Yesterday was a busy day for the Rangers. A day following Fourth Of July fireworks celebrating our independence, four players filed for arbitration. The good news is they can't be offersheeted with the likely scenario that whatever's ruled, will have all four signed by next month. Something that's imperative when camp (yes) will be around the corner. Especially in Year One of the Euro Vacation courtesy the World's Most Renovated Arena.
The four players are also key parts with half comprising our two most consistent forwards last season in leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky and do everything leader Ryan Callahan. Both home grown Blueshirts had their best seasons with Dubinsky pacing the club in goals (24), assists (30) and points (54) while Callahan achieved new career marks in goals (23), assists (25), points (48), power play goals (10) and a club best five game-winners despite missing 22 games. Two-thirds of the Draft Line which also features unsigned restricted Artem Anisimov, are essential for Glen Sather to get done. Anisimov didn't qualify for arbitration. So, look for Arty to be re-signed sooner.
Last season, Dubinsky made $2 million while linemate Callahan earned $2.4 M in his final year. The average cap hit was $1.85 M for Dubi with Cally coming in at $2.3 M. The perception is that the organization values Callahan higher than the more skilled Dubinsky, who's proven a tough customer before as a Group II going all the way to September a couple of years ago. While it's been rumored talks between the club and Callahan have been 'amicable,' it's still unknown what the relationship is with our top left wing, who also can take faceoffs if needed and is a standout penalty killer along with his buddy.
Considering an inflated market where a third liner like Joel Ward could get $3 M from the Caps, it's hard to predict what each will wind up with. Of course, arbitration is a bit different from unrestricted status where any team can bid and overpay in an increased cap entering the final year of the CBA. But as Larry Brooks noted in his morning NY Post column, it's better than having a team force the Rangers to match, which is why arbitration exists. I've been consistent in believing the numbers should be between $3-4 million. It's a matter demand and what the organization counters with, which can lead to a bitter process. Arbitration isn't fun. So, if Dubinsky comes in with 4.25 which he might based on his best year, they could be a million apart when it goes to a judge. If I had to guess, I'm going with 3.5-3.7 for each. It'd be easier if they just worked it out.
Meanwhile, the Blueshirts must also contend with Brian Boyle, who destroyed his career numbers with a 21-goal, 35-point campaign, becoming a PK fixture and even chipping in four PPG. The ex-King proved he belonged after an off-ice regimen that improved skating and conditioning, resulting in a reliable checking center who also was capable of scoring the timely goal. He did cool off down the stretch and was a non-factor in our first round defeat to the Caps. Still, Boyle did it on a cheap 525 K salary. His partner in crime Brandon Prust is set to earn $800,000 for a second straight season. It's possible that the former '03 first rounder could double his salary, which would put him at a shade over a million. Still feasible. However, he could counter with something higher. Say $1.25-1.3 based on a career year. Hopefully, it won't be more than 1.2.
The last case involves Mike Sauer, who finally proved healthy enough making the roster out of camp and emerging into a solid second pair guy where he teamed with fellow rookie Ryan McDonagh. Prior to '10-11, the former '05 second rounder had been injury plagued and only got into three NHL games in '08-09 before John Tortorella sent him down. Despite health issues in '09-10, he worked hard and impressed the staff enough to eventually deal off vet Michal Rozsival to Rangers West (Phoenix) for Wojtek Wolski, who may or may not get bought out depending on if they consider him a top six forward. Sauer was arguably the most physical defenseman we had, keeping opponents honest around Henrik Lundqvist's crease while even coming to the aid of teammates, reminding of old hat Beuke. Not only was he tough but also contributed three goals and 17 helpers to go with a team best plus-20 rating. There's much to like about him but the Rangers will argue that he never did it before and hasn't been durable. Sauer must prove it's not a fluke. He earned 500 K. How about a bump to 850-900 before we're paying him over a million?
All four players will be signed unless the club walks away. Highly unlikely. They still must sign Anisimov, whose rookie deal expired following a decent sophomore campaign that saw the former '06 second round pick increase production from 28 points (12-16-28) to 44 (18-26-44) while again playing in all 82. He made 765 K and should get around $1.25 million. Hopefully, they sign him for two or three years. If they think highly of Arty and there's every reason to believe they do, then doing three is feasible. Anisimov indicated he wasn't pleased with his production, which is encouraging. There were too many peaks and valleys. This is a guy capable of 20-25 goals and 60 points. He's already a good all around player who can be used in any situation. Hopefully, his confidence will grow.
Once the Rangers get these five completed along with key acquisition Tim Erixon, they can focus on acquiring a vet D. I'm already on record with Brent Sopel or Shane O'Brien as my preferences with Steve Staios also being an option, assuming Steve Eminger isn't returning.
While our team focuses on these issues, the Devils must contend with star forward Zach Parise, who remains unsigned. It's even harder to gauge what the potential UFA next summer will make due to being limited to only 13 games (3-3-6) following the first serious injury of what's been a brilliant career. It's hard to envision it even reaching armageddon even with Lou Lamoriello having little wiggle room to work with especially if lone arbitree Mark Fraser returns. Matt Taormina is also restricted. Figure him to get done while Anssi Salmella and Matt Corrente could be on the outs unless they take two-way deals.
As for the rest of the 23 on arbitration, the Isles' Blake Comeau and Sabres' Andrej Sekera also are going that route. Since the former '04 second round pick's been in the league, his production's improved every year, going from 15 to 25 to 35 to a new personal best 46 points (24-22-46) last season. He certainly established himself, becoming a PK fixture while being a streaky scorer. If he could ever put it together, who knows? Comeau earned 800 K in '10-11 and definitely should get anywhere from 1.4 to 1.6. Meanwhile, Sekera has a crowded D to contend with but attained 29 points, including 26 assists during a career year that also saw him play 76 games. He made $1.25 M in his final year. What exactly can he get? There could be a divide, especially given Buffalo's cap.
Here's the rest of the list:
Chi-Chris Campoli, Viktor Stalberg
Col-Kevin Porter, Ryan Wilson
LA-Alec Martinez, Brad Richardson