Before we get to our UFA mock draft, here are some reports to peruse from the handful of reporters who were at the final day of Prospect Camp yesterday: Dan Rosen of the Record quotes Tom Renney talking about Michael Nylander as if he remains in the Rangers' plans for next season rather than a goner, as an unnamed source, presumably within the organization, told another paper a few days ago. Bruce Berlet of the Hartford Courant caught up with Tommy Pyatt after the camp's closing four on four tournament, and notes that Alex Bourret has recovered from off-season knee surgery. Sam Weinman was officially impressed with Marc Staal after seeing him in the tournament, as he notes in a brief entry in Rangers Report. And NYR.com has a wrap-up on the camp that includes a lot of video of the prospects. Now, here is how we see free agent signings unfolding, beginning tomorrow at noon -- not necessarily in chronological order, and not necessarily a complete list of all free agents, but mainly those of interest to the Rangers and their direct competitors:
Chris Drury: Will not sign with the Rangers. Reason #1: He shares the same agent as Jed Ortmeyer, and he's not happy with the way the Rangers are treating Ortmeyer. Reason #2: Contrary to what Drury told the media during the Ranger-Sabre series, we've heard through friends that he actually grew up as a Ranger-hating Islander fan. Reason #3, trumping all other reasons: The wife always wins out (cf. Chris Pronger), and if she wants to go to California, she will go to California. The money will be top dollar either way. Drury will be a Shark or a King before the day is out.
Daniel Briere: Will not get the offers he thinks he should because of his petulant playoff performance. At the end of the day, with decent offers from Montreal, Philly, and Buffalo, none of them high end, Briere will choose to go home and sign with the Habs.
Scott Gomez: Holik did it, Elias almost did it, so why can't Gomez go from being a Devil to being a Ranger? The only thing standing in his way is his stated desire to be a first line center playing first line minutes, something he coud never have in Jersey, where the relentless priority on defensive line matching limited his ice time. But can he get that with the Rangers? Not if Nylander comes back to center the number one line, which would limit the amount of power play ice time Gomez gets. On the other hand, the opportunity to set up Brendan Shanahan for 40-50 goals may prove worth it. Our gut tells us that he will sign elsewhere, though -- not sure where, but not New York.
Michael Nylander: We believe he has already reached agreement with the Rangers on a contract extension, but that the Rangers want to wait out Sunday first to see if they can hit a home run on Drury and Gomez before committing to a multi-year contract with a player over 35. If true, will they lose this game of chicken, with Nylander growing impatient and accepting an offer from another club who loses out on the Drury-Gomez-Briere sweepstakes. At the end of the day, Drury will go west, Briere will go home, Gomez will go elsewhere, and Michael Nylander will be a Flyer, leaving the Rangers without a center on either of their top two lines. This sort of thing has happened a couple of times already to the Rangers this decade, most recently last year when defense was everyone's target and the Rangers ended up with Aaron Ward. It will happen again this year.
Brendan Shanahan: No brainer -- will re-sign with the Rangers for one year, for more than he would have gotten had the Rangers taken care of business in the middle. But threatened with the loss of yet another top line player, they will overpay a bit to get Shanny back for another year. The canny Shanahan knows this -- that is why he is waiting to see how the UFA season unfolds before re-signing.
Robert Lang: Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next incarnation of Nylander, a Jagr cronie who knows how to feed the puck to his buddy. Lang is aging and is coming off a poor season in Detroit, who don't want him back, but watch him pull a rabbit out his hat once he gets a dose of (as one of our readers so aptly put it) "Jagroids". With Jagr down to his last season or two in the NHL (and Straka too), the Rangers lose little by signing up one of his friends before turning over the top line to the next generation.
Peter Forsberg: Rangers will make a run at him for the second line after losing out on the top centers and settling on Lang for Jagr's line. But they will catch a break when the oft-injured Forsberg chooses to sign with a Western Conference team.
Alexei Yashin and Petr Nedved: The Rangers will be tempted to consider one or both of these players as low-cost short-term options, but both will opt to return to their native countries for this season, Yashin because he will earn more there than anyone in North America is willing to pay him at this point, and Nedved because no one will want to pull the trigger on him now that his production has fallen off as much as it has.
Dainius Zubrus: Desperate, the Rangers will consider Zubrus for their second line. If they do sign him, they will have to trade him by March, just like they had to trade Aaron Ward, when Zubrus and Jagr come close to blows in the locker room. More likely, Jagr will find a way to talk the Rangers out of signing him in the first place, if they seek his input before finalizing a deal.
Patrik Stefan: More desperate than ever, Glen Sather falls back on his old stand-by method of finding players -- the reclamation project. He will sign Stefan, make the case that at age 26 he is ready to break out, and that the tutelage of fellow countryman Jagr will be just what Stefan needs to finally fulfill his potential. Stefan will have a great month of October before slipping into Marcel Hossa land.
Jed Ortmeyer: Will quickly be picked up by St. Louis or Phoenix, JD and Don Maloney each knowing his true value. The Rangers will regret the loss of the intangibles he has brought as a spark plug on the ice, a locker room presence off the ice, and fan favorite.
Michel Ouellet: The Rangers will overpay for Ouellet, imagining him as a replacement for Ortmeyer with more offensive upside. But all they will experience from him is downside.
Ryan Smyth: Will get many lucrative offers, but will re-sign with the Islanders after Charles Wang offers him an outrageous contract that ranks third behind Rick DiPietro's and Alexei Yashin's in its insanity. He will have a great first half of the season, and then sustain an injury that reduces him to a shadow of his former self for the remainder of his career while the Islander continue to pay him for years to come.
Defense: The Rangers will target a power play point specialist but will quickly be shut out when the best candidates, like Tom Preissing, Brent Sopel, and Brian Rafalski, are re-signed by their current teams. Instead, the Rangers will pick up a young defensive defenseman (young as in under 30) -- either Cory Sarich, Scott Hannan, or Vitaly Vishnevski. Either that, or Karel Rachunek re-signs for a lot less than he made last year.
Goal: The Rangers will re-sign Kevin Weekes to an inexpensive contract commensurate with his status as a back-up, figuring that of all the available back-ups, he will be best suited to taking over the work load should anything ever happen to Henrik Lundqvist.