Big business beyond Richards for Rangers
On July 1, Brad Richards listened to in-person pitches from the Kings, Maple Leafs, and Lightning at the offices of Newport Sports Management. But Richards, as expected, signed a nine-year, $60 million contract to join former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella on Broadway a day later.
Hard to believe, then, that the Richards signing wasn’t even the most important one of Rangers general manager Glen Sather’s summer.
On July 6, four of New York’s restricted free agents filed for arbitration: Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Michael Sauer. Artem Anisimov didn’t have arbitration rights, but he is also a restricted free agent.
In one way or another, the Rangers will lock up all five, a process they started on Friday. New York re-signed Sauer to a two-year, $2.5 million contract, and locked up Anisimov to a two-year, $3.75 million deal. The others will follow, most likely before they reach arbitration. Dubinsky’s hearing is scheduled for July 21, Boyle’s for July 25, and Callahan’s for July 28.
But in total, the annual sum to lock up the five up-and-coming players - Dubinsky and Callahan are arguably already established as top-line NHLers - could be more than double Richards’s $6,666,667 yearly haul from the Madison Square Garden coffers.
For good reason.
Dubinsky and Callahan are players that are harder to find than an out-of-order parking meter downtown. They are fourth-line bangers with top-six skill, the kind that can run over defensemen or dangle through them en route to the net.
This past season, Dubinsky scored 24 goals and 30 assists in 77 games, and won 52.5 percent of his faceoffs. He threw 140 hits and racked up 100 penalty minutes, five in a scrap with Alex Ovechkin. Tortorella used Dubinsky (20:13 average ice time) in all situations: power play (3:04), penalty kill (2:05).
Callahan’s 2010-11 season ended April 4. During a game against the Bruins, Zdeno Chara broke Callahan’s leg with a slap shot. For Callahan, blocking such shots is second nature. In 60 games, he stepped in front of 77 shots, second most behind Boyle (86) among team forwards. Callahan logged 224 hits. Like Dubinsky, Callahan (19:54 per game) skated plenty of shifts on the power play (3:23) and penalty kill (2:13).
Oh yeah, Callahan also scored 23 goals and 25 assists. Had Callahan been available in the playoffs, the Rangers could have given the Capitals a tougher fight in the first round.
Dubinsky is coming off a two-year, $3.7 million contract, according to www.capgeek.com. Callahan finished a two-year, $4.6 million deal. One agent queried about the prices they could command guessed that both would sign contracts with $4.25 million annual cap hits. The same agent pegged Boyle for $1.75 million per year.
Boyle, Sauer, and Anisimov don’t have the top-end impact of Dubinsky and Callahan. But all three developed into critical players for Tortorella last season. Boyle, a former first-round pick of the Kings, became one of the Eastern Conference’s best two-way third-line centers. The Hingham native and former star at Boston College and St. Sebastian’s scored 21 goals and 14 assists in 82 games. Boyle led all Rangers with 240 thumps, and was part of Tortorella’s second wave of penalty killers. In Richards, Dubinsky, and Boyle, the Rangers should be as deep down the middle as any team.
Sauer was a second-pairing defenseman, skating mostly with fellow youngster Ryan McDonagh. The 6-foot-3-inch, 213-pound right-shot defenseman is a stay-at-homer who allows McDonagh more space to roam. Anisimov was the team’s No. 5 scorer, putting up an 18-26-44 line in 82 games.
The bottom line: All five players have yet to strike the sweet spots of their careers. Other than Boyle, they are homegrown talent. Those are the players you want to pay well, pay promptly, and pay long term. There’s less certainty with free agents such as Richards.
If anything, Richards has been consistent. The center scored 77 points in 72 games for Dallas last season. He’s scored a career-high 91 points twice - in 2005-06 (23-68-91) and 2009-10 (24-67-91). Richards has averaged 20 or more minutes per game in the last seven seasons. In theory, Richards could make No. 1 right wing Marian Gaborik better. He’s performed well under Tortorella.
But there’s no guarantee Richards continues his pace in New York. He might not click with his new teammates. He might not enjoy playing in Manhattan. While there are outliers such as Adam Oates (playmakers who produce well into their late 30s), there’s a good chance Richards goes the wrong way once the second half of his contract approaches.
You don’t have those questions with the other five players. They’ve already proven they can succeed with the Rangers. The oldest of the bunch is Boyle, who will turn 27 in December. To re-sign Dubinsky, Callahan, and Boyle, the Rangers might have to move the contract of Wojtek Wolski ($3.8 million hit). They’ve already banished Wade Redden and his $6.5 million anchor to the AHL, where he’s due for three more years of big-league dough.
But that’s the system the NHL has established. And the old guard plays along. They pay premium prices for unrestricted free agents who might have seen their best days. They grouse about inflated second contracts.
It’s those players, however, the ones coming off entry-level deals, who are trending upward. The players approaching their best years aren’t paid enough. Doesn’t really make the most sense.
Fact No. 2: Kaberle performed far worse in Boston than management expected. His Black-and-Gold career started with high promise. On Feb. 18, after the Bruins acquired Kaberle, the ex-Maple Leaf flew from Toronto to Ottawa. Kaberle arrived at Scotiabank Place while his teammates were kicking around a soccer ball in preparation for that night’s game. In his debut, Kaberle logged 19:34 of ice time, skating on the second pairing with Dennis Seidenberg and quarterbacking the No. 1 power-play unit. The Bruins won, 4-2. In his final game as a Bruin, Kaberle was on the ice for a mere 9:14.
Fact No. 3: The Bruins were wise not to compound their miscalculations by re-signing Kaberle. The Czech Republic native signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract with Carolina, where he’ll be reunited with former Toronto coach Paul Maurice. Kaberle should be a far better fit with the Hurricanes, who play man-to-man in the defensive zone and promote an up-tempo attack.
“That’s the motivation,’’ Kaberle said of how the Cup win will touch his Carolina career. “After going through what I never experienced before, it was amazing. I want to do it again. When you have a guy like Mark Recchi on your team, he did it with three different teams. He’s such a great leader. He always kept saying, ‘Enjoy every moment. You may never be there again.’ Now I know why he was saying that. It was a long run, over two months. Every day, everybody was happy.’’
So what was the issue with Kaberle in Boston? The central characters - Kaberle, GM Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien - have always been wary to discuss the subject on the record.
But there were three issues that held Kaberle back. First, he had gotten too comfortable. Kaberle had been a Leaf for 12 seasons. Didn’t make the playoffs for six straight years. Suddenly, Kaberle parachuted into a Cup run. Physically and mentally, he couldn’t make the jump.
Second, he wasn’t in peak shape. There’s a reason Kaberle played his best in spare helpings.
Third, he’s a sensitive man. When the power play staggered out of the gate, Kaberle was the target of the blame. It wasn’t all his fault. But Kaberle had trouble finding the swagger a power-play quarterback requires because of the slow start.
And so ends the short Boston career of one of the more curious Bruins of late.
On the opening day of free agency, Sturm signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Canucks - a steep price for a player traded for nothing by the Bruins last season, then placed on waivers by Los Angeles.
Sturm will be 33 in training camp and will be riding on two creaky wheels. If Sturm is healthy, the left wing could fill a two-way role riding shotgun with Ryan Kesler. During the Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks projected that Mason Raymond (back) might not be ready until November. If that holds, Sturm could start the regular season on the second line with Kesler and Christopher Higgins.
Love me tenders In Benoit Pouliot, the Bruins signed the highest-profile player cut loose by his previous club via a non-tender. Pouliot, the No. 4 pick of the 2005 draft, became an unrestricted free agent when the Canadiens declined to extend him a qualifying offer. Some teams go through this exercise because they believe a player’s previous contract was too pricey. The Bruins did this in 2009 when they didn’t qualify Daniel Paille, even though they had every intention of bringing him back. Other teams don’t qualify their players because doing so would grant them arbitration rights. Pittsburgh did that with Tyler Kennedy (21-24-45 last season), then re-signed the third-line wing to a two-year, $4 million extension. But the primary reason for not qualifying certain RFAs is that they’re no longer wanted. In the most recent round of non-tenders, there was a handful of players, including Pouliot, who were once high-flying commodities. Among the bunch: a player once considered a Chara-like strongman (Boris Valabik), an American forward projected to be a bigger star than Ryan Kesler (Patrick O’Sullivan), a former Boston University star with many NHL suitors (Matt Gilroy), and a Swedish star who might not play North American hockey again (Fabian Brunnstrom). Just goes to show how fickle scouting can be.
Loose pucks One swing and miss from Atlanta: that Zach Bogosian didn’t turn into a better player under Ramsay’s watch. This observer was certain that Bogosian would begin his development into a top-pairing two-way defenseman last season. Instead, Bogosian (5-12-17, 22:24 average ice time) was an occasional healthy scratch. “If you didn’t listen to Rammer, that was how he’d let you know,’’ said one of Ramsay’s former colleagues. “Nothing more important than ice time, right?’’ Bogosian, who once starred at Cushing Academy, hasn’t shown enough hockey sense to justify his third overall selection in 2008 . . . It will be a busy summer for Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Spooner, and Jared Knight, three of the Bruins’ brighter prospects. Hamilton and Spooner will participate in Team Canada’s development camp next month in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alberta. Around the same time, Knight will be in Lake Placid, N.Y., for Team USA’s development camp. Both are preludes to determining the final rosters for the 2012 World Junior Championship. None of the three has played in the world juniors. Last year, Knight (Battle Creek, Mich.) was irked that USA Hockey hadn’t extended him a camp invitation. He speculated that an invitation didn’t come because he had opted for the Ontario Hockey League instead of the National Team Development Program . . . Lots of bargains still available on the market, including Chris Clark. Interesting note: Clark scored hat tricks on Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas, two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists. Never mind that they took place in 2005-06 and 2006-07, respectively . . . The Sports Museum is creating a display commemorating the Cup win. Fans who made signs, tin foil Cups, and other such creations can e-mail pictures and notes to Dick Johnson at email@example.com . . . College Hockey Inc. will hold its annual golf tournament Aug. 8 at Marlborough Country Club. For more information, contact Jeff Dwyer at 617-340-6570 or firstname.lastname@example.org . . . Last Monday, Adam McQuaid shared a boat with Kate Middleton on a lake in his native Prince Edward Island. McQuaid was one of the paddlers trying to pull the Duchess of Cambridge to a win against her husband, Prince William. McQuaid’s boat came up short, but he spent some time asking the duchess whether she’d be available for fill-in duty on Boston’s third pairing. With a name like Middleton, there’s no doubt the duchess has some nifty puck-moving skills.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.