With all the offseason focus on Brad Richards, another question about the makeup of the Rangers for next year is about who will complete the line of Richards (presumably) and Marian Gaborik. Last season, the Rangers used almost every LW on their roster in that spot, and that constant change does not bode well for the chemistry of a top line. When looking at the possibilities for LW, the Rangers have three routes to go: in-house (including pending UFAs playing for the Rangers last season), free agency, or trade. Let’s tackle the choices for each possible route the Rangers may choose.
Note: For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume the Rangers will sign Brad Richards. This is far from a done deal, so don’t analyze that too much.
The Likely Candidate: Brandon Dubinsky. If the Rangers choose to address the top line LW in house, Dubinsky is the likely choice to play along side Gaborik and Richards. Dubi has a nice combination of skill and grit that he could do the dirty work and open up the ice for the more talented Gaborik and Richards. In this role, Dubi would serve as the Tomas Holmstrom of the Red Wings, where he grinds it out, and then plants himself in front of the net.
The Other Possibilities: Ruslan Fedotenko, Sean Avery, Vinny Prospal, Mats Zuccarello.
The Dark Horse: Christian Thomas. Thomas is the Rangers most gifted scorer in the prospect pool (that has signed an entry-level deal), and is definitely has a shot to make the team next season. Thomas would need a lot of things to go right for him, but his skill and work ethic may give him an edge.
The Likely Candidate: Jason Arnott. I have to be honest, I’m looking at the UFA forwards, and not one of them looks like they could be a likely candidate for LW on the Rangers. Arnott does everything that Dubinsky would do, he’s just more seasoned and would provide good veteran leadership for a Rangers squad that would be in need of some veterans with Prospal and Chris Drury likely gone. If the Rangers are forced to go the UFA route, I’d rather they just re-sign Ruslan Fedotenko.
Other Possibilities: Simon Gagne, Alex Kovalev, Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov.
The Dark Horse: Steve Sullivan. I think Sullivan will re-sign with the Predators, but should he hit the open market, he would be a nice addition at the right price. Sullivan presents a significant injury risk, having played just one full season in the past four years. He has consistently been the Predators best scorer though, and has averaged roughly 60 points when extending the numbers for full season. It’s likely he would do well with both Gaborik and Richards.
The Likely Candidate: Ales Hemsky (pure speculation). The Oilers have more prospects with elite potential than Matt Cooke has suspensions. With another one on his way, the Oilers may look to move Hemsky at the draft for a pick and a defensive prospect (where they are weak). Hemsky, like Sullivan, presents an injury risk, but with one year left on his deal, he’s low risk.
The Other Possibilities: Ray Whitney, Peter Mueller, Kristian Huselius
The Dark Horse: Paul Stastny. Yes, he’s a center. Yes, he will cost a fortune. No, it’s not likely the Avs will trade him. But, the Avs have great talent at forward and little depth. Trading Stastny can help them address many holes in their roster. It’s unlikely, but he’s one guy where the rumors just won’t go away.