2010 NHL Free Agency: Rangers confident they can re-sign RFA Marc Staal

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marcstaalrfa.jpgIt’s been a nice summer for unrestricted free agents. While I know that the so-called “frenzy” often involves some chronic overspending, players such as Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis received contracts that were at least a little startling.

I can’t help but wonder how much restricted free agent defensemen will garner in a market that still seems to beckon for quality blueliners. One of the most interesting situations is that of New York Rangers D-man Marc Staal. Often-befuddled GM Glen Sather addressed some of the possible concerns in a story published by the team.

“Obviously we want to get Marc Staal signed,” said Sather. “If someone comes along and gives him an offer sheet, which is always possible, we’ll match it. But we are going to keep negotiating with him.”

With more than 30 years of experience as an NHL general manager, Sather understands that some negotiations are resolved quicker than others, as was the case this summer with Girardi, Prospal, Christensen, and Prust. He also understands that other summer negotiations can carry into training camp or beyond, although he doesn’t anticipate that being the case with Staal.

“We don’t want to see that happen,” said Sather. “I don’t think it serves the player any good to do something like that. As far as I’m concerned, it only puts him behind the eight-ball when he does come back and play.”

The negotiations might be complicated by three factors: 1) the Rangers’ own warped payroll, 2) the contracts given to unrestricted free agents and 3) the contracts handed out to other “blue chip” RFAs such as Erik Johnson. (Johnson has a higher ceiling, but both have produced somewhat similar results considering the No.1 draft pick’s golf cart-induced lost season.)

The first factor might be the most maddening. Look at the contract Sather handed Dan Girardi. How can Sather look Staal and/or his agent in the eye and say that he’s not worth considerably more than the $3.325 million annual cap hit the Rangers handed Girardi? Staal is younger and far more crucial to the team than his 26-year-old counterpart.

Sather seems aware of the possibility of an offer sheet, but why is he so sure that the Rangers could match it? If someone were to throw a Niklas Hjalmarsson-type deal at Staal, matching that $3.5 million cap hit would more or less bankrupt the Rangers’ tight salary cap situation. It’s pretty amazing that a team could spend that much money on a playoff-bubble-at-best type roster, but then again, Sather has been reduced to a sitcom in a suit for the last 10-plus years. (Every time he makes a decent deal it’s genuinely shocking).

When you consider the pronounced moves other Atlantic division teams made this summer, it could be another long season in Madison Square Garden.