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NHL free agency, prospect camp, land o' plenty as July arrives

              The goalie carousel and Kovalchuk hunt take center stage today and for the weekend starting at noon ET.                 

             We'll have coverage/commentary here and at, which by the way, is a couple dozen shy of 3,000 followers. What's taken you so long?

             Grab yer iced coffee or green tea and flax bread or granola or fruit n' yogurt or bacon-egg-and-cheese sammys and join in....


            Your Rangers have some work to do, with about 14 players signed and $14 mil to spend----that's $59.4 mil, not the summer cap of $65 mil. Still no deals with Christensen, Shelley as of last night. Mixed reaction on that front; many fans are saying keep Jody and let Erik slide and see if he can get a two-year deal elsewhere. Remember, just because a player opts for the market, he and his agent may just be testing and will return to the familiarity of the former club once the landscape is sized up....         


          Always liked Kris Versteeg, so good for Leafs, and Viktor Stalberg could eventually be a nice fit for Hawks....Should Rangers be interested in Mike Modano for a year? Or does he want to go to a team with a Cup run in them like Detroit?  Also heard a whisper last night about L.A...Mentioned Kurtis Foster and Henrik Tallinder here yesterday as possible D-targets for NYR; throw Buff's Toni Lydman in there, too


         Confirmed with our esteemed moderators in Techville:  Live chat tomorrow at 2 p.m. Initial dust will have settled and we'll sort some tings out, eh?


          Caught Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys playing some retro SoCal garage rock and older numbers (Five Hearts Breaking, Rosalie, Castanets, an amped-down Sister Lost Soul-tribute to the late Texas guitarist Steve Bruton) at their album release gig last night at City Winery. Guests included legendary producer Tony Visconti (Bowie, Thin Lizzy) on guitar for a tune and Tift Merritt singing on an encore. Quite the event.


          OK, talk to you all from prospects camp and all day during the opening fireworks (None of which will be lit by the Rangers, we suspect.)  Here's my draft preview from today's Newsday....


               While one half of Madison Square Garden’s sports division has been in the midst of a frenzied LeBron-athon, the other half is taking a more subdued and less costly approach to NHL free agency, which also begins today. One reason: The Rangers did not spend the last two years clearing massive cap space.

                Last summer, for example, the Rangers traded Scott Gomez and his long-term, $7-million contract to Montreal, and a day later snapped up Slovak sniper Marian Gaborik, who delivered 42 goals and 86 points in 76 games for his $7.5 million paycheck. The roster however, is still listing from deals with significant cap hits: Wade Redden ($6.5 million), Chris Drury ($7 million) and Michal Rozsival ($5 million).

                Couple that with a shallow free agent pool for offense, with most high-end players being resigned by their clubs or tied up long-term. The exception: Ilya Kovalchuk, who will command about $8 million a year. The Los Angeles Kings have been speculated as leading the pack to sign Kovalchuk, who finished the season with the Devils.
                 So, expect a quiet, if not deathly still, few days for the Blueshirts.

                 With 14 players under contract, the Rangers are under the $59.4 million salary cap by about $14 million and are focusing on signing their main restricted free- agents, defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, which together will cost about $7 million, and unrestricted forward Jody Shelley, who arrived from San Jose and added some leadership and muscle. Pencil Shelley in for $850,000 or so. Erik Christensen could add another $750,000 or $800,000 and RFA forward Brandon Prust $575,000.

                  Both Glen Sather and John Tortorella have targeted a veteran backup to spell Henrik Lundqvist, who appeared in 73 games plus the Olympics last season. Among the candidates: UFAs Johan Hedberg (Atlanta), Antero Niittymaki (Tampa) and Martin Biron (Islanders). Let’s assume that adds another $1 million, which leaves less than $4 million for a few more skaters. Vinny Prospal?

                  No wonder the front office is hoping that prospect forwards Evgeny Grachev, Dale Weise or Derek Stepan and Wisconsin defenseman Ryan McDonagh, (if he foregoes his senior year and signs), impress at camp and grab a job. Another boost could come from Mats Zuccarello Aasen, the 22-year-old Norwegian wing who scored 40 points in 35 games for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League.

                   With a summer cap of $65.3 million, teams can push the envelope, but must be at $59.4 million by October. Theoretically, the Rangers could sign a player to a multi-million-dollar deal if in fact, they have already decided to demote Redden, 33, to Hartford during training camp, thus removing his cap hit. The brass also could fish for a reasonably-priced center (Phoenix’ Matt Lombardi, Anaheim’s Saku Koivu) and a veteran d-man, such as Henrik Tallinder.

                   Given the parity in the East, deals at February’s trade deadline for an expiring contract could fuel a playoff push. In the 2011 free-agent market? Centers Brad Richards, Joe Thornton and Mikko Koivu, LW Alex Semin and RW Martin St. Louis.


Johan Hedberg, goaltender, 37. ‘09-10 salary: $1.17 million. 21-16-6 for Thrashers, with a 2.62 GAA, .915 save percentage. Used to backup role and would fit with countryman Henrik Lundqvist.

Antero Niittymaki, goaltender, 30. ‘09-10 salary: $600,000. 21-18-5 for Lightning with a 2.87 GAA, .909 save percentage. Price may be right for the Finn to play on Broadway.

Martin Biron, goaltender, 32. ’09-10 salary: $1.4 million. Long-time Sabres netminder was 9-14-4 with Islanders last season with a 3.27 GAA, .896 save percentage. Ex-Flyer familiar with Eastern Conference.

Matt Lombardi, center, 28. ’09-10 salary: $2.35 million. 19-34-53 in 78 games with Coyotes. Not the No. 1 center Rangers need, but speedy, solid. May land $3.5 million per year in a thin class for pivots.

Saku Koivu, center, 35. ’09-10 salary: $3.25 million. 19-33-52 (16 PP points) in 71 games. If veteran pal Teemu Selanne doesn’t return to Anaheim, Koivu might be lured East for a year if offer is fair.





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