Bobby Sanguinetti #54 of the New York Rangers is hit...

Bobby Sanguinetti #54 of the New York Rangers is hit by Matt Moulson #26 of the New York Islanders. (December 17, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

LOS ANGELES - On a weekend in which it was widely expected that adding offense was going to be a priority, defense took center stage for the Rangers in several ways.

On Friday, the team passed on forwards and chose punishing defenseman Dylan McIlrath with the 10th overall pick. Saturday, former first-rounder Bobby Sanguinetti was shipped to Carolina. And in a troubling sign, team president and general manager Glen Sather disclosed that negotiations with the team's current No. 1 blueliner, restricted free agent Marc Staal, have not been progressing.

"I wouldn't say it's a wide gap," Sather said. "I'd say it's more of a chasm."

Staal, 23, earned $765,000 last season and was expected to more than triple that number per season in a long-term deal. But Sather and Bobby Orr's agency, which represents Staal, are at odds.

Sather raised eyebrows when he likened the situation to that of restricted free agent Brandon Dubinsky, who held out for the first week of training camp last September before signing a two-year $3.7-million contract.

"He's in exactly the same position that Dubinsky was in last year," Sather said. "Where that's going to end up is anyone's imagination. He's a good player, we like him, we'd like to have him back, he's got a long future, we'll treat him fairly. Sometimes agents don't recognize that. Leverage works both ways. I'm not ripping anybody. What the reality is . . . that's why the CBA's in place. If he doesn't agree, he can sit out until December and can't come back at all for the whole year, so it doesn't make a lot of sense."

Sanguinetti, the New Jersey-born defenseman who was drafted 21st overall in 2006, played in only five games last season and didn't impress coach John Tortorella in camp, when he barely finished brutal skating drills. Sanguinetti, who had nine goals and 29 assists for Hartford last season, was passed over for promotion and was dangled in trades, but nothing was consummated. Saturday, however, he was moved to the Hurricanes for a sixth-round pick this year and a second-rounder in 2011.

"He's been around here for a few years and he's gonna get disgruntled sooner or later," Sather said. "He's a nice kid. I don't think he's going to fit the bill with the guys we've got in the lineup and some of the kids we've drafted, so it's better to move him now for picks."

Another defenseman, Wisconsin's Ryan McDonagh, a former first-rounder who was obtained in the Scott Gomez trade with Montreal, also has not agreed to sign an entry-level deal but will be at prospects camp in Westchester next week.

"I think he wants to visit and get to know us a little bit. I'd like to do that, too," Sather said. "I don't expect the guy's going to go back to school under these circumstances. There's another opening there with Sanguinetti gone, so it seems like a wise move to come out now."

Sather declined to discuss potential free agents such as Ilya Kovalchuk, who would help the team's inconsistent offense, and suggested that he is waiting to see if any restricted free agents around the league will be available. "From conversations I've had here in the last two or three days, there's a lot of people who aren't going to be qualified,'' Sather said, which means they will be unrestricted free agents.

He did concede that one UFA priority is a backup goaltender "who Benoit [Allaire, the goalie coach] thinks can fit the bill, who can get along with Henrik [Lundqvist] and can win 10 games for us."

But money comes into play there as well. Said Sather, "It's like trying to buy a Cadillac for a Honda price."

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