As the mourning period for coming up short in the quest for the Stanley Cup is ever so brief, Glen Sather and the Rangers braintrust will now turn their focus to solidifying the squad to make a run again next season. Benoit Pouliot, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent, should be among the club’s top priorities.
While Pouliot was far from the Rangers most productive player in terms of finding the scoresheet, you could make a pretty good argument that he was among their best players throughout the playoffs.
Although Pouliot accounted for just five goals and ten points in 25 games, he was consistently one of the Rangers most complete players when he was on the ice. Once considered a first round bust of sorts (4th overall in 2005, Minnesota), Pouliot has come to be the type of player that the analytics community highlight as an effective player.
Pouliot has spent the past five seasons playing on one year deals, representing a great bargain in stints with Montreal, Boston, Tampa Bay, and the Rangers. His days of living off of short-term deals are over. He’s a physical player with some offensive upside, who’s routinely shades on the positive side of possession data. Pouliot will be the recipient of a multi-year deal this offseason, it just remains to be seen where he ends up.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post pegged Pouliot for something in the $2-$2.4 million range, annually. Let’s say that gets the conversation started, although it’s more likely bidding for the 6-foot-3 winger pushes the price tag up over $3 million and closer to $4 million.
Jettisoning a worn out and overpaid piece like Brad Richards is integral to the Rangers’ chances at finding postseason success again in 2014-15. The Rangers enter the offseason with roughly $17 million in cap space under the estimated $70 million ceiling for next year, with commitments to seven forwards, four defensemen, and Henrik Lundqvist plus one in goal. That $6.66 million cap hit designated for Richards could come in handy to adding some key players this summer.
Pouliot teamed with pending restricted free agents Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello to form one of the Rangers most effective lines in 2013-14. An effort to replicate the Rangers postseason success of this past season starts with bringing back that trio, along with Pouliot’s fellow UFA and postseason standout, Anton Stralman.
It’s a story we’ve watched unfold so many times before. A player steps up and makes a name for himself in the playoffs by finding the back of the net at a rate far beyond his previous expectancy. It’s Fernando Pisani’s unforgettable 14-goal performance with the Edmonton Oilers in 2005-06, or Ville Leino’s 21-point effort with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10. Both of those players turned surprising playoff performances into long-term deals, and both eventually faded into oblivion, with Leino a lock for a compliance buyout from the Buffalo Sabres this summer.
If the Rangers hold any kind of advantage over prospective suitors, it’s that Pouliot’s contributions to their ill-fated run to the Final were not of the gaudy goal total variety, like Pisani and Leino before him. Sure, there will be several astute general managers who covet Pouliot’s two-way ability and attempt to add him to their own rosters, but the x-factor of a shortsighted executive having his eyes lit up with “that’s surefire 30-goal potential” will be looking elsewhere.
Exorcising the ghost of Richards, while practicing cap responsibility in reloading the bottom six should allow the Rangers the financial ability to bring back Pouliot and still have money for Stralman.