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Rangers make 'big' move signing Boogaard

by Dave Lozo
New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said he was sick and tired of seeing opponents take liberties with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. On the first day of free agency, Sather made a big move to make his team a whole lot bigger and tougher.

Sather signed the 6-foot-8, 257-pound Derek Boogaard to a four-year, $6.5 million contract on Thursday. The 28-year-old left wing spent his first five seasons in the League with the Minnesota Wild, amassing 544 penalty minutes -- but just 2 goals and 12 assists -- in 255 career games. Boogaard, who played four seasons alongside Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik in Minnesota, isn't going to provide scoring punch, but he's definitely going to provide his own kind of punch.

"Derek is obviously the biggest and the toughest. I think we needed that presence here," Sather said. "There was just too many times last year when I saw guys scraping snow into Henrik's face around the front of the net and I didn't like it. I don't think we're going to see that happen any longer here."

Sather also re-signed forwards Erik Christensen (two years) and Vinny Prospal (one year) and swiped backup goaltender Martin Biron (two years, $1.75 million) off the free-agent market. But when enforcer Jody Shelley left the Rangers to sign a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday, Sather turned to the behemoth that is Boogaard.

"I got the indication speaking to Shelley's agent a couple days ago when I made him the offer that we were only interested in doing a two-year deal because of his age," Sather explained. "I knew at that time there was going to be a problem. He was looking for a three-year deal. I really didn't want to get into a three-year deal. That was really when we changed our minds."

Shelley's departure opened the door for Boogaard, who is looking forward to bringing his brand of hockey to Manhattan. A big reason why he chose the Rangers over his other suitors was because of his relationship with Gaborik, whom he has known since he was 19.

"When you're on the ice out here, you're on center stage," Boogaard said. "You can't hide that, you got to play to the best of your abilities and I'm ready to do that. There's other teams out there offering contracts and stuff, but to be able to play with Gabby again was definitely a push to go to New York.

"I'm going to be playing the rough style of hockey. I think for my size I can skate really well, I can keep up with the play, I can get in on the forecheck and create room for the skill guys. It's one of those things where I'm not afraid to do what I do and that's kind of what I do."

The Rangers wasted no time in signing Biron, grabbing him almost immediately after the clock struck noon. Signing a backup goaltender might have been the No. 1 priority for the Rangers, who sent Steve Valiquette to the minors early in the season and rotated rookies Matt Zaba and Chad Johnson up and down from AHL Hartford as Lundqvist's backup before bringing in Alex Auld late in the season. That left Lundqvist to play a career-high 73 games -- and after the Rangers missed the playoffs, Lundqvist admitted to feeling tired at times during the season.

The immediate signing was also a change of pace for Biron, who as a free agent last summer waited himself out of a true backup job and wound up in a logjam with the New York Islanders. Biron was part of the three-headed goaltending monster with Dwayne Roloson and Rick DiPietro; he wound up going 9-14-4 with a 3.27 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage.

Sather was drawn to Biron because of Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who spoke highly of the 32-year-old goalie. For Biron, it's a chance to rediscover his game after a sub-par season with the Islanders.

"I feel like I lost a little bit of my edge, lost a little bit of what I had on the ice," Biron said of last season. "So going with the Rangers and with Benoit Allaire and that organization, I feel like that's the right fit for me to get right back to where I was a few years back and go back up the hill as opposed to keep sliding away a little bit."

Christensen, 26, had some good moments last season while playing as a center with Gaborik. Christensen had 8 goals and 18 assists in 49 games and was a reasonable signing considering how few options there were in terms of free-agent centers.

Prospal, who will turn 36 in February, was one of the few reliable offensive players for the Rangers last season. He had 20 goals and 38 assists in 75 games and was one of the leaders in the locker room.

"I thought he played very well after the Olympic break," Sather said of Prospal. "He didn't have the year he had in the beginning of the season, but he had knee surgery halfway through the year. He played very well, he's a great guy, he fit in with us. We just wanted to have him come back.

"And I think Erik is a guy who's got all kinds of untapped ability. He started to show that here. He got his confidence here, the coaches trusted him, he was playing 17, 18 minutes at the end of the year."

The Rangers also signed former second-round pick Derek Stepan, who was the captain of the U.S. World Junior team that won gold this year against Team Canada. Stepan is coming off a 12-goal, 42-assist sophomore season with the Wisconsin Badgers.

"We certainly spent a lot of time watching him this year. In every level of competition he was in, we had someone there watching him," Sather said. "He looks physically mature, he's been moving very well, he's a smart player. He just looks like he's ready to make the move."

The two biggest items left on the Rangers' offseason agenda are restricted free-agent defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the likely future of the Rangers' blue line. Both players will command sizable contracts, and Sather said Thursday's moves won't impact anything involving either one.

"I don't think it affects there deals at all," Sather said. "Those are individual deals that we're going to tackle now that free agency is over -- I shouldn't say over but the first siege has kind of gone by. We're still going to sign those guys. We have room under the cap to get the deals done. We're still after them."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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