Fixing the Blue Shirts Problems
Here we sit, roughly a month-and-a-half away from the trade deadline. The New York Rangers have scratched and clawed their way to a 5th place tie in the Eastern Conference despite not boasting much in the way of top notch talent. They've relied heavily on their youth this season giving key minutes to players like; rookie Derek Stepan, big center Brian Boyle, 2nd year player Artie Anisimov, rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh, etc. As rosy as things look right now this team still has some weaknesses and it wouldn't be surprising to see Glen Sather address those prior to the deadline.
Obviously we have to remember we have a salary cap to deal with. The CBA and the salary cap it provides is not an easy to understand thing. On the surface, every team has a "ceiling" it must stay at or under to be in compliance. This year the cap ceiling is $59.4 MM. However, that number is actually a cumulative of 193 league days. That means that each team has just under $300,000 per day of cap space to spend on roster players.
Let's take a player making $1.93 million in the 2010 - 2011 season (a nice round figure). That player accounts for a daily cap hit of $10,000 ($1,930,000 divided by 193 days) out of the roughly $300,000 I mentioned.
In essence, the longer the season stretches the more cap space that is available. For more on this, visit Cap Geek. They explain better and more succinctly than I can. The bottom line is, as of today, the Rangers have just a shade more than $5 million in cap space available to add a player. That means they can add a player with a $5 million cap hit without moving any of their current players. That figure will increase daily too.
So, now that we know how much the Rangers have to play with, what areas does the club need to improve upon? First of all, we have a lot of kids playing big minutes and I don't think we're going to displace a kid playing well for the sake of adding a veteran. Given that, we undoubtedly need help in the face-off circle where the Rangers rank 28th of 30 teams at 45.4%. Also, we could use a boost on the power play; specifically a guy that can play the point. The Rangers PP ranks 22nd converting at a 16.2% clip.
At this point in the season the league's teams tend to divide themselves into one of three categories; buyers, sellers, and the teams holding their hand. Right now the list of sellers is limited to teams that consider themselves out of the playoff picture. Unfortunately, if you're a buyer anyway, the number of those teams is not high. That severely limits the number of potential options for teams looking to improve.
For perspective on that, consider the following; in the Western Conference, the teams currently residing in the 4th through 13th slots are separated by a mere 10 points. That sounds like a lot but in reality it isn't at this point in the season. Every game between contenders is a potential "4 point game." Anyone hitting a hot streak can rapidly ascend the standings. Basically, the top 13 teams in the Western Conference standings must feel as if they are legitimate contenders.
Never fear though because I've done the work; both for you, the casual fan, and also for the GM's I know must read my blogs. I identified several teams not likely to contend for a postseason spot and the players that could potentially fill a need for our Rangers. The list isn't long but there is a solid fit.
I found 3 out of the top 30 guys in face-off % in all of the NHL that may be available. Of the 3 listed, only 1 has a deal which extends beyond the remainder of the 2010-2011 season. I've even listed their cap hit so we can see how neatly they might fit in with the Rangers.
Paul Gaustad - Buffalo - 60.1% Face-off % (3rd in NHL) - 1+ year @ $2.3 million
Zenon Konopka - NYI - 58.8% Face-off % (6th in NHL) - rest of season @ $600K
Marty Reasoner - Florida - 55.6 Face-off % (18th in NHL) - rest of season @ $1.15 million
Gaustad is a big Center that can kill penalties (1:49 SH TOI/G in 2010 - 2011). He has potted 10 or more goals in 3 straight seasons. Buffalo, with new ownership, might consider selling if they aren't likely to qualify for the playoffs and that could make Gaustad available. He's not shy of plying a physical game (averaged 1.25 PIM/GM over the last 5+ seasons). He does count for a $2.3 MM cap hit for 2011 - 2012.
Konopka is a 2 tool NHL player. He is great on face-offs and can fight. He does kill penalties with the Islanders (2:03 per game). Will the Islanders deal with a division rival perhaps helping them advance further in the playoffs? If they do, would they jack the price up on a marginal player like Konopka? I would guess they might.
Reasoner is a well-traveled vet that has ranked in the league's top 42 in face-off % in each of the last 5 seasons. This season he ranks 18th with a career high 55.6%. He also has spent a lot of time on the PK. This year he is averaging 2:47 of SH TOI/G and played better than 3 minutes average per game in each of the previous 2 seasons with Atlanta. The Panthers may be out of a playoff spot but the PK ranks 5th overall in the NHL and Reasoner is a major reason why.
The Rangers have struggled on the PP this season. One thing they could use is a good PP QB; one with an accurate point shot. So, what may be available for Slats to pick through? Here's a couple of names to keep in mind.
Joni Pitkanen - Carolina
Pitkanen may be one of the more highly sought after players at the deadline. He plays big minutes in all situations. He does have some PP success too. Right now, Marc Staal leads Rangers Defenseman in PP scoring with 7 points (3g, 4a). Joni Pitkanen has 6 points, all assists, on the PP. Last year Pitkanen recorded 19 points (1g, 18a) on the PP and if you project Staal's current season out he would fall well short of that point total. Pitkanen could help.
Pitkanen carries a $4 million cap hit and the deal expires at the end of the season. The Rangers can afford Pitkanen today.
Bryan McCabe - Florida
McCabe has had success on the PP. He netted 13 goals on the PP in 2005 - 2006 and 11 more the the following season. He carries a more expensive cap hit ($5.75 million) than Pitkanen for the 2010 - 2011 season. The Blue Shirts would have to wait to acquire McCabe unless they demoted a small contract (like Newbury).
McCabe has a hard shot which may be welcome on our PP. He also scored 8 PP goals in the 2008 - 2009 season. At present, he is on pace for 4 PPG and 10 PP points this season. He's on pace for a substandard season perhaps because the Panthers have the worst PP in the NHL at this time.
How much of that is McCabe's fault? That's a little hard to figure. McCabe has a hard and accurate point shot. The Rangers don't currently have that. Can McCabe help the Rangers PP? Possibly and maybe probably.
Ironically (or maybe not) 2 of the available players I mentioned are Panthers. Bryan McCabe and Marty Reasoner could both help the Rangers. Chances are they could be had relatively cheaply too. Both players are also pending UFA's after the season so any salary cap commitments are short-lived.
The collective cap hit for McCabe and Reasoner is $6.9 million. The Rangers are only able to add a hair more than $5 million today. As of February 2nd they could trade for both players without making a corresponding move to reduce the team's cap hit. Here's an option that could make sense.
At this point I have to question whether Vinny Prospal will even play this year. Dale Weise and Kris Newbury are prime candidates to be demoted. The team can make roster space if needed. The cap space is there. The need is there. The question is what Florida would want for McCabe and Reasoner.
This is just my idea for the Rangers to perhaps address their deficiencies. It would address the issues they have and this could be done cheaply. We'll see what Sather does with his cap space leading up to the deadline.