Playoff eliminations bring decision time

For the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes, the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs ended much sooner than hoped.

The Rangers fell to the Washington Capitals in five games, the Ducks to the Nashville Predators in six and the Coyotes to the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep.

These clubs now head into the offseason with some critical needs to address and questions to be answered.

The Rangers are in good shape in goal with starter Henrik Lundqvist and veteran backup Martin Biron.

On the blue line, they have young stalwarts in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, and rookie Ryan McDonagh showed considerable promise.

Bryan McCabe, acquired in late February, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. If he hopes to remain with the Blueshirts, he’ll have to accept a pay cut from the $5.75 million per season cap hit of his current deal.

They could use another experienced, puck-moving defenseman, but it’s widely believed management intends to pursue Dallas Stars center Brad Richards if he enters the free-agent market. Restricted free-agent forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky likely will seek significant raises, which could make bolstering the blue line more difficult.

Granted, the Rangers have around $42.6 million invested in 14 players for next season, and could free up another $3.33 million if they buy out the final year of captain Chris Drury’s contract, giving them plenty of cap space to add a star forward such as Richards and still address their defense needs.

Hanging over potential moves, however, is the fact the current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of next season, which could make general manager Glen Sather a little leery of handing out expensive long-term contracts.

Ducks management, meanwhile, must consider their options in goal and defense, as well as add perhaps another top-six forward.

Starting goaltender Jonas Hiller missed most of the second half because of vertigo-like symptoms, forcing GM Bob Murray to trade for Dan Ellis and sign Ray Emery as a free agent. Emery did a fine job down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he’s also an unrestricted free agent this summer. Ellis has another season remaining on his contract.

Murray could decide to re-sign Emery. Then, if Hiller can return next season, he could deal or demote Emery or Ellis.

The defense has been a work in progress since last summer. Murray did bolster his depth by drafting the promising Cam Fowler, bringing back Francois Beauchemin via trade and signing Toni Lydman and Andy Sutton, but the Ducks could still use another experienced, physical “shutdown” blue-liner.

Murray has less than $50 million invested in 17 players for next season. He probably will cut loose such pending free-agent veterans as Andreas Lilja, Todd Marchant and Jarkko Ruutu.

The ageless Teemu Selanne is also eligible for UFA status after turning in a tremendous performance this season. He led the Ducks in playoff goals, with six, and finished as their second-highest scorer in the regular season, with 80 points.

Although the 40-year-old “Finnish Flash” has suggested this season could be his last, don’t be surprised if Murray works hard to bring him back for one more season. Failing that, he likely will scour the trade or free-agent market for a suitable replacement.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, have bigger problems to deal with, as the threat of relocation to Winnipeg hangs over their offseason.

That certainly will make it more difficult for GM Don Maloney to bolster his roster and retain or replace his key free agents.

Topping that list is goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a pending unrestricted free agent. He had a poor performance against the Red Wings in this year’s playoffs but was primarily responsible for the Coyotes making the playoffs in the first place.

Bryzgalov however recently stated he wouldn’t follow the team to Winnipeg should they move north this summer, which would leave Maloney scrambling to replace him.

Other pending UFAs include backup Jason LaBarbera, defenseman Ed Jovanovski and forwards Radim Vrbata, Eric Belanger and Vernon Fiddler.

He must also re-sign restricted free agent Keith Yandle, who emerged this season as one of the league’s top defensemen, and promising youngsters Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker.

A new owner, be it one who will keep the team in Arizona or move it to Winnipeg, could increase the club’s payroll for next season. That certainly would make Maloney’s work in re-signing his key players and adding others easier, especially if that new owner is in place by early June, allowing him sufficient time to open negotiations with his free agents.