By Brian Monzo
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Free agency comes every year on July 1. Much like the trade deadline, July 1 is like Christmas Day for hockey fans. After the draft, it's the second way fans see their team start their preparations for next season.
The Rangers unrestricted free agents are Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Steve Eminger, Jeff Woywitka, Stu Bickel, John Scott and Martin Biron. Michael Del Zotto is a restricted free agent, as is Anton Stralman. Stralman is a good as gone, and Del Zotto will be back unless he is traded.
They've had preliminary talks with Prust and Biron, and I would expect them to be back. Fedotenko is one of John Tortorella's guys, so there is a chance he is back. The rest I would think are gone.
As it has become tradition, the Rangers are in search of offense, perhaps some grit and a puck moving defenseman (which seems to be the case for every team). This group of free agents is actually kind of light. The Rangers should have around $21 million available to spend (which of course could change if a new CBA is signed and the cap is lowered).
If they bring back Prust and Biron, they should have somewhere in the range of $17-18 available. Considering the players on their roster, that equates to a good amount of coin to have available.
I am going right for the gold. Here are the players I think the Rangers should and will pursue:
New Jersey Devils forward and captain Zach Parise: I don't need to sit here and break down what and who Zach Parise is. We all know who he is. Why does he makes sense for the Rangers? He plays the exact style that makes the Rangers successful. He hustles, he doesn't take a shift off and he leaves it all on the ice. His leadership is invaluable and he can score goals. Parise has scored 31, 32, 45, 38 and 31 goals since he has been in the league. He will get a huge contract, but the Rangers situation appears they will be able lock someone up at $7 million per season.
Phoenix Coyotes forward and captain Shane Doan: Doan is 35-years-old and is ready to win a Stanley Cup. The Rangers are a 'win-now' team and could use a player with Doan's grit, 20+ goals and leadership. Hell, every team could use a player like Doan. However, the Rangers have a young captain with Ryan Callahan, and I think someone like Doan would be a tremendous asset for the Rangers. They also have Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan, all youngsters that could learn from a player like Doan. Doan played the best he had played in a long time in the playoffs (I know he had a questionable hit...whatever) and with a only a few seasons left in his career, he could probably he had for two years at around $3 million per season. Chances are he stays in Phoenix if their ownership situation clears up, but if not, he will have a ton of teams inquiring about his service, with the Rangers being one of them.
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Carle: Carle is not someone you hear rumored, and chances are he signs back with Philly, but if he makes it to July 1st, the Rangers should take a serious look. Carle is 27, born in the US and has consistently put up 30-40 points from the blueline. He can kill penalties, play on the power play and eat minutes. The Rangers pride themselves on defense, and Carle would be a great addition. Is he Ryan Suter? No. But he fits the Rangers mold. They are deep defensively (Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, McDonagh, Del Zotto, Michael Sauer if healthy -- potentially Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath) but adding another solid player would be huge and perhaps make someone expendable (Del Zotto).
Nashville Predators center Paul Gaustad: The Predators sent the Sabres a first round pick for this 6'5 30-year-old faceoff-winning center. He has a small mean streak and is going to be a very good 3rd or4th line player for the next few years. The Rangers inability to win face-off was very evident in the playoffs and Gaustad has a proven history of being someone who can win critical face-offs. This is a player a lot of teams will line up for, and I think the Rangers will be one of them. Oh yeah, he can drop the gloves too.
Wild card: Anaheim Ducks defensive prospect Justin Schultz. To those who are not aware, Schultz was drafted by the Ducks in the second round of the 2008 entry draft. He has since not signed a deal with the Ducks and will all but likely be a free agent. Schultz has broken out as is being looked as a premier offensive defenseman in the making. He played at Wisconsin, with Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Some believe that may give the Rangers an edge on grabbing him, but there will be plenty of other bidders and money out there. The Ducks can also opt to trade his rights to a team looking to get an advantage on negotiating with him. If the Rangers do sign Schultz, as mentioned earlier, it could mean the trading of someone like Del Zotto for another piece.
Next column we will look a trade ideas.
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Who should the Rangers try to acquire? Leave a comment below.
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