August is always the toughest month for hockey fans. The Rangers season officially ended in late May but June provided us the draft and the intrigue of free agency. In July fans had free agent signings to keep our hockey-crazed minds occupied. In August there’s almost nothing going on to fill the emptiness that comes with the hockey offseason.
This year it’s even worse though. Not only do we not have much to talk about, what does qualify as newsworthy is the ongoing “negotiations” between the NHLPA and the owners. The fruitless (so far) nature of those talks appears to be taking us straight down the trail towards hockey hell; AKA another lockout.
I won’t bother to delve into who is right and who is wrong or suggest what concessions each party should make. Truthfully, like Chris is, I am angry at the whole mess and just want hockey to be played in 2012-2013.
I’ve tried hard in my adult life to be more positive and less cynical in my attitudes. As such I remain hopeful that the two sides will get their acts together in the best interest of the sport and ensure we have a season this year. And as a Ranger fan I am of course looking forward to what promises to be another great year for Rangers hockey; the kind of year that we all hope is capped with a Stanley Cup victory.
Thinking only those thoughts, let’s look at some of the ongoing story lines around the New York Rangers.
Michael Sauer – I’ve said this the whole time: We shouldn’t count on anything from Michael Sauer in 2012-2013. While reports have come out that Sauer is feeling “better,” he is still not close to a return. We need to remember that his brother Kurt has seen his NHL career derailed by concussions as he’s appeared in just one game over the last three seasons. If Sauer does make a Staal-like return sometime this season we need to think of it as gravy.
Ranger management is actually quite smart. I’m sure they’ve anticipated Sauer might never return and likely have planned accordingly. While I expected them to have pursued a short-term fallback option in free agency the fact they have so far not doesn’t preclude them from making a move to shore up the position at a later date.
A quick look at the Rangers depth chart on D reveals Sauer is much missed. The club is short on the right side and could use a defensively-minded blue liner to pair with MDZ. Sauer would have been ideal in that role but at this point they can’t wait for him to magically make his triumphant return. The club either has to go into the season with what they have or at some point make a move to add depth at the position.
MDZ’s RFA negotiations – We’ve been down this road before. Here we have a RFA in the midst of what appears to be a difficult and contentious negotiation with the club. Some reports have come out indicating the team is looking to get MDZ to sign a multi-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.2 – $2.5 million per.
First off, what’s a multi-year deal really mean? Two years, ten Years or something in between?
Secondly, let’s hearken back to the “reports” that said the Montreal Canadiens had offered P.K Subban a two-year deal worth $5.5 million only to find out that sources who actually know the details of the offer said both the length and AAV of the rumored proposal were far from accurate. That makes a ton of sense since the reported offer seemed to be a lowball one to say the least.
You have to take reports claiming to know either what a team is offering a player or what a player is seeking in a new contract with a grain of salt. Larry Brooks has mentioned the Rangers supposed offer to MDZ but even he never says anything with absolute certainty. Here’s a quote from his article in the NY Post on August 19th.
“The Blueshirts are believed to be offering a multi-year deal in the neighborhood of $2.2 million to $2.5 million per season to Del Zotto, who faces some urgency given the looming Sept. 15 shutdown of business and the possibility that less will be available under the cap under the next CBA.”
Notice his use of the word, “believed?” He never says he’s “heard from a trusted source,” or that it’s been “widely reported as being fact.” He says it’s believed and that’s far from it being factual.
I can only guess what the final price will be. I’m sure that MDZ’s agents will point to the extensions that Tyler Myers and Drew Doughty, players drafted the same year MDZ was, signed and while not saying MDZ is in that same class as either of those All-Star D they will argue he isn’t that far behind either. Myers just began a seven-year, $38.5 million deal ($5.5 million cap hit) and Doughty just completed the first year of a $56 million deal carrying a cap hit of $7 million over eight years. MDZ’s camp could mount a defensible argument he is worth in the range of $4 million on a long-term deal. That would make him the team’s most expensive blue liner.
The Rangers will likely counter with the RFA deals the club signed Dan Girardi and Marc Staal to. Staal just completed year two of a five-year contract with a cap hit just less than $4 million. Girardi signed a four-year pact worth $13.3 million that same summer. Staal and Girardi have both been All-Stars, something MDZ has yet to achieve. Overall MDZ is less important to the team than either Staal or Girardi so it’s difficult to justify paying him more than either player.
Additionally, Ryan McDonagh, who is rapidly developing into one of the best defensemen in the game, will be a RFA following the 2012-2013 season. His deal will have to be slotted in and the more they give MDZ this year the more they’ll have to give McD whenever they get around to signing him.
McDonagh – Speaking of McDonagh, it might be time for Slats to forgo his reluctance to award big money, long-term deals to RFA’s. I don’t think you’ll find a fan or anyone involved in the game that doesn’t believe McDonagh is on the fast track to being one of the best shutdown defenders in the game today. In fact, he flashed some real offensive skills and instincts last season leading many to believe he could one day win a Norris Trophy or two. With the CBA likely to eliminate or curb long-term, heavily front-loaded deals this summer might present the Rangers the last best opportunity to get McDonagh signed to a cap-friendly deal.
McDonagh just turned 23 and barring catastrophic injury should have a dozen All-Star-caliber seasons ahead of him. Depending on where the new CBA sets the UFA age for players, McDonagh could be a free agent in four years. At that time he could easily be worth $7 – $8 million or more on the open market. Maybe now is the time to act. Maybe a 10-year deal worth $45 – $50 million could get McDonagh’s name on a deal.
Would anyone complain about getting a potential franchise defenseman under contract for 10 years with a cap hit of $5 million or less? Well, fans of other teams I suppose might not be too happy but it wouldn’t really be one of the cap circumventing deals the owners are complaining about. A 10-year deal only takes McDonagh through his age-33 season; he’d still be well within his prime. Yet the Rangers could save themselves many millions by doing what I’ve proposed.
Let’s project McDonagh to develop into the All-Star D, Norris Trophy candidate we expect. He could draw $7 million as an UFA in four years. The Rangers would control him as a RFA for three seasons beyond this which means a 10-year extension buys him out of seven free agent years. Seven years at $7 million per is worth $49 million. That’s nearly equal to the hypothetical $50 million, 10-year extension I proposed earlier. The Rangers would come out way ahead in this scenario.
Of course there is risk involved. If McDonagh doesn’t develop as we anticipate then the Rangers could potentially be overpaying. But when Dennis Wideman is able to command a free agent deal for $26.25 million over five years even a 2011-2012 McDonagh would be worth that much for the duration of the proposed contract.
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