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Rangers seeking spare defenseman, teams say



                      The Rangers tonight are staging their annual casino soiree to benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation. The front office, meanwhile, continues to ponder whether to roll the dice on adding a seasoned defenseman before the March 3 trade deadline. 


                       General Manager Glen Sather has kicked the tires with other clubs, according to executives with two teams who asked to not be identified.


                     Still on the cusp of a playoff spot, the Rangers have tightrope-walked through the season carrying six defensemen, even on the recent three-game West Coast trip. They have called up a replacement from Hartford (Bobby Sanguinetti for five games; Ilkka Heikkinen for seven) only when a blueliner is injured.


                    That tactic is risky, and odd, because Alexei Sememov was offered the seventh defenseman role after training camp, but rejected a one-year pact, opting for more money for two years in the KHL. He was never replaced.


                     Coach John Tortorella reiterated today that several players, again mentioning 19-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto, could definitely use the Olympic break, which begins Sunday after a matinee with Tampa Bay, to recharge their batteries.  


                     Sanguinetti and Heikkinen remain in the mix and the Rangers, stuck with several over-sized contracts (Wade Redden, Michael Rozsival) have little cap room.


                     But the players in which the Rangers apparently have interest will be unrestricted free agents in June with salaries who would be affordable rentals: Florida’s Dennis Seidenberg, Atlanta’s Christoph Schubert, Minnesota’s Shane Hnidy, Toronto’s Garnet Exelby and Nashville’s Francis Bouillon.  


                     Seidenberg, 27, a former Hurricane, will play for Germany in the Vancouver Olympics; the Rangers reportedly made him an offer before the season, but the Panthers deal ($2.25 million) was more lucrative. Bouillon (33, $750,000) is stocky and feisty and had been on the Rangers' radar in the fall.


           Schubert (6-3, 230, 63 penalty minutes, $900,000); Hnidy (33, 6-2, 204, tough ex-Bruin, makes $750,000) and Exelby (6-1, 215 and a banger with a cap hit of $1.39

million) would help fill the need for muscle near the crease. The Leafs have that in spades.


                 Another possibility is believed to be Columbus’s Milan Jurcina. The 6-4, 245-pound defenseman was traded to the Blue Jackets from the Caps on Dec. 28 and earns $1.375 million.


                      Columbus recently fired coach Ken Hitchcock. If Atlanta falls out the playoff hunt, Schubert might be used to draw an offensive prospect or pick to help offset the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk. Hnidy is reportedly available now, and Seidenberg might be available for the right price.


New York Sports