The Rangers have plenty of work ahead of them this off-season, from major decisions (like whether they should pursue Brad Richards) to the inevitable business of signing restricted free agents like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. But one of the more difficult decisions will be what they'll do with their captain, Chris Drury. The center, signed along with Scott Gomez during the Great Rangers Spending Spree of July 1, 2007, was hit hard by injuries this season. He returned in time for the playoffs — he actually returned for the regular season finale, in which he scored a goal — but his strengths on the ice were limited to killing penalties and winning face-offs. And while John Tortorella has a lot of respect for Drury, even he seems to understand that Drury might not fit on this team anymore (to say nothing of the cap space he takes up).
Here's Tortorella, via the LoHud Rangers Blog, on how much Drury's role as captain will come into play when evaluating their options this summer:
"Intangibles always come into evaluating. You just can't let the intangibles override other things, too. Dru and I have a great relationship. We've been very honest with one another. Dru is getting older. That's why he has this chronic knee, and it's amazing that he was able to come back when he did. But we have to make decisions based on what's best for the organization moving on, and I'm not saying--don't get me wrong--but we have to be careful with all this stuff here. And it's certainly not my total decision, but I have my thoughts, so these are all conversations we have to have."
Or, to put it more succinctly (via the Post):
"That's a conversation [the front office] is going to have the next couple of months," Tortorella said. "It's something honestly you have to ask, where does he fit now, because we are going young."
That's a pretty honest answer about a player — a team captain, even — who, let's not forget, is under contract for next season. So let's review the Rangers' options:
1. They can do nothing. Drury has one year and $5 million remaining on his contract, and his cap hit for next season is $7.05 million.
2. They can trade him. Technically possible; totally unrealistic.
3. They can ask him to play in the minors. Drury has a no-movement clause, so they can't simply Redden him to the Whale. But they could, in theory, ask him to accept a demotion to the AHL.
4. They can buy him out. Doing so would cost them $3.33 million against next year's cap, and $1.67 million against the 2012–13 cap. (However, there's this, via Larry Brooks: "If Drury requires further knee surgery prior to the June 15-30 buyout period, the Rangers would be precluded from buying him out.")
Option No. 1 isn't particularly attractive, and Nos. 2 and 3 may not be realistic. Which leaves the option of buying him out, essentially lowering their salary cap for the next couple of years but freeing up some money, as well as a roster spot for someone who can offer more on the ice than Drury can at this stage of his career. Perhaps the most telling Tortorella line was, "You can't let the intangibles override other things." Such a mind-set comes as a mild surprise: This, after all, is still the franchise of the Captain, with a capital C. (The Rangers take that kind of thing very seriously.) And from the day Drury signed, his role as "a winner" was presented as part of his value. But understanding that those intangibles might not override other factors is also the necessary mind-set heading into an off-season during which the Rangers may very well have to decide to pay their captain — one liked and respected by his coach, no less — to go away.