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Shopping spree

Rangers follow Holik signing with defenseman Kasparaitis

Posted: Tuesday July 02, 2002 6:32 PM
Updated: Tuesday July 02, 2002 8:39 PM
  Darius Kasparaitis Darius Kasparaitis moves to the Rangers after a short time with the Avalanche. Jeff Gross/NHLI/Getty Images

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Rangers made their second big free-agent signing in two days, reaching agreement with hard-hitting defenseman Darius Kasparaitis on Tuesday.

The deal comes on the heels of New York's signing of center Bobby Holik late Monday night. New York outbid the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kasparaitis, who became an unrestricted free agent on Monday.

"They paid more and they were more flexible on the structure," Kasparaitis' agent, Mark Gandler said.

Bryan Trottier played a role, too. The new Rangers coach was an assistant in Colorado when Kasparaitis was there, and spent three years as an assistant with Pittsburgh.

"He called me last night and said he wanted to see me in a Rangers uniform," Kasparaitis said. "I'm waiting for him to call me right now."

Kasparaitis was often a nemesis of the Rangers from his days with the rival New York Islanders and Penguins. He is returning to New York following a brief time with the Avalanche, who acquired him late last season from Pittsburgh.

Last summer, Kasparaitis was awarded a two-year, $2.4-million contract in arbitration with the Penguins. He was paid a total of $1.15 million by the Penguins and Avalanche for the past season.

Holik left the New Jersey Devils after going to arbitration with them last summer. He signed a five-year deal worth $45 million with the Rangers.

"Things have certainly worked very well," Rangers general manager Glen Sather said. "You know, we had a lot of irons in the fire, but this was the way we had things planned."

NHL players normally don't reach unrestricted free agency until they are 31, but Kasparaitis became eligible at 29 because he is a 10-year veteran who earned less than the league average of $1.5 million. That allowed him to void the second year of the arbitration award.

Only five players fit into that category this year, and Kasparaitis was by far the most attractive defenseman available on the free-agent market. He had two goals and 12 assists last season, with 142 penalty minutes earned in his role of agitator.

"I play a good defensive hockey game," Kasparaitis said. "I learned a lot of good things in Colorado, they teach me all the good things."

Now the Rangers will set their sights on finding a No. 1 goalie. Mike Richter has held that position for the better part of 12 seasons, but he is also an unrestricted free agent.

It became more likely on Tuesday that Richter would return to the Rangers, when Curtis Joseph left Toronto for Detroit, and former Dallas goalie Ed Belfour took his place with the Maple Leafs.

"Well, I said all along that I'd like to sign Mike, and we're still going to proceed along with that plan," Sather said.

 
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