Hockey Free Agency Opens; Rangers Maybe Better, Definitely Goonier

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Gaborik and Brashear. Photo: Getty Images

Unlike with baseball, where it can drag into March (see: Ramirez, Manny), the fun part of hockey’s free agency period lasts approximately one day after it begins on July 1. Already, big names like Marian Hossa and the Sedin twins have signed, as have a slew of second-tier guys, including what feels like most of last year’s Devils team. It’s a stretch, of course, to say that one day in July can translate into Stanley Cup success eleven months later — those famous July 1 signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury didn’t exactly pan out — but it does go a long way toward shaping a team’s roster.

And the Rangers, in fact, are well on their way to doing so. After their punchless offense was exposed once and for all against Washington in the playoffs, they shipped Gomez and his long-term contract to Montreal for Chris Higgins. But more important, they freed up enough cap space to sign legitimate goal-scorer Marian Gaborik, a right-winger who’s tallied 30 goals five times in eight NHL seasons. Of course, there’s a catch: He’s also failed to play 65 games in four of the last five years. But it's a chance they have to take: In very un-Ranger-like fashion, they have lots of role players in place, but needed a superstar-type sniper. Only so many were available via free agency, and they landed one of them.

And then there’s the more curious signing of Donald Brashear, who replaces Colton Orr as the team’s enforcer. In one sense, it’s perfectly logical: The Rangers lost their designated fighter, and while Orr was always a willing combatant, Brashear is better at it. But Brashear is also far more of a goon; his cheap-shot elbow of Blair Betts during this spring’s playoffs was particularly dastardly, and while this is one our favorite fights of all time, it’s because of Brendan Shanahan’s involvement, and certainly not because of Brashear’s sucker punch at the end. Rangers fans will probably embrace Brashear as they have Sean Avery (after all, he may be a goon, but he’s our goon now), but as far as the rest of the league is concerned, they now have two bona fide villains.