The New York Rangers first round playoff elimination prompted considerable speculation over the club's potential off-season moves.
New York Post columnist Larry Brooks reported the Rangers didn't lack for work ethic in the series against the Washington Capitals, but ultimately lacked in talent.
Brooks feels it would cost around $12 million for GM Glen Sather to re-sign restricted free agents Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, Mark Sauer and Matt Gilroy.
He also suggested that unless defenseman Wade Redden opted to retire, Sather will have little choice but to waive him again to clear his $6-million cap hit off the books for next season.
Contract buyouts could also be in the offing for Chris Drury, Sean Avery and Wojtek Wolski, though if Drury undergoes knee surgery before the June 15-30 buyout period the Rangers won't be able to use that option on him.
All three have one season remaining on their respective deals. Buying out Drury, whose effectiveness has been reduced by injuries, would save the Rangers about $3.7 million in cap space. Wolski, who disappointed after being acquired from Phoenix in January, would mean $3.3 million in savings with a negligible cap hit.
A buyout of Avery, who wasn't as effective as in previous years and saw his playing time reduced, would save the Rangers about $1.3 million.
Brooks also noted that, as good as young Rangers such as Callahan, Dubinsky and Marc Staal have been, they haven't been singled out for individual awards or selection to post-season all-star teams. He doubts the Blueshirts can make a significant move forward next season without adding talented impact players.
Brooks believes the time will come when Sather will have to consider shopping three young assets to bring in a young impact player who either needs a change of scenery or has a “contract issue.”
Finally, Brooks noted Dallas' Brad Richards is the only elite pending unrestricted free agent this summer, but cautioned investing in Richards, who missed time this season with a concussion and added that signing him simply to be a catalyst for struggling right winger Marian Gaborik would be a mistake.
If Sather can't or won't sign Richards, his options for free agent centers this summer will be thin. Buffalo's Tim Connolly and Washington's Jason Arnott are other possibilities, but both have lengthy injury histories, plus Arnott is 36 and at the tail end of his career.
Meanwhile, Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News reminded fans that part of the Rangers' problems this season were Sather's expensive acquisitions, noting Gaborik's sub-par performance, the injuries to Derek Boogaard and Alex Frolov and defenseman Bryan McCabe's poor performance in the Capitals series.
Spector also suggested a pursuit of Richards would hamper efforts to re-sign other key players and upgrade the roster this summer.
That will lead to speculation Sather is shopping Gaborik, but Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times dismissed the possibility because of the Gaborik's $7.5 million per season salary.
Media consensus suggested re-signing Callahan, who earned $2.3 million this season, and Dubinsky, who made $1.85 million, would be amongst Sather's priorities. Dubinsky, who had to wait until the first week of training camp to sign his current contract, hopes for a quicker resolution this summer, while Callahan and Brian Boyle told the Daily News they expected relatively easy resolutions to their contract situations. Of Sather’s unrestricted free agents, it appears Ruslan Fedotenko is most likely to get a contract offer. Frolov isn't expected to be re-signed and it's doubtful Vaclav Prospal will be back. For Sather to re-sign RFAs Callahan, Dubinsky and others, plus leave plenty of available cap space to pursue Richards (provided he's available this summer) or other free agent talent (perhaps via offer sheet), buying out Drury, Wolski and/or Avery along with demoting Redden again appear to be the best options. Sather does have plenty of youthful assets he could shop if a young impact player were to become available, but finding teams willing to part with such players is easier said than done. Even teams uncomfortably close to the cap ceiling prefer to retain such players rather than move them in cost-cutting deals. Targeting teams at the low end of the payroll scale, like the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues, may be a better alternative, but most lack the kind of impact players Brooks claimed the Blueshirts need. Sather has proven himself a savvy dealer, so one shouldn't dismiss the possibility he’ll swing something that addresses his need for an impact center if he's unable to find what he seeks via free agency.DUCKS LOOK TO TIGHTEN UP 'D'Poor defensive play was the prime reason the Anaheim Ducks were eliminated in six games by the Nashville Predators. The Ducks defense was a work in progress this season dating back to last summer, so expect GM Bob Murray to continue tinkering in the off-season. Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register singled out veterans Andreas Lilja, Francois Beauchemin and Andy Sutton as being often victimized by the Predators. Lilja is an unrestricted free agent this summer and won't be back. Beauchemin was reacquired from Toronto in February and has one year remaining on his contract, so it's unlikely he'll be moved. Sutton is a trade candidate, though his age (36) and recent injury woes will probably rule out that option. The bigger question is if this was the final season for 40-year-old Teemu Selanne, who was Anaheim’s second-highest scorer in the regular season (80 points) and their leading goal-scorer against the Predators. Selanne said he had no timetable to make a decision, but earlier this season he suggested he might make it by July 1. That would certainly make things easier for Murray, giving him time to find a suitable replacement. Should ‘The Finnish Flash’ decide to return for another season, don't expect him to sign with another NHL team. The only club he'll play for is the Ducks and if they decide - for whatever reason - not to re-sign him he'll retire.Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.