Islanders, Rangers practicing patience a week into free agency
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
After a week of free agency and trade talk, the key word is the same for the Islanders and Rangers:
The Rangers, who came within a couple of wins of reaching the Stanley Cup final last month, are playing the waiting game. None of the big free agents were either on their radar (Ryan Suter) or expressed a strong distaste for playing in New York City (Zach Parise), so the Rangers are patiently waiting for the prices to come down on either Blue Jackets wing Rick Nash or Ducks wing Bobby Ryan.
And patience is the best thing the Rangers have going for them in this slow-speed chase. Nash hasn't much wavered from his initial stance around the trade deadline this past season -- he has a full no-trade clause and seems willing to waive it only for a select few teams, even though Columbus general manager Scott Howson is practicing his own game of patience, hoping that Nash will grow weary of the holding pattern and agree to widen his pool of acceptable destinations.
It's one big game of chicken between the Rangers, the Jackets and Nash, and the Rangers have believed since back in January, when Glen Sather first inquired about Nash, that patience will win out. That Nash wants to come to New York and Howson's high demands will have to come down before the 2012-13 season begins.
And, so, the Rangers wait.
The Islanders have been practicing patience for a few summers now under GM Garth Snow. Much as the passionate fan base recoils at the idea of a franchise with nothing much to show for the past two decades taking the slow and steady route, that's the way it is for Snow, owner Charles Wang and the Islanders, who are now just three seasons from arena free agency and are currently in limbo as to where they'll be beyond 2015.
It's not an ideal situation to attract top-tier free agents, so Snow, as he's done before, aimed lower. He has made big offers to free agents and been rejected (Paul Martin, Dan Hamhuis, Christian Ehrhoff); this past week, the only real rejection was veteran defenseman Bryce Salvador, who wasn't going to break the bank and ultimately returned to the Devils.
Snow did his due diligence on the likes of scoring forwards Alexander Semin and Andrei Kostitsyn, but went for Brad Boyes, who scored 43 goals for the Blues in 2007-08 but has just 39 total goals his last three seasons combined. One year, $1 million and a chance to revive his flagging career.
Snow needs defensemen too, so his draft-night trade for 35-year-old Lubomir Visnovsky and the signing of 31-year-old Matt Carkner fill huge holes, if not with top-end talents like Suter or Matt Carle, neither of whom Snow was going to attempt to overpay for.
The Islanders and Rangers are trying to win with youth at their cores, though the Rangers have more financial leeway to spend to fill the gaps -- within reason. The old Sather might have causally tossed in former first-round pick Chris Kreider to a trade to land Nash at the deadline; the new Sather, with prodding from the smart people around him, isn't interested in dumping off prospects.
Snow has no choice but to be patient. John Tavares and Travis Hamonic are two guys to build around, and the rest of the Isles' homegrown group started to show some promise at the end of last season. Now, with only a few changes (and third-leading scorer PA Parenteau off to Colorado for four years and $16 million), Snow's Isles have to start this coming season strong or risk another year in the lottery drawing.
It's not the word fans want to hear from their teams' GMs in July. Patience is for the other guys. But it's been a strange summer, with labor negotiations starting up amid mid-market teams like the Wild shelling out $196 million to land Parise and Suter and other non-major market teams like Carolina and Tampa making big plays despite woeful economic conditions in their home areas.
So, the Islanders will wait for the CBA to be hammered out and for the season to draw near, and even then it seems very little will change on their roster. And the Rangers will wait to see if Howson blinks first before trying to give themselves the push they hope will get them into a Cup final.
They will wait. Which means their fans have to as well.