Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rangers Ink Trio

With the NHL finally back in business thanks to a more management friendly CBA agreed upon by the owners and players two weeks ago, the free agency period got underway Monday. The big question for the Rangers was would they stick to the rebuilding plan assistant GM Don Maloney mentioned at last weekend's entry draft in Ottawa.

Based on the signings of 2003 number one draft pick Hugh Jessiman, 2004 number one Al Montoya and Rick Kozak, it looked like the organization was serious about going in a different direction.

By buying out malcontent Bobby Holik last Friday, it left only five NHL players signed for the '05-06 season, set to kickoff October 5th at Philadelphia.

With so few players under contract, it left the door open for the Rangers to dip into the market and land a couple of free agents. Yesterday, they made good on Maloney's vow to not just go after the biggest stars but rather brought in role players who could fit in better.

With a glaring hole on the blueline, the Blueshirts inked Marek Malik to a three-year deal worth $7.5 million (2.5 average). The ex-Canuck defenseman tied with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis for the best plus/minus (+35) in '03-04. He's a stay-at-home type who is responsible defensively. While he is big (6-5, 215), the 30-year-old Malik is not overly physical. Instead, he relies on sound positioning. The lack of hitting might infuriate fans but if he plays his game, he could fare well on Broadway.

The team later agreed to terms with Martin Straka on a one-year contract worth three million. Straka has a history with star right wing Jaromir Jagr, forming solid chemistry in Pittsburgh and on the Czech national team where they combined for an Olympic gold medal in Nagano ('98). Now reunited, look for Straka to fill a hole and play left wing on the top line with Jagr and center Michael Nylander.

Straka, 32, is a versatile playmaking left wing who can also shift to center if needed. He last played for the Kings registering 14 points (6-8-14) in 32 games after being acquired from the Penguins. The only risk with Straka is that he is injury prone. He had some really bad luck staying on the ice in '03-04 due to a sprained knee, missing 28 games. Hopefully that won't be an issue this season.

Team president and GM Glen Sather also came to terms with veteran goalie Kevin Weekes. Last summer, he signed a one-year deal dependant on a season. The 30-year-old ex-Hurricane still was restricted, which gave the Rangers a chance to re-sign him. He agreed to a three-year contract worth an average of 1.9 million-per-year.

In '03-04, Weekes posted solid numbers for Carolina, winning 23 games with a respectable 2.33 GAA, .912 save percentage and six shutouts. If the athletic netminder can duplicate that in New York, he should be a popular Ranger.

The Rangers now have over 22 million in salary committed to eight players, leaving about 16-17 million left in the cap to get other players signed. They are expected to re-sign Group II free agents Tom Poti and Blair Betts.

Rangers still have several RFA's to re-sign including Jozef Balej, Alexandre Giroux, Bryce Lampman, Jamie Lundmark, Dominic Moore, Garth Murray, Jed Ortmeyer and Chad Wiseman.

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