FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

While the Rangers tried to peddle Evgeny Grachev for a year before trading the forward to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, they have no interest in dealing fellow Russian and former Hartford Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov.

That’s hardly surprising after how much Anisimov improved last season, especially when skating between former Wolf Pack players Brandon Dubinsky and alternate captain Ryan Callahan, the team’s top two scorers.

Several teams reportedly were interesting in the lone Russian left on the Rangers roster, but president and general manager Glen Sather quickly dispelled those thoughts.

But Sather entertained deals for Grachev for months. The Rangers’ third-round pick in 2008 was scoreless in eight games with the Rangers last season and had 16 goals and 22 assists in 73 games with the Connecticut Whale while showing a bit more intensity after joining the penalty-killing unit and improving his all-around game. But the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Grachev never consistently utilized his size and speed to produce more offensively, leading to his trade to the Blues for a third-round pick, which the Rangers used to select Edina (Minn.) High School center Steven Fogarty.

“Grachev just felt that he wasn’t fitting in with our system (and requested a trade),” Sather told reporters during the NHL draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. “He’s been with us for three years now, two years in Hartford. We liked him. We just feel the person we got is going to be able to respond a little bit quicker. Sometimes guys get trapped up in that situation where they don’t think they can go anywhere, and you’re better off going. (Our scouts) really liked Fogarty, so we made a deal to get him.

“Frankly, I’d shopped Grachev around for over a year. Really, the only team that seemed to have a lot of interest was St. Louis. They’d seen him in Traverse City (Mich., for the prospects tournament), and they liked him. It just seemed like it wasn’t going to be a fit for us in New York. So, it was better to be able to move him for a real good prospect. If we’d hung on to him and he had a poor year this year, there wasn’t going to be a lot of value. So we decided to do something earlier rather than later. He may still turn out. Just needs a fresh start.”

Anisimov will be a restricted free agent on Friday, and the Rangers have made a qualifying offer to him, allowing them to match any offer he receives. Sather said the Rangers also have made qualifying offers to Dubinsky, Callahan, center Brian Boyle and former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer, the biggest and nicest surprise last season, especially after being paired with Ryan McDonagh after the rookie was called up from the Whale on Jan. 3. They also re-signed right wing Dale Weise, who was scoreless in 10 games with the Rangers and had 18 goals and 20 assists in 47 games with the Whale while battling several injuries.

The Rangers did not qualify former Wolf Pack defenseman Matt Gilroy because they would like to bring him back at a lower price than the $2.1 million necessary to qualify him. Sather said he expects Gilroy to test the free-agent market after rejecting an offer short of the qualifying level.

“I like him; I think he played well in the playoffs, but I think the deal for Erixon left him skeptical where he sees himself on the team,” Sather said. “But it doesn’t matter who is on the roster, you have to make the team.”

Sather can’t discuss the Rangers’ top offseason priority, signing free-agent center Brad Richards from the Dallas Stars. There’s plenty of risk/reward for giving an eight-year contract for a minimum of $50 million to a 31-year-old center coming off a concussion. But Richards does have elite skills, a relation with coach John Tortorella with the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the ability to fill a major hole in the middle of the top line and to quarterback a sometimes inept power play from the point.

Veteran defenseman Wade Redden reportedly doesn’t have much interest from other teams after playing well for the Whale in his first stint in the minors. The Chicago Blackhawks were able to dump the big contract of defenseman Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Rostislav Olesz on Friday night, but it appears unlikely Sather will be able to find a spot for the 34-year-old Redden, who spent all last season in Hartford to get his $6.5 million salary off the books. While Redden didn’t play a game in the NHL, Campbell had five goals, 22 assists and was plus-28 for the Blackhawks, coached by former Hartford Whalers defenseman Joel Quenneville. His presence will help the Panthers reach the $48.3 million minimum team payroll next season, and they the Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes also might struggle to reach the salary basement.

Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, the former Rangers assistant GM and Wolf Pack GM who played left wing with the Rangers and Whalers, has often dealt with his former team, including sending Wojtek Wolski to Broadway for defenseman Michal Rozsival on Jan. 10. But Maloney reportedly isn’t interested in Redden, who said at the Whale’s breakup day that he preferred not to go to Europe and might return to Hartford if he doesn’t void his contract and become an unrestricted free agent.

The Redden situation likely will not be resolved until training camp, meaning he will eat up the Rangers’ 10 percent summer-cap buffer, plus an additional $70,000. But Sather strongly indicated the Rangers plan to use a lot of salary-cap space when asked about the possible return of unrestricted free-agent wing Ruslan Fedotenko.

“He wants to stay in New York,” Sather said. “It’s just a matter of priorities. It’s not that he’s not a priority on the team. It’s a priority of trying to figure out what you want to have when the free-agent market comes around.”

After the qualifying offers, the Rangers have approximately $53.2 million against the salary, which is $70.73 million in the summer and $64.3 million for next season. In order to try to land Richards and make other upgrades, Sather said the Rangers likely will not re-sign any of their restricted free agents for higher rates than their qualifying offers until later in the summer.

The Rangers have to be smart and prudent since Redden’s $6.5 million and $7.05 million on center/captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury unless he’s bought out is on the summer cap. Sather would not comment on that possibility or if Drury’s chronic knee problem would force the Rangers to wait until the fall to put him on cap-protected, long-term injured reserve.

“I haven’t spoken to him for awhile,” Sather said. “I assume he feels fine.”

When asked if Drury is considering a buyout, Sather said, “I am not going to tell you anything about that until the time comes. About anything.”

Drury suggested a week ago that he was going to apply for a medically unable to play designation because of his ailing left knee, but he’s now leaning toward accepting a buyout. The deadline for buyouts is Thursday, but procedure states a player must be placed on and pass through unconditional waivers after official notification of the intent to buy out. The Rangers would have to place Drury on waivers no later than Tuesday to comply with procedures.

If Drury does accept the buyout rather than file for the medical exemption, the Rangers would carry approximately $3.317 million of dead cap space through next season, a saving of about $3,333,333. The Rangers also would face a charge of approximately $1.667 million for 2012-13, pending a new collective bargaining agreement that could erase that obligation.

Pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Steve Eminger said at the end of the season that he would like to return to the Rangers, but it’s unclear if the feeling is mutual.

Besides Richards, other leading NHL free agents include goalies Dwayne Roloson, Tomas Vokoun, Jose Theodore, Brian Boucher, Ray Emery, Pascal Leclaire, Johan Hedberg and former Whaler Jean-Sebastien Giguere; forwards Simon Gagne, Jussi Jokinen, Andy Burnett, Erik Cole, Scottie Upshall, Brooks Laich, Tim Connolly, Ville Leino, Brendan Morrison, Pascal Dupuis, Michal Handzus and tough guys Ben Eager, Michael Rupp and Zenon Konopka; and defensemen Kevin Bieksa, Scott Hannan, Brent Sopel, Ed Jovanovski, Joni Pitkanen, Christian Ehrhoff, Roman Hamrlik, Sami Salo, Niclas Wallin, the Rangers’ Bryan McCabe and his former Toronto Maple Leaf defensive partner, Tomas Kaberle, a late-season acquisition who helped the Bruins win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Free agency begins at noon on Friday, and NHL Network will have five hours of coverage, the “Free Agent Frenzy,” followed by a one-hour edition of NHL Live at 5 p.m. and a special two-hour live edition of NHL On The Fly at 6 p.m. The NHL Network also will carry the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee announcement live Tuesday at 3 p.m. The program will be rebroadcast twice later in the evening, beginning at 8 p.m., and again Wednesday at 11 a.m.

DEVELOPMENTAL CAMP STARTS

First-round pick J.T. Miller and five players who joined the Whale at the end of last season were among 36 players who began the Rangers’ prospect development camp Monday at the Madison Square Garden training center in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Those who signed amateur tryout contract with the Whale in March and April and are in camp are goalie Jason Missiaen, defenseman Dylan McIlrath and forwards Carl Hagelin, Tommy Grant and Andrew Yogan. Others in the camp that runs through Friday and possible Whale players in the near future include goalie Scott Stajcer, defensemen Tim Erixon and Mikhail Pashnin and forwards Christian Thomas, Jesper Fasth, Oscar Lindberg, Jason Wilson and Ryan Bourque, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.

Thirty-six invitees include Donny Maloney, the son of Don Maloney. Miller and five others drafted Saturday will be in the camp, but not Chris Kreider, whom the Rangers selected in the first round in 2009 (19th overall) and had hoped to sign despite the left wing saying he was returning to Boston College for his junior year. … The Rangers open next season with seven road games, starting with two games in Stockholm, Sweden, the native land of Hagelin and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Sather would like to head back to Europe in 2012 and 2013, when they will have to start the season on the road because of the renovation to Madison Square Garden. Sather is delighted the team has an early road trip to Western Canada after returning from Sweden. “When we go out west, I’ll get a chance to duck hunt,” Sather said.

SEVEN CONNECTICUT PLAYERS DRAFTED

Seven players with Connecticut ties were drafted Friday night and Saturday.

Former New Haven Nighthawks Sylvain Couturier’s son Sean, a center, led the way when he was the first-round pick (eighth overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers. The elder Couturier is now general manager of Acadie-Bathhurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Evgeny “John” Namestnikov then became the first former Wolf Pack player to have a son drafted when Vladislav was selected in the first round (27th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The elder Namestnikov played 33 games for the Wolf Pack in their 1999-2000 Calder Cup championship season before being traded to the Milwaukee Admirals for forward Jason Dawe.

Center/right wing Philippe Hudon of Hudson, Quebec, and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford was chosen in the fifth round (52nd overall) by the Detroit Red Wings. In the sixth round (161st), the host Minnesota Wild selected highly touted goalie Stephen Michalek of Glastonbury, who had a .918 goals-against average and made more 1,000 saves in 1,203 minutes on a Loomis Chaffee-West Hartford team that was 3-20-3. He will attend Harvard in the fall.

Also in the sixth round (176th overall), the Philadelphia Flyers took Czech Republic right wing Petr Placek, who was limited to eight games at Hotchkiss School-Lakeville because of injuries. He will join Michaelek at Harvard.

In the seventh round (198th), the Montreal Canadiens picked defenseman Colin Sullivan of Milford, Fairfield Prep and Avon Old Farms. He started his high school career with Fairfield Prep, winning a state public school title, and then captured a New England Division I prep title while a senior at Avon Old Farms this year. He will attend Yale, which was ranked No. 1 for part of last season and seeded No. 1 overall for the NCAA championships.

Quinnipiac University had two recruits drafted. Josh Manson, son of former NHL defenseman Dave Manson, was picked in the sixth round (160th ) by the Anaheim Ducks but will play another year of Canadian Junior A hockey with Salm Arm of the British Columbia Hockey League before heading to the Hamden campus in 2012. Tampa Bay picked center Matt Peca, no relation to longtime NHL player Mike Peca, in the seventh round (201st) from the CCHL’s Pembroke Lumber Kings, who won the Junior A Royal Bank championship.

WOLVES AFFILIATE WITH CANUCKS

With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and becoming the Jets (again), the Chicago Wolves needed a new affiliate.

They found it Monday with the announcement of a two-year affiliation deal with the Vancouver Canucks, who lost in seven games in the Stanley Cup finals to the Boston Bruins, through the 2012-13 season.

“We are very excited as an organization to be affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks,” Wolves general manager Wendell Young said in a statement. “Their organization has a track record of wanting their players to both develop and win while with their AHL affiliate. Our two clubs are united by a tradition of excellence and a passion for winning, and we hope that this partnership will lead to the continued success of both organizations.”

“We look forward to this new venture with the Chicago Wolves,” Canucks president and GM Mike Gillis said in a statement. “The Canucks have placed great importance and resources in developing prospects and have seen positive results to date, including the likes of Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Chris Tanev. The two organizations will work closely to ensure our goals are one in the same and continue to work on developing a strong relationship with our prospects.”

The Wolves were affiliated with the Thrashers from 2001 to 2011. That team was purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment three weeks ago and relocated to Winnipeg, which had been the home of the Canucks’ former AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

The Canucks recently completed their 40th NHL season, was awarded the NHL’s President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular-season record (54-19-9) and made their third appearance in the Stanley Cup finals.

The Wolves have won four league championships in 17 seasons: the International Hockey League’s Turner Cup in 1998 and 2000, and the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2002 and 2008. The Canucks’ previous affiliate in Manitoba reached the postseason in nine of its 10 seasons in the AHL, including a trip to the Calder Cup finals in 2009.

GET WELL SOON, STEVE

Binghamton Senators assistant coach Steve Stirling, whose earlier jobs included head coach of the New York Islanders and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, missed the team winning its first Calder Cup in Houston because he was recovering from emergency heart bypass surgery on June 5.

After finishing off the Houston Aeros, the Senators brought the AHL’s championship trophy to the 62-year-old Stirling in his hospital room and then headed to their celebratory parade through downtown Binghamton, N.Y.

Stirling continues his recovery, and on Sunday, he issued a statement saying, “On behalf of the entire Stirling family, I would like to sincerely thank the hockey community around the country for their warm thoughts and prayers. I continue to improve a little every day. Best wishes for pleasant and relaxing summer, and I look forward to our paths crossing again in the 2011-12 season!”

Stirling has always been a class act, and nothing has changed. Here’s wishing you continued strong progress, Steve!

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