The Rangers have a slew of free agents-to-be come July 1st. Puck Central did his look at them last week and I figured I would throw my $.02 in on which players Glen Sather should Stalk and which he needs to decide to Let Him Walk.
First off, Valley has already apparently signed an extension for next season already to remain as the backup goaltender. As he will make the same salary - $725k - this isn't a bad deal. He went 5-5-2 with four bad games - early season losses to Toronto (the five goal blitzkrieg), Ottawa and the 10-2 Dallas disaster and the shootout loss/Ilya Kovalchuk show in Atlanta. They say he is good in the room and he clearly shows up to work so I guess it is a good thing. Still, you have to wonder a little about the future as this shows that Benoit Allaire didn't feel either Miika Wiikman and Matt Zaba were ready despite both putting up solid seasons in the AHL (.920 save percentage for Zaba in 41 games? Wow.).
Taking the goaltender out of the equation, NHLNumbers still has 14 players heading to free agency, half of which are restricted. NHLSCAP has even more but seeing as they have a deal with Hockey Buzz, I don't trust them. So let's take a quick alphabetical gander at the guys we know are out - there aren't a whole lotta surprises:
Nik Antropov: He's big, he can score and he seems to care. At the same time, he doesn't hit and he has been hurt in the past. If the price tag is $4 mil or less a year (he made $2.15 this year), I say Stalk.
Joe Barnes: Forget about him? He is one of the guys we got back for sending Matt Cullen back to Carolina. He suffered a major knee injury last season and a major concussion this season but beyond his inclusion on Charlotte's IR, I can't find any news on him. His cap hit was all of $17,000; he won't be missed - Let Him Walk.
Mark Bell: The big Bell came over late and did well in Hartford at the end of the regular season - collecting 14 points in 18 games. Then he managed just one goal in five playoff games (missing one with injury). He made $2.5 mil on his last deal which is way more then he will get this time. Unless he was 18 ways of wonderful with the Pack kids, Let Him Walk no matter how little he will take to return.
Blair Betts: My opinion of Bettsy is well known - he is my favourite player. The best penalty killer, the calm and composed Betts rarely takes penalties and is one of the best in the biz in killing them off. He made 615k this season and deserves a raise - at least above Voros money (a cool mil). While I don't think Sather will give it to him and will let him go (just because that's my luck), I definitely think he should be Stalked into staying.
Ryan Callahan: The winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, Cally was the best player on the team from wire to wire. He made $600k and is a RFA so a three, four year deal at $3 million wouldn't be terrible - especially considering his durability and upside. Stalk.
Brandon Dubinsky: Now, Dubi has an even bigger upside but struggled through a rollercoaster of a sophomore season. He may just be capable of being a Ranger captain down the line, but if he wants a long term deal for stupid money, you have to see if anyone will sign him to an offer sheet. As he hasn't played four NHL seasons, he can't go to arbitration and he was a WHL Tom Renney favourite. Should Renney get installed as Edmonton's coach, perhaps they will try to poach him. Still, if he will accept a reasonable deal, I say Stalk.
Lauri Korpikoski: The Korpedo had some good moments this season. He also had some bad ones as he was plagued with rookie mistakes and a coach who couldn't decide where or how to use him (Renney). As an RFA, he is entitled to a qualifying offer of 105% of his $984k and getting another season to see how he progresses may be worth the extra bucks. Stalk.
Paul Mara: The lumberjack has professed his love for NY and made just under $2 million. Seeing as he was the steadiest defenseman this season, he is certainly worth bring back but not for much more than what he was making. Considering he saw second unit power play time and we know how the special team fared, he might not be a big target for other teams so getting him for a discount may be possible. Stalk, with an eye on letting him walk if he doesn't flourish in NHL season No. 2.
Derek Morris: Seeing as Mike Sauer and Corey Potter proved jut as capable as playing as Morris did, the overpriced veteran can be shown the door. Had he come in and scored a dozen power play goals with that shot that they claimed he still had and hit everything that moved, I would say try to get him at a half price from his $3.95 mil salary but he didn't so see ya ... Let Him Walk.
Colton Orr: While us fans loved having one of the best bruisers in the business, the head coach clearly didn't trust him and benched him in the playoffs. Seeing what happened without him, you have to hope that even the obstinate Tortorella was able to learn a lesson and will insist Sather bring him back. Stalk.
Corey Potter: Tom Renney didn't trust him but Renney was a fool. Poised with the puck, Potter did well with his limited time and, as an RFA, certainly should be qualified to give him a chance to challenge for a spot on the Blueshirt blueline this fall. Stalk.
Pat Rissmiller: The former Shark didn't do anything for the Rangers but was a regular top line player on the farm. If he can find another team to give him one more kick at the NHL can, you have to say Let Him Walk.
Freddie Sjostrom: Just 25 years old, Sjoey hasn't found his scoring touch but his relentlessness and defensive acumen are certainly there. A restricted free agent who has been in the league for a while, he can go to arbitration. That should be avoided but knowing Sather it won't and the curmudgeon of a GM will point out his dearth of offense. Still, the affable Swede was solid on the ice and tight with Hank off of it so you gotta say Stalk.
Nik Zherdev: Another candidate for arbitration, if the Rangers don't take Zherdev there I would be shocked. Making $2.5 million now and ending up one of the leading scorers on a team that could hardly put the puck in the net, Z's agent could make a good case for a raise. While many of you guys appear to be entranced with his talent and youth (as seen in the comments of my report card), I have no patience for players with no heart and no fortitude. Let Him Walk.
NHLSCAP has five other free agents (all down on the farm) in Vlad Denisov, Dane Byers, Greg Moore, Matt Zaba and Pierre Parenteau with PA being the only UFA. If another team will give Moore a chance to make their NHL roster, let him go. I believe Denisov got a three year entry level contract before last season but could be wrong; he is a mediocre AHL guy so I would Let Him Walk if not. Byers, Zaba and Parenteau all should be Stalked - Byers has a huge upside and could become a Torts favourite, Zaba broke out when Wiikman was hurt and Parenteau can score. The Rangers need to make sure that if they are going to re-sign him they need to make sure he won't have to go through waivers to be called up (duh) - he would have been a nice addition to spark the Ranger offense during the midwinter doldrums.
Coming soon: a look at some free agents to be who might be worth checking out.