with some much needed offense. Mike Cammalleri, Steve Sullivan, John Madden, Jason Williams, Brian Gionta, Miroslav Satan, Mike Knuble, Ales Kotalik, Petr Sykora, Richard Zednik, Chris Neil, Mikael Samuelsson, and Ruslan Fedotenko are all names to keep in mind. Cammalleri, Sullivan, and Gionta may be unaffordable, but one or more players on this list might slip through the cracks and end up on Broadway in the fall.

Keeping all that in mind, I think this is the best roster to keep the Rangers competitive in 2009 and to provide them with flexibility in the future:

C Scott Gomez ($7.3 million)

C Chris Drury ($7 million)

C Brandon Dubinsky ($1.5 million)

C Artem Anisimov ($800,000)

C Blair Betts ($1.3 million)

RW Ryan Callahan ($1.5 million)

RW Fredrik Sjostrom ($1 million)

RW Nik Antropov ($3 million)

RW Richard Zednik ($1.5 million)

LW Lauri Korpikoski ($1 million)

LW Sean Avery ($1.9 million)

LW Ruslan Fedotenko ($2 million)

D Wade Redden ($6.5 million)

D Michal Roszival ($5 million)

D Dan Girardi ($1.5 million)

D Marc Staal ($800,000)

D Matt Gilroy ($1.75 million)

D Paul Mara ($1.5 million)

G Henrik Lundqvist ($6.8 million)

G Stephen Valiquette ($725,000)

Total: $54.375 million

Potential 2009 Salary Cap: $55 million

Current Salary Cap: $56,700,000

Granted the Rangers still a seventh defenseman and extra forward. But they might have just enough wiggle room with this potential lineup, and, if they salary cap stays the same, they certainly would.

This team is not a contender by any means, but with so many big contracts already set in stone, some mid-level scoring, stopgap solutions are all that can really be expected this summer. Hopefully, guys like Fedotenko and Zednik can be signed to one-year deals, and Antropov might only require two years. So the Rangers will have a little more depth and offensive firepower for the upcoming season, and they will still be able to work in their young players in the near future. The whole situation is not ideal, but the Rangers don't have many other options.

 Kevin Baumer writes about college and pro sports.  He lives in New Providence, NJ.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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