The 2011-2012 season for the New York Rangers came to a disappointing close, with the club losing to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. The big picture though is that the season was actually a huge success, as the Rangers were never projected to finish so highly.
Still, there are a lot of big name free agents on the market right now in the NHL, as well as other big names on the trading block. Therefore, it's worth considering whether or not the Rangers should pursue any of these available players.
Rangers Salary Cap
For a change, the Rangers are actually in a very healthy salary cap position. The 2012-2013 salary cap is projected to be at $70.3 million -- although that number could move once the new CBA is reached between the owners and the NHLPA.
Based on that figure though, New York has over $21 million in cap space for the upcoming season. Better yet, most of the club is already locked up, while only a few moderately priced unrestricted free agents need to be worried about for next season, such as Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and Martin Biron.
The Young Core
A trip to the conference finals with a young team is something which can be built on for the future, and that's finally what the Rangers are in position to do. After frittering away nearly two decades since the 1994 Stanley Cup championship by overpaying for aging, overrated "names", the Rangers are now finally loaded with young stars and prospects who have made their way up through the club's own system.
Beyond Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, free agent imports, the rest of the team is young and on the rise. At 28 years old, Dan Girardi is one of the "older" members of the team's core. Ryan Callahan is 27, Marc Staal is 25, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin are 23, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto are 22, and Chris Kreider is 21. And, perhaps most importantly of all, Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist turned 30 this year, and has at least half a decade of peak play left.
Ultimately, the Rangers are in a position where they can spend, but don't need to overpay. Most of the pieces are in place, and none of them should be sent off in a trade which shortens the club overall window for a player beginning to decline.
While a trade for Rick Nash is obviously enticing, the price would likely be too steep, involving giving away too much young, affordable talent. Therefore, free agency is the club's best bet, and when you take a look at some of the best free agents available for 2012-2013 and beyond, there are certainly some intriguing names out there.
Some - Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Semin - for example, should be crossed off the list immediately. Shane Doan should be gettable for a midlevel type contract, and he's the type of physical presence on offense that the club sorely needs if the price tag doesn't move too high.
The club could afford Zach Parise, but it's unlikely that they make a play, with the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins in pursuit and likely to be the favorites to land him. Defenseman Ryan Suter has plenty of, well, suitors, but the Rangers have so much young depth at defense. Jiri Hudler, just 27, could be worth going after if he and John Tortorella could play nice.
Ultimately, the Rangers shouldn't divert from their new path of developing prospects from within and relying on talented youth. With money to spend, guys like Doan or Hudler could be brought in to boost the team on offense and provide more dependable experience, without forcing the club into bad cap moves, or costly trades.
The Rangers don't need any kneejerk reactions right now, and a solid veteran pickup or two like those guys would go a long way.
Sources: Rangers.NHL.com, HockeyBuzz.com, CapGeek.com, CBSSports.com
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