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The NHL season is over, the draft has come and gone, which means it's time for them to start looking at free agency. There are a lot of possible moves that Glen Sather, or, possibly Jeff Gorton can make with this team over the summer. Before looking to the outside to see what players from other teams can contribute to the Rangers next season and beyond, management has to look at the players who are already in New York to see how they can help the team in the future.
The cap situation isn't great. In fact, it's rather terrible. The Rangers will have quite a few tough decisions to make this offseason in order to build on the success of the last few seasons. Based on the new salary cap set at $71.4 million, the Rangers will have about $12 million to work with. That looks okay, but not when looking at the amount of free agents the management has to figure out whether or not to re-sign.
The team wants to keep the core of the roster together for years to come, so where does that leave these Ranger free agents?
Emerson Etem, RFA
The newest Ranger happens to be a restricted free agent, just like the guy Sather traded for him. Obviously, given the circumstances under which he was acquired, the Rangers expect to retain him for years to come. He's a former first round pick who never seemed to develop properly in Anaheim, but is still a pretty solid player. He's a very good addition to the third line.
Jesper Fast, RFA
At only 23 years old, Fast solidified a spot for himself on this team with a great showing in 2014-15, restoring some dignity back to Brad Richards's old number 19. Throughout his career in Sweden and the minor leagues, he was known for playing good defense and skating well. He's never going to score too many points, but he continues to show an improving offensive game. The injury to Mats Zuccarello at the end of the first round, as well as the ineffectiveness of Martin St. Louis throughout the postseason forced Fast into a higher profile role with Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan on the second line, where he excelled. His forechecking is great, his speed not only fits his name (which, in case you didn't know, had an "h" at the end before he dropped it) but also New York's style of play, and he's young. That's probably the most important factor, and what makes re-signing him a no-brainer.
Matt Hunwick, UFA
Hunwick carved out a role for himself in New York as a depth defenseman, whether it be providing energy out of the third defensive pairing when John Moore's play began to dip early in the year, or filling in when multiple defenders missed extended time with injury. I suspect that a lot of other GMs took notice of his performance, and are ready to hand him an enticing offer to join their third defensive pairing. He was nice for a season as he outplayed the pennies he was earning, but in the process, he priced himself out of the Rangers' plans. Not unlike Benoit Pouliot after the 2013-14 season, the Rangers just have to accept that he earned himself a bigger role in a different city.
J.T. Miller, RFA
Much like Jesper Fast, this young gun had himself a breakout season. After a couple of lackluster stints with the Rangers over the two previous seasons, Miller began to show why the Rangers took him with their first round pick in 2011. Whether it's playing on the third line, the fourth line, or even one of the top two scoring lines when called upon, Miller played very well. He's a big body who's capable of playing the center or the wing, and he uses his exceptional speed to simply blow by opponents at times. He's not totally polished just yet, but the talent is there, and he needs to stick around.
James Sheppard, UFA
Simply put, Sheppard is like Wayne Gretzky compared to Tanner Glass, but Glass still has a year left on his contract, so Sheppard has to be on his way out, opening the door for Oscar Lindberg to claim the fourth line center spot.
Derek Stepan, RFA
This one is a no-brainer. Just look at how lost this team was without Stepan when he was injured at the beginning of the season. Considering his age, and his production, it's impossible to envision the Rangers moving forward without this star forward (I crack myself up). Surely, this is the most important move of the offseason.
Martin St. Louis, UFA
After propelling the Rangers to competing for Lord Stanley's Cup in 2014, Martin St. Louis just finished up his final season in New York. He followed up his remarkable playoff run with an up and down season, and totally disappeared during the most recent postseason. He was ineffective throughout the playoffs, but his decline became more of an issue when the team lost Mats Zuccarello, forcing Alain Vigneault to trust some of the youngest players on the team in Kevin Hayes, Miller, and Fast, in much more important roles than originally anticipated. While those kids were all up to the task, a better performance out of Marty certainly would have helped, and maybe could have pushed the Rangers back into the Stanley Cup Finals. He aged very quickly, and while he's likely to keep playing and accept a smaller role than he's used to, there's no chance of that happening in New York. Farewell Marty, thanks for the memories. His '14 playoff performance will forever be etched in Rangers lore. Unfortunately for him, the same can be said about 2015, but for all the wrong reasons.