This was a pretty good day for the Rangers, who didn’t come away quite whole after the opening of the free agent market but who sure had a whole lot better July 1 than they would have if Dan Boyle hadn’t taken a whole lot less to come to Broadway than he could have gotten from at least three other teams.
Three months before the season commences, eight months prior to the trade deadline and 11 months until the 2015 Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers don’t appear nearly strong enough down the middle to compete with the likes of Los Angeles, Anaheim, St. Louis or Chicago. But there’s time to address that.
The free agent exchange of outgoing Brian Boyle (to Tampa Bay) for incoming Tanner Glass (from Pittsburgh) weakened the fourth-line by a measurable degree, and the departure of top nine winger Benoit Pouliot (to Edmonton) has left at least a temporary void on one of the Rangers’ scoring lines. There is time to address that, too.
So yes, there is work to be done between now and next April and everyone knows that. But the Blueshirts were hardly mortally wounded Tuesday either on their roster or under the salary cap. They probably did not lose ground to Boston or Pittsburgh or anyone else in the East.
Retaining Dominic Moore, the fourth-line engine, penalty killer and faceoff artist, and who stayed for less at $1.5 million per for two seasons than he would have received to flee, represented a very important signing for the Blueshirts.
But it was the addition of righty defenseman and power play point man Boyle — who, true, is going to be 38 next month and not 28 and is joining the Blueshirts in 2014 and not 2004, when he was an integral part of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup championship team — that saved the day.
Two years at $4.5 million per season for a such a player constitutes a bargain in an environment in which Nikita Nikitin got the very same deal from Edmonton; Brooks Orpik got five years at $5.5 million per from Washington; Anton Stralman got five years at $4.5 million per from Tampa Bay after initially asking for considerably more than that to remain in New York; and, astonishingly, Deryk Engelland received three years at $2.9 million per from the always fiscally responsible Brian Burke and Calgary.
And it’s not just the number, not just the talent — explosive, game-changing talent when at his peak — that combine to make this Boyle’s addition a coup.
It’s this, as articulated by George Bazos, Boyle’s agent, in a phone conversation within an hour of his client’s signing: “We told teams [during the five-day interview period preceding Tuesday] that if the Rangers made an offer, the decision wasn’t going to be about money.”
The Islanders, who had obtained Boyle’s rights from San Jose last month, offered three years and $15 million. The Red Wings offered three years at $12.5 million. The Sabres are believed to have come in with what essentially would be described a blank check.
And yet Boyle went with his heart. Nearly every free agent who talks about wanting to play in New York also want the biggest paycheck in order to come here. Notably, Wayne Gretzky took less and so did Brendan Shanahan. Now, Boyle, who has always wanted to play for the Rangers and now gets to rejoin his old partner Marty St. Louis.
Boyle, who will slide into Stralman’s vacated spot on Marc Staal’s right side on the second pair, struggled at times last season, recording 36 points (12-24) with some dicey possession numbers. But he sustained a concussion in October—from which there were no lingering after-effects on the ice—and then played a substantial number of games with a broken thumb leading into the Olympic recess.
His ability to skate and gain the zone on the power play will be invaluable for this team that had entry issues throughout the season and in the playoffs. Boyle shoots the puck. And he competes and is driven. For two years, the signing was a slam-dunk.
There is work to be done and not all that much available space with which to do it; about $15 million with which to take care of restricted free agents Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and John Moore and also fill in the remaining blanks.
But the Rangers were not hurt on Tuesday. They lost neither their credibility nor their abili
ty to compete. Much of that is owed to Dan Boyle’s desire to wear the Blueshirt.