The New York Rangers didn’t make a huge splash in free agency just yet, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been completely quiet.
Many faces have come and gone already this offseason as Glen Sather looks to build on a roster that came within two games of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals this past season. Exit Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, John Scott, and Jeff Woywitka, and enter Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, and Micheal Bailey.
Let’s start with the first man the Rangers signed this offseason: Arron Asham. There’s no question that Asham is a downgrade compared to Brandon Prust; nobody in their right mind is going to argue differently. But the Rangers were in a situation where we all would’ve been calling Glen Sather stupid if he offered anything close to the contract that Prust wound up getting from Montreal (four years, $10 million). Four years for a guy like Prust, as much as I love him, is just too long. Prust already has enough trouble making it through an 82 game season with the punishment his body takes on a game-by-game basis, so I really don’t know how he’s going to be holding up by the end of his contract when he’s 32 years old. All that being said, I think what the Rangers will get from Arron Asham the next two years is pretty much what Prust will turn into towards the end of his contract with Montreal.
Asham, 34, appeared in 64 games for the Penguins last season and 44 games the year before. Again, with the way Asham plays the game, getting banged up and suffering a wide array of injuries just comes with the territory. I’m sure he won’t suit up for all 82 games, but if he can bring that grittiness and agitating element that the Rangers had in previous years with Prust and Sean Avery then Asham may wind up being a decent signing. The good thing here is that it’s only a two-year deal, and I do believe that Asham offers more offense than Prust does if he’s able to stay in the lineup – Asham had 5 G, 11 A, 16 PTS in 64 games last season compared to Prust’s 5 G, 12 A, 17 PTS in 82 games. The biggest dropoff will be Prust’s ability on the penalty kill, but with kids like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Artem Anisimov, and Chris Kreider continuing to develop into solid two-way players I’m not really concerned about it. Asham may turn out to be one of those guys who the Garden Faithful will come to embrace if he plays well because his attitude and style of play is perfect for New York. At best, Asham will come close to matching what the Rangers had in Avery and Prust for all those years. At worst, it’s Aaron Voros/Donald Brashear Part II.
The next move the Rangers made was essentially swapping Ruslan Fedotenko for Taylor Pyatt. Pyatt is a player who, like Fedotenko, will not give the Rangers much in terms of offensive production, but will instead give them a solid third-liner who can finish his checks and play a solid two-way game. Pyatt is younger (28) and uses his size better than Fedotenko, which are two pluses. As far as what the Rangers are losing in Fedotenko, it’s a lot like the Prust situation in that he was one of the character guys and a veteran who just worked his butt off to remain in the lineup. Feds was a guy who won a Cup with John Tortorella and was proof to the kids that were just coming up of how you can excel in his system without being immensely talented by working hard to make up for it.
I remember during the regular season, I kept thinking Fedotenko couldn’t get out the door quick enough, but his strong play in the postseason really made me believe the Rangers were going to bring him back. I think it ultimately just came down to the fact that the Rangers wanted to fill his role with someone younger who has some more toughness to his game in Taylor Pyatt. I understand the thinking behind it, and I’m sure Pyatt will be just as productive as Fedotenko in terms of offense, but it was still a bummer for me to see Feds leave considering the fact that he looked like he was just starting to play his best hockey of the season down the stretch for the Rangers.
The Rangers’ signing of Jeff Halpern is one that I think kind of flew under the radar, but could turn out to be one of the better depth signings that Glen Sather has made so far this offseason. Halpern was brought in on an extremely cheap deal (one-year, $700,000) and was brought to the Rangers primarily for his skills in the faceoff circle. The Rangers struggled mightily in that department last season, and I still think if they had a go-to guy who could’ve won a key faceoff here and there that maybe things would’ve gone differently in the postseason. I’m not saying the Rangers would’ve won the Cup, but with some key faceoff wins that they lost out on maybe they would’ve been able to avoid going to back-to-back Game 7’s and would’ve saved themselves some wear and tear down the stretch, but that’s really neither here or there. The point is that Sather directly addressed one of the more overlooked weaknesses of this Rangers team last season by signing Halpern, who won 58.3 percent of his faceoffs last season, which was the fifth highest percentage in the NHL.
Considering the Rangers are getting one of the better faceoff men in the game for a mere one-year, $700,000 deal, it’s really hard to complain about this move. Halpern played one year for John Tortorella in Tampa Bay, so he knows what to expect by coming here. Halpern is 36 years old and pretty much nothing more than a fourth line center at this point in his career, but he’s not going to be playing every single night if the coaching staff feels there’s someone better waiting in the wings. To me, this is just it’s one of those low-cost/high-reward signings that really won’t hurt the Rangers if Halpern turns out to be so brutal that they have to cut ties with him. I don’t think it’ll come to that, but it’s a comforting feeling to know they’re not tied down by signing him. Halpern only scored 4 G, 12 A, 16 PTS in 69 regular season games last season, and dressed for only two playoff games with the Caps, but he’s not being brought here for his offense. The Rangers just need Halpern to do his job on faceoffs and provide a steady presence at center on the fourth line and they’ll be happy.
The other signings the Rangers have made this offseason haven’t really been replacing anybody per se; they’ve more-so been depth signings to protect themselves in the event that they need some bodies with NHL experience. The signings of Micheal Haley and Brandon Segal are perfect examples of that, and are both guys I don’t expect to really have any impact on the team unless injuries occur, which they always do. I think Glen Sather’s thinking here was that he wanted to beef up the roster to avoid situations like Stu Bickel or Steve Eminger being forced to play forward in the playoffs this past season because the Rangers were really just short on veteran bodies that John Tortorella felt like he could trust in an important game. Haley and Segal will likely spend most of the season in Hartford or the MSG press box, but it’s a comforting feeling for Torts to know that he has some guys with experience waiting in the wings that he can use if he chooses to.
I know a lot of people (admittedly myself included) have been upset with the Rangers’ lack of activity since free agency opened, and understandably so. So far all Glen Sather has done is load up on bottom six forwards for depth purposes, but I’m not concerned just yet. Until I’m given reason to believe otherwise, I still think the Rangers will add a goal-scorer at some point this offseason, whether it’s Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash, or somebody else.
I think Slats has done a decent job for the most part, though, by loading up on these depth signings so that the Rangers have protection in the event someone goes down with an injury so that now they hopefully won’t be in a position where they have to waste a draft pick on acquiring a guy like John Scott or scour the waiver wire for another Jeff Woywitka. I have a hard time believing, though, that this will be the extent of the Rangers’ activity in the free agent and trade market this offseason when it’s all said and done.
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