Up until yesterday, the New York Rangers‘ offseason had not been very good. They lost three key unrestricted free agents, signed a 38-year-old power play quarterback and blatantly overpaid a fourth-line winger. Furthermore, they have still failed to lock up their key restricted free agents long term.
The signing of Lee Stempniak changes this perception.
By no means is this an earth-shattering move by general manager Glen Sather. Stempniak is a good third-liner with a solid shot who averages 30-40 points per season. Most importantly, his speed and hustle fits right in to coach Alain Vigneault‘s system.
This is, however, one of the shrewdest moves you’ll ever see. Stempniak made $2.75 million last season with the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins. He signed with the Rangers for one year at $900,000.
In other words, Stempniak, a native of New York state, is taking a massive pay cut to come to a contenting team. He effectively replaces Benoit Pouliot on the Rangers’ third line and most importantly saves the Rangers cap space.
Coupled with the addition of Matt Lombardi to the fourth line, the addition of Stempniak rounds the 2014-15 Rangers roster into shape, at least on paper.
One can still argue that this new roster is not as good as last year’s, and they can make a very convincing case. However, one cannot argue that Stempniak solidifies the depth on the roster lost to free agency or trade.
Most importantly, bringing him on board at a bargain price saves some very valuable cap space. Sather still needs to sign restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore, and all of them will command raises. By paying Stempniak $900k as opposed to $2.75 million or more, it will make maneuvering the cap much easier.
Right now, on paper, the Rangers are very, very close to last year’s team. Time will tell if they will be better.
Down the road, however, remember the absolute steal of a signing that Stempniak was. Whether he succeeds or fails, the Rangers may just have enough cap space to make a very significant upgrade at the trade deadline, if necessary.
Who knows, it just may make them the Stanley Cup favorite!