The New York Rangers made a big splash for the third consecutive day by signing 15-year NHL veteran Markus Naslund to a two-year contract and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin to a one-year deal on Thursday.
Those signings came one day after the Rangers acquired forward Nikolai Zherdev and center Dan Fritsche from Columbus for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman, and two days after they re-signed defenseman Michal Rozsival and signed free-agent defenseman Wade Redden to a six-year deal.
Notably missing from the list of signees is Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr, an unrestricted free agent. During a conference call announcing the signings of Naslund and Kalinin, GM Glen Sather confirmed that Jagr won't be back in the fall.
"We decided we were going to move on," Sather said. "Jagr was very respectful when I told him … We talked about his time here and he thanked me and I thanked him. It was a very cordial parting. You just can't wait forever on these things.
"It's unfortunate that sometimes things like this come to an end."
Naslund, a 6-foot, 195-pound left wing from Sweden who turns 35 on July 30, played 12 seasons in Vancouver and was captain for the past seven, getting the "C" in 2000-01 after Mark Messier went back to the Rangers. He has played in five All-Star Games, was a three-time First-Team All-Star and has 371 goals and 452 assists for 823 points in 1,035 career games.
But his production has dropped steadily since his 104-point season in 2002-03, when he won the Lester B. Pearson Trophy as the NHL's outstanding player as voted by his peers. Naslund had 25 goals and 55 points in 82 games in 2007-08, his lowest point total since 1997-98.
Naslund said he had wanted to come to New York from the moment free agency began on Tuesday.
NEW YORK RANGERS
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(5TH eAst/9TH NHL)
|Change from 2006-07
(2ND eAst/6TH NHL)
(9TH eAst/13TH NHL)
"It seems like everyone that's played for the Rangers said you only get a chance to play there once in a lifetime, and you have to take advantage of it," said Naslund, who played with Messier and Brian Noonan, two members of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team, during his time in Vancouver.
"This team has a chance to win the Cup," Naslund said. "I wanted to sign with a Cup contender. I think we've all seen how tight the race is when it comes to the Playoffs. I believe that the Rangers are going in the right direction. I'd like to be a part of that, and I'd like to be part of a Stanley Cup champion for sure."
Kalinin, 27, appeared in 46 games with the Buffalo Sabres this past season, scoring one goal and adding seven assists for eight points, along with 32 penalty minutes. He tied for fifth on the Sabres in blocked shots (52) and finished ninth on the club in average ice time with 17:20. In 2006-07, Kalinin led Buffalo's defensemen with seven goals and added 22 assists for 29 points.
The 6-3, 215-pound Russian, Buffalo's first pick in the 1998 Entry Draft, has skated in 466 NHL regular-season games, all with the Sabres, scoring 34 goals and 111 assists for 145 points, along with a plus-11 rating and 289 penalty minutes.
The moves leave the Rangers looking vastly different than the team that was eliminated by Pittsburgh in the second round of the Playoffs.
Though Jagr dropped from 54 goals and 123 points in 2005-06 to 25 goals and 71 points this past season, he was still the Rangers' leading scorer and the biggest offensive force on the team — as evidenced by his performance in the Playoffs, when he put up 15 goals in 10 games and was leading the NHL in postseason scoring through two rounds.
But Jagr never found the comfort zone with either of last summer's two big signings — centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury — that he'd had in two seasons with Michael Nylander, who was allowed to leave as a free agent and signed with Washington. He wound up playing much of the season with rookie Brandon Dubinsky, but only occasionally looked like the dynamic player who had revitalized the Rangers two years earlier.
The Rangers also saw speedy winger Sean Avery sign with Dallas on Wednesday. Avery missed nearly a third of the season with injuries, but had 15 goals and 33 points in 57 games while serving as one of the NHL's best agitators. Following his acquisition from Los Angeles in February 2007, the Rangers were 50-20-16 with him in the lineup and 9-13-3 when he didn't play.
The Rangers are counting on Naslund and Zherdev to pick up the offensive slack.
Zherdev, 23, is coming off his best season — scoring 26 goals and piling up 61 points for Columbus, one of the NHL's weakest offensive teams. He brings speed and skill. Sather said Zherdev "is a player we've been trying to get for a long time. He's a talented, shifty winger with lots of upside."
The Rangers are hoping that Naslund still has something left. He thrived while playing with Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi with Vancouver a few years ago, but has seen his productivity drop in recent years — especially the last two, when the Canucks played a more defensive-oriented style under Alain Vigneault.
Kalinin's addition gives the Rangers another capable defenseman and will provide some physical presence, but as of now, New York has just five proven NHL blueliners on the roster — including second-year man Mark Staal and 24-year-old Dan Girardi, who has played 116 NHL games in a season and a half.