Rangers Off-Season May Mirror Yankees
It's no secret the Rangers primary target this off-season will be UFA center Brad Richards. Not only does it make perfect sense to any hockey fan worth his salt but nearly every pundit who is supposed to know something about the game has speculated the same. There is no guarantee that Richards signs with the Blue Shirts though and not getting him under contract would be a tremendous blow to New York's plans.
In many ways, this off-season is shaping up very similar to that the New York Yankees experienced this past winter. Think about it, the Yankees went into the off-season with one very specific target in mind; adding a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Being the Yankees, they immediately identified the top option on the free agent market, which was Texas LHP Cliff Lee, and pursued him with the same vigor they reserve for any marquee name. There really was no backup plan since the Yankees didn't care for any of the other available free agent starters.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Lee spurned their best offer and instead signed with one of his former employers, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees were forced to bring in low-risk veteran starters like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia instead of an established, in-his-prime ace. While Colon and Garcia have pitched pretty well for New York, their contributions are understandably less than what Lee would have brought to the table.
The Rangers are in a similar boat. They desperately need a first-line center and a PP QB and there happens to be one guy on the market that would fill both of those needs. Naturally the Rangers won't be the only club looking to add the veteran pivot to their fold.
Toronto also needs a legitimate first-line center. They have a ton of cap space and employ a GM not afraid to making a splash (see the Kessel deal for proof). Anticipating a cap ceiling between $62 and $63 million, the Leafs will have about $24 million of room to play with. They could easily add the $7 or $8 million cap hit Richards might be looking for and fill their other needs with the rest.
Los Angeles is also expected to get involved. Using the same cap ceiling figures, the Kings will have around $13 million in space. Of course they will also have to re-sign RFA D Drew Doughty which may complicate matters a little. Richards would add another scoring forward, which the Kings need, and he would ease some of the burden from the shoulders of Anze Kopitar.
Of course if Dallas can get their ownership situation ironed out in advance of free agency, it wouldn't be shocking to see Richards re-sign in Dallas. He's made it clear that would be his first choice.
This is shaping up to be an all-or-nothing type of summer for the Rangers. If they succeed in adding Richards to the club, make a couple of additional tweaks and several of the young roster players continue to progress then the Rangers could easily move from fringe playoff team to serious Stanley Cup contender. If they fail and Richards goes elsewhere then next season probably shakes out in much the same way this season did.