Rangers' Sather goes back to drawing board

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MONTREAL - After 36 hours of drafting prospects from Massachusetts to Ontario to Russia whom Rangers scouts believe can eventually supplement future rosters, the time has come to focus on the current club, which has its own development issues. Such as dealing with cap-unfriendly contracts while infusing scoring, size and youth into a team that bowed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by blowing a 3-1 first-round series lead to the Washington Capitals. Judging by president and general manager Glen Sather's comments Saturdayafter the fifth round of the NHL draft, it appears that the wheels of the re-assembling have started to turn on the unrestricted and restricted free-agent fronts. Enigmatic Russian winger Nik Zherdev, 24, was given a qualifying offer believed to be $3.25 million. "Whether he's going to accept or negotiate, it's tough to get a straight answer out of his agent," Sather said. Asked if he would consider a multiyear deal, Sather said: "It depends. He's still a young guy who I thought played very well at the beginning of the year and tailed off at the end of the year. He's got to become more consistent . . . " It doesn't appear that unrestricted free agent Nik Antropov, 29, who arrived in a deal with Toronto just before the trade deadline, will be back. "Based on the first volley from [agent] Mark Gandler, there's a slim chance," Sather said, "because I told Mark if you think that's [a contract proposal believed to be far more than double the $2.1 million he earned last season] going to happen here, it would be a snowball's chance in hell. It's ridiculous, and I hate to criticize an agent, but let's have a little bit of reality in this thing." The 6-6 Antropov had 28 goals and 59 points last season. The team's two top penalty-killers, Blair Betts and Fredrik Sjostrom, may have played their last games as Rangers. Sjostrom, an RFA who earned $840,000, wasn't tendered because, Sather said, his qualifying number doesn't match his production (7-6-13, minus-11). "I think there's a certain price level. I like him, he's a good kid, works hard and does a good job, but . . . " Sather hasn't spoken to the agent for Betts, the fourth-line center, who is unrestricted. "He lives in Edmonton. Tom [former Rangers coach Renney] is in Edmonton [as associate coach], he likes him, he knows him. I don't know if there's an opportunity there." In the next breath, Sather mentioned two possible replacements: Brian Boyle, 24, an imposing forward and first-round pick of the Kings in 2003 who yesterday was acquired for a 2010 third-rounder, and center Artem Anisimov, 21, who had 37 goals and 44 assists in Hartford last season. "Boyle's 6-foot-7, 245 pounds and he's a good shooter," Sather said. "He's a guy who needs an opportunity. He shut down Anisimov in the [AHL] playoffs. And Anisimov's another guy who's going to be given a chance to make this hockey club." On defense, "I'd like to change the mix," Sather said, signaling, as expected, that free agents Paul Mara and Derek Morris will not return. But he also didn't rule out a deal "for a guy that can step in and play that's a veteran, a big, tough, aggressive guy who can go back there."

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