July 1, 2013 4:12 PM
NY Rangers have extended qualifying offers to Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello & Justin Falk

BY Pat Leonard

The Rangers had sent or delivered qualifying offers by Monday to five of their six restricted free agents, aiming to protect their rights to top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh, top center Derek Stepan, top-six winger Carl Hagelin, playmaker Mats Zuccarello and newly-acquired depth defenseman Justin Falk.

A qualifying offer is a one-year contract offer that acts as a starting point in negotiations and is subject to salary arbitration, which can be elected by either player or club in every situation but Stepanís, in which only the Rangers can elect arbitration for the 23-year-old.

A qualifying offer helps to protect a playerís rights because it gives the Rangers the right of first refusal in the event another team submits an offer sheet for one of their restricted free agents, and it also guarantees the Blueshirts draft-pick compensation in the event New York loses one of its RFAs to an offer sheet.

When arbitration is elected, it will ensure a foundation for next year exists while negotiations take place for the final, multi-year deals that both sides hope will be signed.

The only RFA the Rangers opted not to qualify is defenseman Michael Sauer, who will be only 26 years old in August. Not being qualified will make Sauer unrestricted for Fridayís open of free agency, but his hockey career unfortunately likely is finished due to lingering symptoms from a concussion suffered in Dec. 5, 2011.

The Rangers flew Sauer to New York three weeks ago to evaluate whether or not they believed the defenseman, who resides in Minneapolis, was healthy enough to qualify and eventually return to action.

All NHL teams may spend to a 10 percent cushion above next seasonís $64.3 million salary cap ceiling until the final day of training camp ($70.7 million), but in order to fit under the cap in September, the Rangers only have about $13 million to spend this offseason. Thatís thanks to their decision to retain Brad Richardsí $6.67 million annual cap hit.

Unless GM Glen Sather unloads contracts in trades, he will have very little cash to spend on the market, since he will have to use most of that approximate $13 million to re-sign McDonagh, Stepan, Hagelin and Zuccarello, then likely to sign Falk and possibly re-sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Steve Eminger, as well. McDonagh, specifically, is expected to command at least $4 million per for a longer term such as five or six years.

Pending unrestricted free agent Ryane Clowe ($3.6 million cap hit), therefore, is not expected to return and likely will generate significant interest when teams are allowed to begin communicating with free agents on Wednesday.

Negotiations are ongoing between the Rangers and representatives for franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on a long-term contract extension, but there was no specific update on Monday other than that the parties have met already and have plans to meet again.