Both Ottawa and New York advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but one exceeded expectations, while the other fell short. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
The eliminations of the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup playoffs prompted different reactions from their fans.
For the Senators, overcoming the lengthy absences of their three best players (Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson) to injury during the regular season and advancing to the second round was considered a significant improvement.
The Rangers elimination, however, was seen as a frustrating finish to a disappointing season.
Senators GM Bryan Murray will approach this off-season hoping to fine-tune his developing lineup, while Rangers GM Glen Sather will try to address what went wrong for a team considered by some to be a Cup contender.
Of the two, Murray is better positioned, with 19 players under contract next season and a projected $22 million in cap space, provided ownership is willing to spend to the $64.3 million ceiling.
Murray's biggest concern is determining if long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson will return or retire. The 40-year-old ‘Alfie’ was the Senators’ third-leading scorer during the regular season and their top scorer in the playoffs. Though an unrestricted free agent, he's not expected to sign with another team.
Everyone on the Senators hopes he'll return, but like last summer, he'll take some time to decide if he and his family can handle the grind of another long NHL season.
Other notable unrestricted free agents include veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, left winger Guillaume Latendresse and center Peter Regin. Ottawa Sun pundits Bruce Garrioch and Don Brennan doubt the trio will return.
Their expectation is Murray will search for an experienced scoring winger. Brennan listed Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis or New Jersey's David Clarkson as possible free agent targets this summer, while Garrioch suggests signing Detroit's Valtteri Filppula and pursuing a trade for Anaheim's Bobby Ryan.
It remains to be seen if Murray chases Ryan, but he could use his depth in young talent and prospects to tempt teams in need of shedding payroll into moving a salaried scoring winger.
Sather's Rangers, meanwhile, have 18 players under contract for next season with a projected $13.5 million in cap space.
Sather also has some key players to re-sign. Ryane Clowe is an unrestricted free agent while Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh are restricted free agents.
Of this group, McDonagh is the priority, prompting the New York Post's Larry Brooks to call upon Sather to quickly re-sign the 23-year-old blueliner, fearing he'll receive an expensive offer from a club – such as the Philadelphia Flyers - desperate for blueline depth.
Re-signing those five players would use up most, if not all, of Sather's cap space, leaving little money to bolster his scoring depth.
That's fuelling speculation Sather will use his remaining compliance buyout on center Brad Richards, who struggled this season and was a healthy scratch in the Rangers final two games against the Bruins.
NBC Sports' Jason Brough cited Richards’ declining performance, the emergence of trade deadline acquisition Derick Brassard as their first line center, and their obvious need for cap space as reasons to buy out the 33-year-old veteran.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance believes the lack of quality centers in this summer's free agent market would make Richards an attractive target, though he'd have to accept considerably less than the nine-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Blueshirts in 2011.
Custance suggests the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, LA Kings and New York Islanders as five clubs with size and speed on the wing that could use Richards as a second line center.
Sather and Murray have shown a propensity for bold off-season moves, so expect both to be busy this summer.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).