By Sean Hartnett
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On Monday afternoon, the NHL gave Russian Danis Zaripov the all clear to immediately pursue a contract with any of its 31 clubs.
The 36-year-old left wing was suspended for two years in July by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for a doping offense, thus ruling him ineligible to play in the KHL for the duration.
Now that Zaripov can negotiate with NHL teams, the Rangers could emerge as a front-runner to sign the veteran forward. According to CapFriendly.com, the Blueshirts possess just over $3 million in cap space. That’s ample cap room to sign Zaripov, a decision that could free up J.T. Miller to make a full-time move to center.
Zaripov has been highly productive across 18 seasons in the now-defunct Russian Super League and KHL, collecting 707 points in 908 combined regular season games. This past season, he recorded 45 points in 56 regular season games and 22 points in 18 playoff games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He has won the Gagarin Cup four times and was a member of the 2010 Russian Olympic team.
The 6-foot wing tested positive for a WADA-banned substance during the 2016-17 KHL season. He has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and his appeal remains pending. Ak Bars Kazan signed him to a two-year contract in July and voided his contract after the findings. He is eligible to play immediately in the NHL without any suspension or penalty.
“I look forward to continuing my professional hockey playing career in North America, and today I am very grateful to the senior management of the NHL for its decision, which provides me the opportunity to do so,” Zaripov said in a statement released via the NHLPA. “Even though I now have a chance to play in the best league in the world, I plan to continue my appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to prove my case and clear my name.”
According to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, Zaripov’s positive test “likely would not have triggered a suspension under the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement because, among other things, pseudoephedrine (the presence of which was below WADA’s applicable threshold in any event) is not on the League’s Prohibited Substances List.”
Zaripov tested positive for a category S6.B stimulant plus category S5 diuretics and masking agents. He has stated that the substance that trigged the positive test result was not performance-enhancing. Pseudoephedrine is found in Sudafed and is commonly found in over-the-counter decongestants.
Throughout his club and international career, Zaripov previously did not test positive for any prohibited substances. He has agreed to submit to stronger testing than what is usually required by the NHL should he sign a standard player contract.
RATELLE BANNER RAISING DATE SET
After decades of waiting, Rangers legend Jean Ratelle will finally see his number 19 raised to Madison Square Garden’s rafters. The Blueshirts announced on Monday that “Jean Ratelle Night” will take place on Feb. 25, 2018 prior to the scheduled 7 p.m. game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Stories of Ratelle’s exploits have been passed down from generation to generation. Those who were fortunate enough to have seen “Gentleman Jean” skate for the Rangers at the 49th Street Garden, the modern Garden’s 33rd Street location, or for the Bruins at Boston Garden can attest to his reputation as one of the most complete centers in league history.
“Jean Ratelle is truly one of the greatest players to have ever played for the New York Rangers,” team president Glen Sather said. “Few players have demonstrated the class, dignity, and gracefulness that Jean possessed throughout his career, both on and off the ice. I had the good fortune to call Jean a teammate with the Rangers, I am proud to still call Jean a friend, and I am honored to announce that he will take his rightful place in the rafters of Madison Square Garden.”
Over the course of a fabled 21-year career, Ratelle was the ultimate example of high skill combined with gentlemanly play. He remains the only player in NHL history to record at least 1,200 career points while totaling fewer than 300 career penalty minutes.
Ratelle used his long reach and expert stickhandling to amass 1,267 points in 1,281 career games. The Goal-A-Game line centered by Ratelle with Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert on his wings became one of the league’s most dominant lines throughout the late 1960s into the early ’70s.
The blockbuster trade that sent Ratelle, fellow Hall of Famer Brad Park and Joe Zanussi to the Bruins for Hall of Famer Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais will continue to be discussed for decades to come. Ratelle captured the Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay Award) for MVP as voted by the NHLPA in 1972. He was twice awarded the Lady Byng Trophy and won the Masterton Trophy in 1971.
Though he never captured the Stanley Cup with the Rangers or Bruins, Ratelle’s legacy as an all-time great is unquestioned. At the time of his retirement, only five players had collected more career points.
He ranks second on the Rangers’ all-time goals list and third on both the franchise’s assists and points lists. Only five players have pulled on the Rangers sweater on more occasions than the 862 times Ratelle represented the club. Of course, his standings on the franchise leaderboard would have finished far differently had he not been infamously shipped to Boston.
Ratelle was named to the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players as part of the league’s centennial celebrations last season. It will be a special occasion when his number 19 is lifted alongside Eddie Giacomin’s 1, Brian Leetch’s 2, Harry Howell’s 3, Rod Gilbert’s 7, Andy Bathgate and Adam Graves’ 9, Mark Messier’s 11, and Mike Richter’s 35.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey