Rangers' goal: Boost offense on open market

Rangers GM Glen Sather has $ 12.5 million to work with under the NHL's cap ceiling to find a way to boost the offense.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rangers GM Glen Sather has $ 12.5 million to work with under the NHL’s cap ceiling to find a way to boost the offense.

The Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks all traded for No. 1 goalies in the past week. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist.

Check.

The Calgary Flames, a playoff team this spring, made a defensive upgrade with a blockbuster deal for Boston Bruins blue liner Dougie Hamilton. The Rangers have Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Keith Yandle. No need to panic. Check.

No, the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners don’t lack for much on the back end, with free agency opening Wednesday at noon. But they do need to add grit and goal scoring to improve — especially after Columbus’ acquisition of left wing Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday — and that won’t be easy considering the quality of free agents available and the lack of money Rangers GM Glen Sather has to spend.

The man they call “Slats” has only about $ 12.5 million available under the NHL’s $ 71.4 million cap ceiling, and his need to re-sign restricted free agents Derek Stepan (expected to get $ 6M per), J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast and Emerson Etem shrinks that number to approximately $ 4 million.

Sather’s nuclear option would be to seek suitors for Rick Nash’s $ 7.8 million cap hit and use the money and return for a major retooling — or to a lesser extent, unload Dan Boyle’s $ 4.5 million. But the first would mean trading his leading scorer, and both scenarios would involve convincing another team to take on a major cap hit.

That leaves the Blueshirts in the awkward middle ground of being a contender but also having a need, and not having the ideal market or dollars to address it.

Matt Hunwick remains unsigned, so it appears as if the Rangers’ depth defenseman is headed to free agency, meaning former first-round picks Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath or depth D-man Chris Summers would be the favorites to land the seventh defenseman’s spot.

If McIlrath gets up to speed with his skating, he could add the nastiness the Rangers often lack. Otherwise, while Anton Volchenkov, 33, may not skate to Alain Vigneault’s liking, the Nashville Predators free agent and former Devil might make sense as an affordable penalty-killer and crease-clearer.

The underwhelming free-agent forward class is headed by Anaheim Ducks winger Matt Beleskey, 27, who erupted in a contract year for 22 goals in 65 regular-season games and eight goals in 16 playoff games.

But not only is Beleskey not a sure thing, there also will be plenty of bidders, and the price on any popular free agent will run the Rangers right out of contention, barring an unforeseen trade to clear space that would change the team’s makeup.

Dealing can be dangerous. Trading Carl Hagelin to Anaheim last weekend, for example, made sense because the Rangers couldn’t pay a third-liner a scorer’s salary. However, if the Rangers don’t get more goals into their lineup, Hagelin’s departure makes them worse.

Add Sather’s March trade of Anthony Duclair to Arizona, Pavel Buchnevich’s decision to play in the KHL another year and the GM’s failure to squeeze any short-term value out of the Cam Talbot trade to Edmonton, and it leaves the Rangers simply needing more offensively out of people they already employ: namely Miller, Stepan and Chris Kreider.

A more likely option for the Rangers is a player such as veteran winger Curtis Glencross, 32, a depth forward who played well against the Rangers for Washington in this spring’s playoffs.

Martin St. Louis, an unrestricted free agent, will not return. Former Ranger Brad Richards, fresh off his second career Stanley Cup win in Chicago, would be a welcome and affordable addition, except the Rangers seem set down the middle with Derick Brassard, Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore.

Perhaps Richards will find himself in Brooklyn with the Islanders.

Ideally, the Rangers would pull off something wacky to acquire clutch playoff performer Justin Williams (Kings) or crease-crasher Joel Ward (Capitals). Unfortunately, there is a large market for both players and they will both cost significant coin.

And that’s something the Rangers do not have.

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