‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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It’s been ages since the Rangers possessed a creative power-play quarterback who packs a dynamite shot. You would have to search as far back as the 2003-04 season, when iconic defenseman Brian Leetch played his final season with the Blueshirts. That gaping hole was finally filled on Tuesday when the Blueshirts agreed to terms with free-agent defenseman Dan Boyle.
Amid all the panic buys on free-agent signing day, Rangers general manager Glen Sather made a coolheaded move by securing Boyle to a two-year pact, reportedly worth $9 million. The contract includes a full no-movement clause. Boyle turned down a number of more lucrative offers, namely from the Detroit Red Wings, to join the Rangers.
Boyle finished the 2013-14 regular season with 12 goals, six of which came on the power play. He recorded 36 points in his final season with the San Jose Sharks.
“Dan is going to bring experience, help us on the power play,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said in Tuesday’s conference call. “We’re really happy to have him come on board.”
Boyle will be reunited with former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis in New York. Surely, the prospect of joining St. Louis on a Stanley Cup contender in New York must have been a real pull for Boyle. The veteran defenseman was unable to participate in Tuesday’s conference call because he is currently vacationing in Europe.
His skates are slower than they were a decade ago, and he is coming off a down year in which he finished the season as a minus-eight. Boyle will turn 38 on July 12.
Even considering his age and slower stride, Boyle is still a rare commodity in this league given his excellence on the power play. His presence could have a transformative effect on a Rangers power play that struggled with consistency during the 2013-14 regular season and looked punchless for large stretches during the playoffs. Boyle will bring an expertise and much-needed calmness to New York’s power play. He will settle the puck and fire testing shots from the point.
“Dan is obviously an experienced player, he’s been an elite player for a long time,” Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton said. “He’s going to bring experience. He’ll help on the power play. He logged important minutes for a pretty good team.”
The Rangers are targeting another Stanley Cup Final run. This is undoubtedly a win-now team. Sather made unsuccessful attempts to pry Boyle away from the Sharks at past trade deadlines. Now, the Rangers finally have their man.
Having Boyle in the fold — flashing his creativity and quarterbacking the power play — gives the Blueshirts a strong chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final. Like St. Louis did before him, Boyle will make a tremendous impact in New York.
BOYLE AND STRALMAN JOIN CALLAHAN IN TAMPA BAY; POULIOT SIGNS WITH EDMONTON
The Tampa Bay Lightning added two players who were crucial to the Rangers’ penalty-killing efforts in steady defenseman Anton Stralman and rugged center Brian Boyle.
Gorton admitted that the salary-cap squeeze played a large factor in the Rangers losing a number of their top unrestricted free agents.
“In this cap world, going forward with some of the contracts we have to do, it became difficult,” Gorton said.
The absence of Boyle and Stralman means that the Rangers’ penalty-killing units will look much different when the 2014-15 NHL season gets underway. New York was third overall in penalty-kill percentage during the 2013-14 season. Keeping the Blueshirts’ penalty-kill near the top of the league will be a significant challenge for Vigneault and penalty-kill coach Ulf Samuelsson next season.
Stralman and Boyle will be reunited with ex-Rangers captain Ryan Callahan in Tampa. Both players are expected to play larger roles in Tampa, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the state of Florida does not charge income tax. Stralman agreed to a reported five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Lightning.
In the case of Boyle, his reported three-year, $6 million contract was a reasonable number for the Rangers to consider matching. Boyle had grown frustrated with being pigeonholed in a fourth-line role under Vigneault and was never going to re-sign with the Blueshirts.
“I was on the fourth line, and I didn’t really like it, but it wasn’t the fourth line I was used to,” Boyle said on breakup day on June 16.
Straight out of the gate on Tuesday, winger Benoit Pouliot agreed to a five-year term with the Edmonton Oilers. The Rangers’ intention was to keep the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line intact, but they were never going to match Pouliot’s reported five-year, $20 million deal with the Oilers. It’s hard to justify a $2.7 million-per-year raise for a player who drew scarce interest in free agency just one year ago. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the streaky Pouliot will find consistency on an Edmonton team in which he’ll be looked upon as a go-to guy.
RANGERS HANG ON TO PENALTY-KILLING EXPERT DOM MOORE
With Brian Boyle exiting New York for Tampa, it was imperative that the Rangers held on to versatile checking-line forward Dominic Moore. The 33-year-old center fit the Rangers like a glove in his return season following the loss of wife Katie to a rare form of liver cancer.
Moore’s reported two-year, $3 million contract includes a limited no-trade clause. He will continue to be a key member of the penalty-kill and is a respected veteran whom younger players look to emulate due to his all-out style of play and low-maintenance personality.
VIGNEAULT AND GLASS ARE REUNITED IN NEW YORK
The Rangers announced on Tuesday that they agreed to terms with free-agent winger Tanner Glass. A large segment of Rangers fans bristled at the reported three-year, $4.35 million contract, but there is a familiarity and trust between Vigneault and Glass.
The physical 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger played under Vigneault for two seasons in Vancouver.
“He’s improved since I had him,” Vigneault said. “I think we’re getting a real solid player there.”
Glass, 30, played 67 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013-14. He scored four goals and registered nine assists for 13 points. Glass is capable of logging time on the penalty-kill and is renowned for his work ethic.
The Rangers also made a number of smaller moves, signing depth defensemen Mike Kostka, Steven Kampfer and Matt Hunwick. They also inked forward Chris Mueller and minor-league goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.
Kostka, Hunwick and Kampfer will compete for the chance to be a depth defenseman on the Rangers’ roster. Both Mueller and Desjardins have been signed for organizational depth, and in all likelihood will begin the season in Hartford.
The Rangers have roughly $14.6 million in available cap space to fill out their roster and re-sign restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore. Extending the contract of alternate captain Marc Staal remains a key offseason priority for the Blueshirts. Staal is entering the final year of his current contract. He is set to earn $5.45 million with a cap hit of $3.975 million.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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