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SportsColumnistsSteve Zipay

Coyotes' Antonio Vermette would be nice fit for Rangers

Antoine Vermette of the Arizona Coyotes skates away

Antoine Vermette of the Arizona Coyotes skates away from a checking Mike Santorelli of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 29, 2015 in Toronto. Credit: Getty Images / Claus Andersen

With hedge-fund manager Andrew Barroway, who thought he had a deal for the Islanders, now at the controls in Phoenix, general manager Don Maloney has said the club is pressing the reset button: No one is untouchable except Coyotes captain Shane Doan.

So the Coyotes, with several quality defensemen and Antoine Vermette, a proven center who numerous teams (including the Rangers) could really use, already are willing partners in trade talks before the March 2 trade deadline.

Given the competition, the price will be high for Vermette, who wins more than half of his faceoffs and has scored 19 or more goals six times in his career, including a stint in Columbus when he was a teammate of both Rick Nash and Derick Brassard.

Sounds like a fine fit for the Rangers, whose issues in the middle have been front and (excuse the pun) center since last summer. Vermette, 32, would fill the third-line center role, allow valuable veteran Dominic Moore to shift back to the fourth line, and open the door for rookie Kevin Hayes to return to the wing, where he played at Boston College.

Here's one problem: The Rangers might not be able to match the young, lower-cost assets that the Coyotes want in return for a rental -- Vermette will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Swapping a chip such as J.T. Miller and more for a rental is not a wise investment. The Rangers will have the same issue in July.

Instead, there's another worthy center in Arizona whom the Rangers should target: Martin Hanzal. The 27-year-old Czech has the goods: He's 6-5, 230 pounds, has eight goals in 37 games this season, has posted between 11 and 16 goals in five of the seven previous seasons, and carries a very reasonable salary-cap charge of $3.1 million through the 2016-17 season.

With the Rangers too dependent on their top two lines and needing more size to battle heavier squads in the East and West, Hanzal would be quite valuable -- and importantly, not a rental. An offer of Miller, defenseman John Moore and a midround draft pick might be tempting enough for the Coyotes to bite.

Acquiring a two-way center remains a top priority, and if Moore, an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent is traded, the Blueshirts will need a reliable, low-cost replacement as a sixth/seventh defenseman.

One player whose name has surfaced numerous times this season, after the Rangers auditioned Henrik Tallinder and Tomas Kaberle in Hartford while Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle were injured, was Jan Hejda, another unrestricted-free-agent-to-be. Currently with Colorado, The 6-4 Hejda, 36, another former Blue Jacket, is believed to be an option.

Five possible fits

Scouts are on the move, filling arenas and the rumor mill is swirling as teams out of the playoffs are discussing deals. Here are five players likely on the move who could draw some interest from the Rangers.

Mike Santorelli, center, Toronto. The Leafs are retooling and Santorelli, 29, a favorite of John Tortorella in Vancouver (28 points in 49 games), has a great work ethic.

Andrej Sekera, defenseman, Carolina. The underappreciated, steady depth defenseman is 28 and comes with a reasonable cap hit ($1.7 million prorated).

Cody Franson, defenseman, Toronto. Someone will grab the righthanded blue-liner, 27, who is capable of scoring 40 points.

Chris Stewart, right wing, Buffalo. Not a center or defenseman but the 6-2 power forward is just 27, and a change of scenery should help.

Marek Zidlicky, defenseman, Devils. Doubtful that GM Lou Lamoriello wants to help his rivals, but the 37-year-old will be available.

Forward progress

It's not exactly Fox Sports' glowing puck from the mid-1990s, but the experiment of placing chips inside pucks and jerseys during the All-Star skills competition to collect digital data went well, opening the door for future trials. In conjunction, the league is revamping its website to include more enhanced metrics, based on current numbers from game sites, which vary widely.

Somewhere down the road, front offices and presumably fans, will have improved metrics on scoring chances, shots and passing accuracy. Now if only the league would lift the secrecy curtain and post contract dollar figures and terms.

Heard and seen

Microphone in hand, Derek Stepan interviewed players for a television segment on Super Bowl picks and favorite snacks (nachos and guacamole led the pack) . . . With the Super Bowl over-under hovering around 48 points, Derick Brassard, a Quebec native and admittedly not an NFL fan, chose the under. But asked about a score, Brassard predicted 27-24, which prompted a quizzical look and laugh from Stepan . . . Mats Zuccarello also wavered, calling soccer "real football." He follows Manchester United . . . Players' fathers will accompany the team on the road for the second straight season. The trip is to Denver and Phoenix in two weeks.

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