NEW YORK – Just as the New York Rangers ushered in the Markus Naslund era on Broadway, they turned out the lights on the Jaromir Jagr show.
Naslund, the longtime Vancouver Canucks captain, agreed to terms Thursday with New York on an US$8-million, two-year deal. In making the announcement, Rangers general manager Glen Sather said he couldn’t wait any longer for Jagr to make up his mind on what it would take to keep him in a Blueshirt, so he went in a different direction.
Sather broke the news to Jagr on Thursday and thanked him for his service over the past four seasons in New York, including the last two as team captain.
“Jagr was very respectful when I talked to him and gave him the information that we’re going to move on,” Sather said.
While Jagr doesn’t know where he will play next season, Sather believes the star winger might be heading to Russia for a lucrative deal.
Jagr was thought to be seeking a two-year deal to return to the Rangers, while Sather seemed more interested in bringing him back for one. Sather said he was never told by Jagr or his agent, Pat Brisson, exactly what the terms would be to keep Jagr.
“He told me he wanted to play here, I told him we wanted him to play here, his agent told me he wanted to play here, I told his agent several times, but it never got back to the situation where he said, ‘If you give me X amount of dollars, I’ll come back to play in New York,”‘ Sather said. “I kind of always got the feeling that maybe there was something in Russia that is really looking at him, and if there was enough money to stay here he would’ve stayed.
“We never got down to that situation where I knew exactly what he was looking for whether it was a one-year or a two-year, or a longer-year term. There was never any discussion like that. It’s pretty tough to negotiate with yourself.”
Brisson characterized the negotiations differently.
“Glen and I had many discussions regarding Jaromir in the past month or so,” he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “It wasn’t a matter of he and or us coming up with the right proposal. Jaromir wants to get a deal done if, when, and or where he sees fit. Time will tell.”
Sather left the door open a bit for Jagr to return “if things don’t work out for him in Russia,” but he is moving on to Naslund.
He and coach Tom Renney have every intention of sticking to the defence-first mentality, but after a second-round playoff ouster against the high-flying, Pittsburgh Penguins, it became clear that the status quo wasn’t working.
By letting Jagr go, the Rangers are removing a 36-year-old winger and replacing him with the soon-to-be 35-year-old Naslund, who spent 12 seasons with the Canucks and had been captain since 2000.
“Markus is one of the greatest athletes to ever represent the Canucks both on and off of the ice,” Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said in a statement. “His on-ice success sees him leave the organization among the club leaders in almost every offensive category.”
Naslund, who began his NHL career with Pittsburgh, was a five-time all-star with the Canucks and was the runner-up for NHL MVP in 2003. He reached the 40-goal mark three times.
Ironically, he replaced Mark Messier as captain in Vancouver, and Jagr did the same in New York in 2006.
Naslund’s scoring numbers have gone down in recent years from a career-best 48 goals and 104 points in 2002-03 to 25 goals and 55 points last season.
“Since July 1, my eyes have been set on the Rangers. It ended up taking a little bit longer but I’m very pleased that I’m a Ranger now,” he said on a conference call from Sweden. “I want to feel that I play on a level where I know I can play. I want to play better hockey than I have the past few years. That’s why I’m looking at this as a challenge for me to prove that.”
Naslund’s point totals have dipped each of the past four seasons, and his goals dropped three consecutive before he went from 24 to 25 last season. None of that was a concern for Sather.
Playing alongside either Chris Drury or Scott Gomez – the star free-agent centres the Rangers signed a year ago – Naslund could again find the scoring touch.
“He’s a good skater, he’s got a great shot, he sees the ice well. We think that he’s going to be able to play a give-and-go kind of a game that we’d like to develop,” Sather said. “We’ve changed the style of our team considerably in the last few days. We want to be more of a puck-movement team and a little more of a freewheeling team with defensive responsibilities.
“This guy has been a great player. I think he’s got a lot of hockey left in him.”
The agreement with Naslund was announced with one for former Buffalo Sabres defenceman Dmitri Kalinin, who got a one-year deal with the Rangers.
New York needs to replenish the blue-line after dealing defencemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman on Wednesday to Columbus for forwards Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche.
Forward Sean Avery took his agitating ways to Dallas on Wednesday, and Martin Straka accepted a deal to play in Europe next season.
On Tuesday, the Rangers signed free agent defenceman Wade Redden and forwards Patrick Rissmiller and Aaron Voros.
Sather said the Rangers made a contract offer Thursday to defenceman Paul Mara, who spent the past season-and-a-half in New York. Sather also didn’t rule out the return of veteran forward Brendan Shanahan in a reduced role.