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Rangers trade Rozsival for depth up front

by Dave Lozo
It may seem like the New York Rangers acquired left wing Wojtek Wolski from the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday in exchange for defenseman Michal Rozsival as a knee-jerk reaction to losing Alex Frolov for the season 24 hours earlier.

But Rangers GM Glen Sather said he's been eyeing Wolski for quite a while.

"I had spoken to (Coyotes GM Don Maloney) about a month ago, but there wasn't any way we could make a deal," Sather said. "When the injury happened yesterday, things became a little more urgent so I was getting a few more calls. But he's a guy I had been interested in for a while."

Wolski, 24, has gallons of potential but has disappointed this season. After a career-high 23 goals and 65 points in 80 games split between Phoenix and the Colorado Avalanche last season, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Wolski has a mere 6 goals and 10 assists in 36 games this season.

"I was surprised last year when Colorado traded him," Sather said. "I've been kind of watching him. Things haven't been going as well as he probably expected in Phoenix and I think Donnie wasn't as happy as he was last year when they got him at the deadline and through the playoffs. Sometimes those things come up, and they come up fairly quickly today."

The Rangers have been battling injuries since training camp, but Frolov's season-ending injury Saturday against the St. Louis Blues was likely all they could take.

Vinny Prospal, who was the team's second-leading scorer last season, hasn't played a game this season because of knee surgery. Chris Drury missed two months with a finger injury. Marian Gaborik sat 12 games with a shoulder separation. Ryan Callahan will be out until at least mid-January with a broken hand. Erik Christensen is out until early February at the minimum with a knee sprain
That's a lot of injuries to a lot of key forwards, and it forced Sather to deal one of his more experienced defensemen.

Rozsival, 32, was third on the Rangers in ice time behind blueliners Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. The trade leaves the Rangers with Matt Gilroy, 26, Michael Sauer, 23, Ryan McDonagh, 21, and Michael Del Zotto, 24, vying for regular minutes with 27-year-old Steve Eminger, who is now the elder statesman of the blue line.

It's a roll of the dice by Sather, and he knows it.

"We like our young defense. We think they are progressing very well," Sather said. "We know it's a little risky, but the opportunity to do something here with a 24-year-old guy that has been an obvious goal scorer and a pretty high talent, we thought it was too good of an opportunity to turn down."

The combination of Wolski's potential and the defensive depth made Roszival, who has 3 goals and 12 assists in 32 games, expendable.

"The obvious reason is we've got a lot of good, young defensemen that are progressing the way we liked them," Sather said when asked why he was able to deal Rozsival. "We've been trying to build this team around the youth. It was a good opportunity for us to get younger and bigger and give the kids the opportunity on defense to play."

Rozsival gives the Coyotes a defenseman who can eat up minutes, something they've lacked since losing Zbynek Michalek in free agency to the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer. He could take over the roster spot of 19-year-old rookie Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has gone through some expected growing pains with the Coyotes.

Sather said an added benefit to the deal is the extra $1.2 million in cap space gained by dealing away Rozsival. It could come in handy when the trade deadline arrives Feb. 28.

"That's the other side of the coin. It's created another opportunity for us that we didn't have with Rozsival's $5 million cap (hit)," Sather said. "This reduces our cap. It gives us more opportunities to do a few other things that come up in the future. It was a situation that was easy for us to make for a lot of reasons."

Wolski is expected to make his Rangers debut against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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