Marc Staal, the Rangers' top defenseman, Wednesday agreed to a five-year deal worth just under $20 million, a signing that will trigger waivers or trades before the end of the month.
Staal, 23, a restricted free agent, had long said he wanted to return to the team that selected him 12th overall in the 2005 draft.
Rangers president/general manager Glen Sather, who declared at the entry draft in June that there was a "chasm" between the two sides, later insisted that he would match any offer sheet presented by a rival club. Still the deal, which appeared close for more than a week, averted a possible holdout with training camp beginning Friday.
The 6-4, 210-pound native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, earned $827,000 last season, the final one in his three-year, entry-level contract. He had eight goals and 19 points last year, and led the team in ice time at 23:07 per game and plus-minus (11). He was 12th in the NHL in hits among defensemen (178), and was one of four Rangers to play in all 82 games.
The $19.875-million deal includes a salary of $3.1 million this season, $3.675 million in 2011-12, $3.775 million in 2012-13, $3.875 million in 2013-14 and $5.45 million in 2014-15, for an average cap hit of $3.975 million. About 30 NHL defensemen have higher cap hits; the pact favors the Rangers in that regard.
With Staal in the fold, the Rangers need to shed more than $4 million in salary from the summer cap, which allows teams to be 10 percent over the hard cap of $59.4 million until October. Veteran Wade Redden, whose game has slipped and who has a cap hit of $6.5 million for four years, is clearly at risk.
In addition to Staal, three other defenseman appear to be safe: Michael Del Zotto, 20; veteran Michal Rozsival, and Dan Girardi, who is Staal's partner on the blue line. Girardi signed a four-year, $13.3-million deal this summer. Other defensemen include second-year player Matt Gilroy, who faces competition from rookies Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko; Steve Eminger (acquired from Anaheim on July 9 for Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier), and tryouts Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.