Roster spots on the line

Ranger players heading on to the ice during Ranger players heading on to the ice during a game against the Islanders. (March 15, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Yesterday's signings of two top prospects -- forward Ryan Bourque and defenseman Dylan McIlrath -- to entry-level deals doesn't mean that they will be wearing Rangers sweaters next season.

It does, however, raise the subject of current Rangers who are competing for not only a playoff berth this season, but for a spot on next year's roster or elsewhere.

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If form holds, management will try to make room for more youngsters, so a strong showing in the coming weeks counts.

Vinny Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Steve Eminger, Alex Frolov and Bryan McCabe are unrestricted free agents. The $3-million salary of Frolov, who had major knee surgery, will come off the cap, but the Rangers need more money to re-sign some key restricted free agents: Ryan Callahan (earning $2.3 million), whose play warrants a significant long-term boost; Brandon Dubinsky ($1.85 million), Artem Anisimov ($821,000), Brian Boyle ($500,000) and Michael Sauer ($500,000). Dubinsky, who held out two years ago, will want more money. Anisimov must be offered a minimum 5 percent raise; Boyle and Sauer must be offered 10 percent.

On defense, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh all have contracts, and Sauer has more than earned his salary as a top four blueliner. Eminger earns $1.125 million and likely will be released. Matt Gilroy, a restricted free agent earning $1.75 million, might not receive a qualifying offer. Michael Del Zotto, in the AHL with a broken finger, is under contract. As for McCabe, sources say he may consider a less lucrative, one- or two-year deal to stay on Long Island, where his family spends the summer.

On offense, seven forwards are signed and decisions must be made: Marian Gaborik ($7.5 million cap hit), Chris Drury ($7.05 million), Wojtek Wolski ($3.8 million), Sean Avery ($1.9 million), Mats Zuccarello ($1.75 million), Derek Boogaard ($1.6 million), Erik Christensen ($925,000), Derek Stepan ($875,000) and Brandon Prust ($800,000). Drury is not the player he once was; Wolski, who was obtained from Phoenix on Jan. 10, is streaky. Avery hasn't received as much ice time as last season.

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Meanwhile, Bourque, the son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, signed a three-year deal worth $2.7 million after going 26-31-57 in 47 games for the Quebec Remparts. Swedish forward Carl Hagelin is likely to be signed after the Michigan Wolverines complete their season. Boston College's Chris Kreider is ranked No. 18 on The Hockey News' Future Watch. Christian Thomas, son of former NHLer Steve, who has 54 goals in the OHL, is coming on. And Evgeny Grachev and Dale Weise are progressing in Hartford.

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