TORONTO – Mark Bell has been given a chance to revive his NHL career.
The New York Rangers picked the forward off re-entry waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
The remainder of his US$2.5-million contract will be split between the Rangers and Leafs. He’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
After Bell spent the entire season in the American Hockey League, the Leafs put him on re-entry waivers in hopes that he might be given a shot by another NHL team.
“I’m thrilled for Mark Bell because this kid’s been through a lot,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said on a conference call. “He was in the minors on a one-way contract. He worked his butt off, he never complained and did a good job for us with the Marlies.
“I am absolutely thrilled for him.”
The former first-round pick had his career derailed by a drunk driving and hit-and-run conviction while playing for the San Jose Sharks. Bell was traded to Toronto in June 2007 and subsequently suspended 15 games by the NHL for conduct “dishonourable, prejudicial to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey.”
He also served in a prison work program in California last summer.
Bell was unable to return to past form with the Maple Leafs. The suspension and a broken orbital bone limited him to just 35 games last season and he failed to make the team out of training camp this year.
It didn’t keep him from working hard for another opportunity.
“We haven’t had a speck of trouble with him,” said Burke. “As far as issues other organizations had with him or other problems he might have had in his past, he’s been an absolute model citizen with us as far as I’ve been told.
“This is great. If it gets his career back on track, good for him.”
Bell was selected eighth overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998 and showed steady improvement over his first few seasons with the club. He had a career-high 25 goals and 48 points in 2005-06.
The Rangers will be the fourth NHL stop for Bell after stints in Chicago, San Jose and Toronto. He has 87 goals and 182 points in 445 career games.
He’s the second player that Toronto has lost on re-entry waivers this month. Defenceman Staffan Kronwall was picked up by the Washington Capitals.
Burke has also subjected Bates Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux in an effort to give those veteran forwards another NHL shot.
“We’ve put all of our re-entry guys on and we’ve lost two of them now,” said Burke. “All of them were guys that were given a chance to go elsewhere, they deserve that. They’ve all been quality people for us.
“(Rangers GM) Glen (Sather) called me last week and said, ‘What do you think? Do you think (Bell) can help us?’ So we had a brief discussion about it. I’m not altogether surprised.
“Good for Mark Bell, that’s awesome.”