The first name free agent to sign with the Rangers will be coming fresh off a Stanley Cup win. Matt Cullen today agreed to terms with the New York Rangers on a multi-year deal. The former 2nd round pick had a career year last season scoring 25 goals and 49 points, both career highs. Set to turn 30 later this year, Cullen will join his fourth NHL team following stints with Anaheim, Florida and Carolina.
In terms of impact to the Rangers, it appears as if they have signed him to slot into the second line center spot. Cullen does not have particularly impressive offensive statistics, but had a 52.1% win rate in the face-off circle and will bring some stability to that part of the game. The signing means Jarkko Immonen will now likely have to beat out Dominic Moore to force a re-working of the center position.
Birthday: November 2, 1976
Birthplace: Virginia MN, USA
Drafted: 1996 NHL Entry Draft – Mighty Ducks of Anaheim – #35 (2nd round)
It had been expected for some time, but the Rangers opened up the July 1st free agency period with the official announcement that defenseman Karel Rachunek has agreed to terms with the club. According to TSN, the deal was worth 1.8 million for one year.
New York acquired Rachunek along with Alexandre Giroux in the March 2004 trade that sent Greg de Vries to Ottawa. Rachunek played out the remainder of the NHL season with the Rangers, and then left for Europe during the lockout season. With the lockout still in effect, the Czech native elected to return for another season with Yaroslavl of the Russian Super League, and remained there after the lockout was resolved in August of last year.
Last season the former Senators 9th round draft pick registered the highest point total of any defenseman in the Russian league, and drew several positive reports about his play both in Russia and the Czech Republic the previous season. Still questions remain about his motivations, and a previous hold-out while with the Senators and comments in the Czech media had lead to speculation about whether he really wants to play in New York.
With Rachunek under contract, the Rangers now have four defensemen (Rachunek, Kasparaitis, Ozolinsh and Malik) under contract and two more (Rozsival and Tyutin) in which they have offered qualifying contracts to.
Needing another goaltender in the system, the Rangers went back to the past and signed free agent goaltender Stephen Valiquette. Valiquette who played with Hartford and the Rangers in the 2003-04 season was originally acquired in the trade that sent Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen to Edmonton. The 6’5″ goaltender was part of the AHL league leading goaltending duo with Jason Labarbera in 2004-05 and then elected the following summer to play in Russia. He will return to North America with the team that last held his rights.
While the signing of Valiquette could perhaps signal a possible trade of Al Montoya, it seems also likely that the Rangers secured Valliquette’s services as insurance against injuries to the NHL goaltenders and to provide some support to Montoya as he enters his second professional season.
NOTE: Valiquette and Rachunek played for the same Russian Super League side last year, along with a former Ranger draft pick Ilja Gorokhov.
Birthday: August 20, 1977
Birthplace: Etobicoke ON, Canada
Drafted: 1996 NHL Entry Draft – Los Angeles Kings – #190 (8th round)
The Rangers have added more depth to the blueline with the announcement of the signing of Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi joined the Wolf Pack last season as an undrafted rookie starting the season in Charlotte, but quickly making his mark at the AHL level. He finished second to Thomas Pöck in scoring from the blueline for the Pack and was selected for the 2005-06 AHL All-Rookie team.
Girardi is expected to start the season in Hartford, but there may be a chance that the Rangers give him a look if he can prove last year wasn’t a fluke.