Rangers Free Agency: Kovalchuk, Plekanec, and Volchenkov, Oh My!

With the departures of Kotalik and Higgins prior to the deadline last season, and the assumed departure of Olli Jokinen this summer, the Rangers are going to have quite a bit of spending money to help improve the team that had one of the league’s least potent offenses.

The Rangers will without a doubt bring back Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, and after they lock them both up long-term, they will then go to town during free agency.

There are quite a few big names out on the market, including Ilya Kovalchuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Anton Volchenkov. Just like every summer, the Rangers are rumored to be seeking the members of this fantastic little trio. But in my opinion, there is only one they should go after, and if they cannot get him, then go after no one else.

Ilya Kovalchuk turned down the Atlanta Thrashers offer to make him the highest paid player in Atlanta. Because of that, people assume that it will be impossible to sign him. The team that signs him will lock him up for at least ten years, and give him the bulk of his salary over the first half, lessening the amount of strain of his salary cap hit.

The Rangers need a one-two punch, consisting of Marian Gaborik and a player to be named later. People say that the second half of that punch needs to be a center, but it really does not. Gaborik never had a good center in Minnesota all those years, and had a career winger and a journeyman minor leaguer split time as his center this season. He still put up 86 points.

Kovalchuk as well has never really had a decent center, with the exception of a brief stint with Marc Savard, yet he tears it up every season.

Most wingers need centers to compliment them, but with Gaborik and Kovalchuk, anyone will do just fine.

It is for that reason, that regardless of whether or not Kovalchuk is brought in, the Rangers must say a resounding “NO” to Tomas Plekanec, a free agent center who scored career highs in assists and points this season for Montreal, while netting 25 goals.

Plekanec is the exact type of player that the Rangers would sign to a long-term, big money contract. With the exception of prior to this past season, he had only scored more than 47 points once, and although he is still very young, it is just too big of a risk to bring him in.

He is also small in stature at 5’11” and 197 pounds. This is the type of player the Rangers need to avoid because of how often their team of pansies was pushed around last season. This just screams bad signing all over it, and because he made $2.750 million last season and scored 70 points, he will most likely get in the $5-6 million range. If the Rangers were to sign him, I would seriously think about stopping watching this team.

I would re-sign Olli Jokinen at $3 million before I would give Plekanec over that amount. Regardless of Jokinen coming up empty towards the end of last season, if he comes cheap enough, he is still a big body and a guaranteed 50 points.

Now to Anton Volchenkov, probably the name being thrown around most by Rangers fans. He would appear to be the perfect fit for this team as Ranger fans love having plenty of skill-less players around who just love to hit people. Although it would be a welcome sight, having a bone crunching defenseman on this team whose toughest defender since the lockout has been Erik Reitz (how sad is that?), Volechenkov is not the answer.

He would be setting himself up for disaster if he came here. He is looking for $5 million, and that is the reason he is on the market, because Ottawa cannot afford to re-sign him. Unless the Rangers demote Redden or send him to play in Europe, I would be absolutely against bringing him here.

Redden contributes no offense, but has been sound defensively (I know its hard to give credit where credit is due, but he was a +8 this season). Michal Rozsival’s offense got better at the end of the season, but he still is not what he was under Tom Renney. Matt Gilroy has been an absolute joke and its a shame that he is signed for another season. Marc Staal has played great defensive hockey but is clueless on offense. The same can be said for Dan Girardi. Michael Del Zotto has the most potential to contribute offense, but he is a liability defensively.

Volchenkov would contribute nothing offensively, as his career high is a mere 19 points. Should the Rangers sign him, however, I would not be opposed to a pairing of he and Del Zotto. I actually think they would go great together. But even so, I would sign Volchenkov as a last resort, only if Redden is banished from the team.

The Rangers should also make it a priority to bring back Anders Eriksson, a veteran nobody who people scoffed at upon his acquisition in March. But upon Gilroy’s benching and Eriksson’s insertion into the lineup, the Rangers went on a run for the playoffs, playing their best hockey and going 5-1-2 with him in the lineup.

It is going to be interesting to see what the Rangers do this July. As I have laid out, I would pretty much just want to see a “Kovalchuk or Bust” mentality. The only other player of importance out there that I would sign would be Pavol Demitra, who could be had on the cheap since he is coming off an injury plagued season. He meshed rather well with Gaborik in Minnesota, and I would not mind seeing him in Ranger blue.

I still believe that Glen Sather can get the job done, I just hope he does not overdo it, since this is his last stand as Rangers GM.


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