FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

And then there was one.

As expected, the New York Rangers signed veteran defenseman Steve Eminger to a one-year $800,000 contract on Monday, leaving unrestricted free agent right wing Ryan Callahan as the only player that the NHL team needs to get in the fold.

Eminger, 27, proved a valuable commodity working with the young Rangers defense last season when he had two goals, four assists and 101 blocked shots, third on the team, in 65 games while playing both the left and right side. The new contract for the only Rangers defenseman to play in more than 400 NHL games is a good fit and good value for Eminger, who just completed the two-year, $2.25 million deal he signed with Anaheim before the Ducks traded him to the Rangers last summer. The new contract is another good move by Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather and in line with Eminger being the No. 5, 6 or 7 defenseman for coach John Tortorella.

Eminger’s versatility, along with his physical style, knowledge of the Rangers’ systems and familiarity in the locker room, made him an ideal candidate to help a defense that includes former Wolf Packers Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer in the top four. The Rangers also have to hope Michael Del Zotto rebounds from a difficult second season in which he split time between New York and Hartford, and 2009 first-round pick Tim Erixon, acquired from the Calgary Flames for two second-rounder and forward Roman Horak on June 1, will be able to contribute as a rookie so Eminger could be a fill-in when needed. He seemed comfortable with that role in his first season with the Rangers, not falling off in his play after significant stretches as a healthy scratch.

The 6-2, 203-pound Eminger has 17 goals and 74 assists in 411 NHL games with the Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. A first-round pick (12th overall) of the Capitals in 2002, the native of Woodbridge, Ontario, was acquired by the Rangers from the Ducks got forwards Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier on July 9, 2010.

The Rangers will now concentrate on signing Callahan before his scheduled salary arbitration hearing in Toronto on Thursday. Callahan, an alternate captain and leading contender to replace bought-out Trumbull native Chris Drury as Rangers captain, should receive a little more former Wolf Pack linemate Brandon Dubinsky, who signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract just before his arbitration hearing last Thursday.

Dubinsky, the Rangers’ leading scorer last season with career highs in goals (24), assists (30) and points (54), joined center Brian Boyle and former Wolf Pack defenseman Michael Sauer as players to sign deals before arbitration. Former Wolf Pack center Artem Anisimov, not eligible for arbitration, was another restricted free agent to re-sign. Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, has said he and his client hope to have a deal done before the wing’s hearing Thursday.

With Dubinsky and Eminger signed, the Rangers have $4,977,666 million left under the $64.3 million salary cap, not including a $1.75 million hit if Erixon makes the team. If Callahan gets about $4.5 million, the Rangers will have to make a move to make cap space for the son of former Rangers wing Jan Erixon. Whether he signs or goes to arbitration, the Rangers will get a contract buyout window 48 hours after his situation is resolved, which would allow them to shed one of their extra forwards if they want. With Callahan, the Rangers will have 14 forwards under contract, and Tortorella doesn’t like carrying spares and will be right up against the salary cap.

Enigmatic wing Wojtek Wolski, acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Michal Rozsival on Jan. 10, is the leading contender for a buyout. Another option is to use the Whale for roster and cap relief, as the Rangers did last season and will again this season with Wade Redden if the veteran defenseman doesn’t forego the last three years of the six-year, $39 million contract he signed in 2008. Barring injuries, Erik Christensen and his $925,000 contract is a leading contender to join Redden.

Callahan is the only one of the Rangers’ five restricted free agents still to be unsigned, and the Blueshirts have not had an arbitration hearing since they walked away from a $3.9 million, one-year award to Nikolai Zherdev on Aug. 4, 2009.

Callahan starts six restricted free agents who have yet to work out new deals. Jannik Hansen, 25, a wing on Stanley Cup runner-up Vancouver, is second on Friday as he and Canucks meet in a hearing for the second straight summer. He was awarded a one-year, $825,000 contract in 2010 and proved his worth with career highs in goals (nine), points (20) and plus/minus (plus-13) while playing all 82 regular-season games. He also had nine points in 25 playoff games.

The most anticipated arbitration hearing will occur Tuesday, when Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber will plead his case. Weber, 25, made $4.5 million last season, the last year of a three-year contract, and earned his keep. A member of Canada’s 2010 Olympic gold-medal team, Weber has 80 goals and 134 assists in 402 NHL games with the Predators.

After Weber comes another high-profile case, center Zach Parise, 26, who has been the New Jersey Devils’ offensive catalyst with 146 goals between 2006 and 2010. He has a hearing Aug. 3 after earning $5 million last season, when he played only 13 games because of a knee injury. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Parise’s teammate, defenseman Mark Fraser, will follow on Aug. 4, when Islanders and former Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward Blake Comeau, 25, also will have a hearing. Comeau had career highs in goals (24) and assists (22) last season. Twenty-two players filed for arbitration, but 16 worked out new contracts with their teams.

With something to be decided by the end of the week, here’s the expected Rangers’ salary cap situation the 2011-12 roster, barring injuries:

Goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist, $6.875 million; Marty Biron, $875,000

Defensemen: Staal, $3.397 million; Girardi, $3.325 million; McDonagh, $1.3 million; Sauer, $1.25 million; Eminger, $800,000

Centers: Brad Richards, $6.667 million; Artem Anisimov, $1.875 million; Boyle, $1.7 million; Derek Stepan, $875,000

Wings: Marian Gaborik, $7.5 million; Dubinsky, $4.2 million; *-Wojtek Wolski, $3.8 million; Sean Avery, $1.937.5 million; Mike Rupp, $1.5 million; Ruslan Fedotenko, $1.4 million; Brandon Prust, $800,000.

Buyout: Chris Drury, $3.717 million.

Bonus overage from 2010-11: $527,000.

Total: $54,098.5 million; Cap space: $10,201.5 million

Unsigned wing: Callahan, approximately $4.2-4.75 million.

Signed defense candidates: Erixon, $1.75 million; Del Zotto, $1,087.5 million; Pavel Valentenko, $850,000; Tomas Kundratek, $816,666.

Signed forward candidates: Mats Zuccarello, $1.75 million; Christian Thomas, $1 million; Christenson, $925,000; Ryan Bourque, $900,000; Carl Hagelin, $663,000; John Mitchell, $650,000; Dale Weise, $605,000; Chad Kolarik, $525,000; Kris Newbury, $512,500.

*-Potential buyout after Callahan contract signing: Wolski, $467,000 charge ($3.333 million saving).

Note: The salary of any player who clears waivers and is assigned to the Whale doesn’t count toward the Rangers’ salary cap.

ZUCCARELLO AND FAMILY OK

Not surprisingly, Zuccarello and his family were shaken by the two terrorist attacks in his homeland of Norway, including the bombings in Oslo that have left at least 93 dead so far.

“I spoke with Mats, and like all of us, he was shocked by the senseless act of violence,” Rangers assistant general manager/assistant coach/Whale GM Jim Schoenfeld said in an email Monday. “He did not have any close connections to any of the victims or their families but has great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones.”

Zuccarello, who split his first season in North America between Hartford and New York, is a native of Oslo. He has recovered from a broken left hand sustained in the first round of the playoffs against the Portland Pirates and worked out with Boyle and Rangers skating coach Barb Underwood after training and scrimmages at the team’s prospects camp in late June.

Zuccarello said at the time that his hand has nearly healed after he sustained two broken bones when it got caught in a hole in the plexi-glass through which photographers shoot.

“It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen or heard of something like that before, but I’m one in a million,” a smiling Zuccarello said of the incident, which helped turn the series in Portland’s favor.

“The Norwegian Hobbit” started his rookie season slowly, then earned a promotion Dec. 23 to replace an injured Gaborik after getting 13 goals, second among AHL rookies at the time, and 11 assists in 32 games with the Whale. He had 11 goals and 12 assists in the 21 games before his call-up.

Zuccarello had six goals and 17 assists, including a team-high nine on the power play, and five shootout goals, including three winners, in 42 games on Broadway. He was scoreless in the only playoff game he played before rejoining the Whale and getting a goal and an assist in his first AHL postseason game and then being injured early in his second.

Zuccarello worked out during a one-month stay in Norway before returning to New York for a week’s skating.

“Working with Barb is nice, and the hand is coming,” Zuccarello said.

Tortorella was delighted Boyle and Zuccarello were working with Underwood. Boyle started with her last summer and had 21 goals and 14 assists while playing in all 82 games after getting 12 goals and four assists in his first 107 NHL games with the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in the first round (26th overall) in 2003 out of Boston College.

“I think it’s great for some other players to see that,” Tortorella said. “Brian Boyle had a really good year last year. Zucc got a real good taste of it, fell off a little bit toward the end. It was a tremendous learning experience for him. And Brian. Remember, I wanted Brian out of here. I didn’t think he was going to be on the team.

“What they’re telling me is, and especially Brian (is), that wasn’t enough. And it’s right. He has to come back and do it again. He has to continue to improve. And Zucc, he’s going to go home for a little bit but then stay here for a month and a half and train with Reggie (Grant) and be around the organization and our facility, to get ready for next year.

“It’s a matter of trying to be better because we’re trying to get better as a hockey club. If you’re not looking to improve, there may be someone looking to go right by you. So I think that’s their mindset in being here.”

Boyle seems entrenched at center with the newly acquired Richards, Ansimov and second-year pro Stepan, but Zuccarello will be pressed to earn a spot on Broadway with Christensen possibly moving to wing and Whale wings Weise and Kolarik vying with youngsters Hagelin and Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.

YASHIN WORKING OUT AT ISLANDERS FACILITY

The reunion of the New York Islanders and Alexei Yashin appears close.

Reports last week had Yashin rejoining the team that bought him out ?? years ago and now he’s working out at the club’s training facility in Syosset, Long Island. And Yashin’s agent, Mark Gandler, told the New York Post that he is negotiating with the Islanders.

Though Gandler said talks hadn’t advanced over the weekend, he said he is still discussion with the Islanders and there are not apparent snags in the initial talks with Islanders general manager Garth Snow, who was not immediately available for comment.

Former Islanders GM Mike Millbury originally acquired Yashin from the Ottawa Senators on draft day 2001 for massive defenseman Zdeno Chara, who helped lead the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup this year, Bill Muckalt and the second overall pick, which turned into center Jason Spezza, a standout for a decade. Yashin was the Senators’ first pick even (second overall), and after the trade, Millbury signed him to a 10-year, $87.5 million contract, reduced by 24 percent by the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement in 2005. Snow bought out Yashin in 2007, but the Islanders have been taking an annual salary cap hit of $2.204 million that will continue through the 2014-15 season and has hamstrung the financially strapped team.

Since the buyout, the 37-year-old Yashin has 70 goals and 117 assists in 220 games in his native Russia with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League. He had 337 goals and 444 assists in 850 NHL games before heading home to Russia, where he has 30 goals and 27 assists in 88 international games, including the last three Winter Olympics and nine World Championships.

Coincidentally, the Islanders are discussing such a high-profile acquisition as a referendum vote next Monday approaches on creating a state-of-the-art sports entertainment destination center that would include a minor-league ballpark and be built adjacent to the antiquated, 39-year-old Nassau Coliseum. Taxpayers would own the new arena as well as surrounding development rights. If the plan is approved, it will create more than 1,500 construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs in Nassau County. The Islanders would pay all construction fees over and above the initial $350 million cost, as well as all costs that are related to the planning designing and architecture of the new coliseum.

Maybe Yashin could help foot the bill if he gets another deal with the Islanders.

ANOTHER RED WINGS STANDOUT RETIRING

Center Kris Draper will announce a 20-year NHL career on Tuesday morning, the last 17 with the Detroit Red Wings.

Draper, 40, joins defenseman Brian Rafalski and goalie Chris Osgood as recent retirees. In May, Rafalski surprised almost everyone by calling it quits at 37 with a year left on his contract and then Osgood announced his retirement last week, citing uncertainty that his body, especially his hip, can withstand another season.

Draper, an unrestricted free agent who played his first game for the Red Wings back in 1993, was squeezed out because of the development of some of the organization’s younger players. The Red Wings are expected to carry 14 forwards, and they already have 13 spots filled, leaving only one job open at camp. Many believe that is being held for prospect Cory Emmerton, who could be lost to waivers if not on the NHL roster.

Draper, a third-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, has little desire to play elsewhere. So since their last championship in 2008, the Red Wings have said goodbye to goalies Osgood and Dominik Hasek, defensemen Rafalski, Chris Chelios, Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja and forwards Draper, Kirk Maltby, Tomas Kopecky and Dallas Drake, who retired after the last Stanley Cup victory.

But few players were as tied to Detroit as Draper, who joined the organization in 1993 when the Jets traded him to the Red Wings for one dollar. Draper provided significant return on that investment, especially on The Grind Line with Maltby and tough guy Joey Kocur, who was eventually replaced by Darren McCarty.

Draper had 158 goals and 203 assists in 1,137 games with the Red Wings. More importantly, he played in 220 Stanley Cup games, getting 24 goals and 46 points and providing invaluable checking presence as Detroit won four titles. He also represented Canada on numerous occasions in international play, winning gold medals at the junior and senior level, including in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

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