Jason Arnott’s stint with the New York Rangers is apparently over; after only 24-hours as a member of the Blueshirts, the unrestricted free agent and the team have parted ways, as Arnott was not physically able to perform in management’s eyes. The Rangers had signed Arnott to a 1-year deal on Saturday but the inadequate physical results nullified the deal.

Now with Arnott off the table as far as the Rangers are concerned, the Rangers surely are going to continue to address their immediate needs. While most would argue the facet of the Rangers’ game that needs the most attention is their defense, the Rangers have clearly identified a third or fourth line center as something the club needs in the very near future. Today, the Netminders looks at the NHL’s top free agent forwards that have yet to play in 2013.

Brian Rolston:

Brian Rolston may be a great option for the Rangers to explore. The 6’2” Flint, Michigan native split last season between the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins last season, scoring 24 points in 70 games. While he started off horribly last season, he showed he can still play, netting 15 points in his last 21 games with the Bruins.

Rolston, despite his age, can bring a lot to the table; first, the 1991 11th overall pick has played more than 1,200 games in his NHL career, scoring 761 points and a powerful +65 goal differential. More importantly, Rolston brings leadership, skill, and mentorship to the lineup and would be a solid anchor for the 3rd and 4th lines on Broadway.

On the other hand, Rolston may have lost his passion for the game. On January 11, 2013, the former Devil, Bruin and Islander told Minnesota Star-Tribune reporter Mike Russo he is “more than likely to retire” in the wake of the NHL lockout.”

What’s more, Rolston’s contract may be too high to negotiate. The 39-year-old came packaged with a $5.06 million cap hit over the last several seasons while the Rangers have only $1.86 million left in cap space. With several important signings after the 2013 season, Glen Sather and company would have the task of convincing Rolston to play another season and to severely lower his paycheck if he were to become a part of the Blueshirt Brotherhood.

Daymond Langkow:

Also rumored to be retiring, Daymond Langkow would be a great 3rd or 4th line fit for the Rangers. The 36-year –old leftie has spent 17 seasons in the NHL and he has been known as one of the most rugged players the league has to offer. Aside from his 2010/2011 campaign that saw him sidelined with a spinal cord injury only 4 games into the season, Langkow has not played fewer than 71 games in this millennium, and has recorded 672 points in 1,090 games.

But just like Rolston, it is the intangible aspects that Langkow can bring to the dressing room at this stage of his career. He can still play, as he had 30 points in 73 games last season, but his guidance is what makes him stand out as a possibility for Rangers management to look into.

Also similar to Rolston’s situation would be the amount of negotiation that the Rangers would have to take part in to land the aging forward. Langkow’s most recent NHL season landed him $4.5 million in pay, a salary in which the Rangers simply cannot afford.

Andrew Brunette:

Another player in the twilight of his career, Andrew Brunette could have some potential to add to the Rangers lineup. At the expense of sounding like a broken record, Brunette has continuously been an offensive asset to the teams he has played on, but would bring an amount of leadership to the dressing room just as would Rolston and Langkow.

What is interesting about Brunette is that his cap hit would be significantly lower than his competitors. Brunette carried a cap hit of $2 million last season, which certainly fits into Sather’s salary range. The offer for Jason Arnott was reportedly worth $1.6 million, a sum that surely could be negotiated if Brunette were to continue in the NHL this season.

What sets Brunette apart from the previous men is that, despite a career low in points last season with Chicago (27 in 78 games), Brunette’s statistics are much better overall than the competition. Brunette has scored an average 0.66 points per game throughout his career and has 11 40+ point seasons dating back to 1999.

However, it is clear that Arnott and Brunette do not stack up equally against one another. Arnott has had 14 40+ seasons in the NHL with Edmonton, New Jersey, Dallas and Nashville, and has averaged 0.75 points per game over his career. More importantly, Arnott is much better in the +/- category, as he went +13 in 72 games last season, and this is something “Slats” definitely was looking at when considering the Collingwood, Ontario native.

Brunette on the other hand was -13 on the season in 2011/2012 and is -78 in his NHL career, as opposed to Arnott’s +78 professional goal differential.

Marco Sturm:

While not the offensive powerhouse that Arnott, Rolston, Langkow, and Brunette have been known to be, Marco Sturm might be the best option for New York.  While the 34-year-old German averages only 0.52 points per game over his career, Sturm is younger than Langkow by 2 years, and is 7 years junior of Rolston and Brunette.

The age factor aside, Sturm has also proven that he can play a consistent game. Known neither as a goal scorer or a set-up man, Marco has been a constant source of both goals and assists throughout his career.  As a whole, Sturm has scored 242 goals and 245 assists for 487 points in 938 games. Moreover,  Sturm has established himself as a consistent 20-goal scorer in the NHL, achieving the mark seven of eight times between 2001 and 2010, and the 1996 1st round NHL Draft pick was +13 last season (+81 in his career), racking up only 25 minutes in penalties in 48 games.

Marco Sturm, unfortunately, has a significant downside as well. Since leaving the Bruins after knee surgery in 2010, Sturm has been unable to regain the level of success he had earlier in his career. He has played only 83 games with four different franchises since 2010, and has scored only 8 goals and 13 assists in that span.

He may be affordable, but if Sturm cannot produce on the 3rd or 4th line with the Rangers, the risk may be too great for Blueshirts management to take.

A healthy Jason Arnott is just what the Rangers were looking for to shore up the bottom lines, but after the physical examination, the team simply could not take the risk. It is now up to Sather and company to look elsewhere, and surely a player can be found to fill the void. That player, however, may come at a price or a risk that may impact the Rangers run at a Stanley Cup in 2013, or their future over the next several seasons.


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