Smithtown's Christopher Higgins has been skating at IceWorks in Syosset in preparation for the upcoming season. He spent the summer at home on Long Island, pretty much trying to forget an unpleasant 2009-10, one that began with so much excitement in playing for the Rangers.
It ended with Higgins sidelined by a foot injury in Calgary, missing the playoffs and wondering what had gone wrong. He finished the year with just eight goals and nine assists in 67 games, 6-8-14 in 55 games with the Rangers.
"I never even thought I'd have the opportunity to play for the Rangers to begin with. It was a blessing to play for the Rangers," Higgins told me at IceWorks on Tuesday. He was getting set to skate with half a dozen minor-leaguers after the Islanders were done with their informal workouts.
Higgins came from the Canadiens on July 1, 2009, in a deal that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal. Defense prospects Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valetenko also came along, but it was Higgins, the local boy, a three-time 20-goal scorer, who was going to score some goals and be a consistent hard worker for John Tortorella.
Higgins worked hard, for sure -- a Rangers source told me right after the season ended that Higgins would have been welcomed back as a free agent if the numbers were right. But he simply could not score, needing 15 games before he got his first goal as a Ranger.
"I tried to do everything the coaches asked me to. I felt like if I did those things, it would help my game come around," he said. "It just never got going."
Higgins and Ales Kotalik -- a far bigger bust than Higgins -- were dealt to the Flames for Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust on Feb. 2. Amazingly of the four, only Prust will be with the team he finished last season.
Jokinen got a head-scratching two-year, $6-million deal from the Flames, Kotalik (with two years and $6-million left) is still technically in Calgary, but has little shot to make an overstocked roster and Higgins will head south to the Panthers on a one-year, $1.6-million contract.
He needs this year, at only age 27, to remind the NHL he's still a viable top-six forward. The Panthers are young and not too deep up front, so Higgins could get solid minutes.
"I had a couple other offers, but after talking to (Panthers GM) Dale Tallon, I felt like that was the right place for me to go," Higgins said. "I know I'm a better player than what I showed in New York. Hopefully I'll be able to look back on last season and laugh sometime soon."