Is this the year? Is this the July 1 that Glen Sather finally retires his itchy trigger finger?
The question was asked a year ago, and admittedly, Sather did not go crazy when the free-agent gates opened last summer.
He hit a home run with Marian Gaborik, and another later in the summer with Vinny Prospal. But there were two whiffs, and every one of those is costly: Donald Brashear for two years and $2.8 million, then Ales Kotalik for three years and $9 million, plus a no-trade clause.
At 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the gates open again. Sather is saying the right things, as he did last night at Madison Square Garden during a tour of the presentation center detailing the Garden's transformation for season-ticket holders and all the young prospects attending the Rangers' camp this week.
"We'll probably be a little more patient than we've been," Sather told Newsday. "I don't feel like we need to do a lot. We could have done a lot the last 10 days, but we chose to keep our kids. We'd like to see how some of these guys can develop."
That sounds more like what John Tortorella has been preaching since the day he arrived in February 2009. Sather still has needed convincing about the patient approach.
Rangers fans point first and often to the big contracts, and those are almost exclusively handed out in the summer, when money is only an object in how close the Rangers can come to the salary cap.
There is no game-changer on the free-agent list this year, no one like Gaborik to help build around. Ilya Kovalchuk is there, but he is going to ask for the moon, and he didn't exactly help his reputation as the Devils meekly bowed out this spring.
The Rangers need help at center, where the most attractive options, Tomas Plekanec and Patrick Marleau, went back to the Canadiens and Sharks, respectively, before hitting the market. Someone will give second/third-line center Matthew Lombardi first-line center money, in the range of $3.5 million to $4 million per year, but the Rangers already should have learned their lesson about trying to force players into unfamiliar roles because of big contracts (Bobby Holik and Chris Drury come to mind).
There is more room on defense, where Wade Redden is almost certain to be waived and sent to Hartford when training camp ends. "He's been discussed," Sather said.
There also is a need to get restricted free agents Marc Staal and Dan Girardi signed. Sather said he's had no new talks with Paul Krepelka, Staal's agent.
"A lot of guys are just waiting to see and are looking around," Sather said. "Some guys won't get qualifying offers, so there'll be even more out there. We have to be patient."