The Rangers weren't expected to make an especially big splash on the first day of free agency — at least, not as far as any of the top unrestricted free agents are concerned. Neither of the top two names available is likely to wind up in New York: Zach Parise has said he won't sign with the Rangers, and defenseman Ryan Suter isn't quite what the Rangers are looking for right now. If the Rangers are going to land a big prize this summer, it's most likely going to be Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets winger who remains available, but at a cost. In the meantime, though, the Rangers did make a couple of lesser, though not insignificant moves, on the first day of free agency.
News of Martin Biron's new two-year deal broke last week, but the team's moves yesterday centered on assorted tough guys. Brandon Prust — who, for our money, is the ideal modern enforcer, in that he can drop the gloves with the best of them but is useful in other aspects of the game — was given a four-year, $10 million contract by Montreal, and while Prust played a key role on this Rangers team and had become a fan favorite since arriving via trade from Calgary, the Rangers couldn't justify giving that kind of money to Prust, given the economics of today's NHL.
And so with Prust off to Montreal, the Rangers signed Arron Asham away from the Penguins and Micheal Haley away from the Islanders organization. The 35-year-old Asham scored sixteen points last season in 64 regular-season games for Pittsburgh last year and racked up 76 penalty minutes, including eight fighting majors. Rangers fans are plenty familiar with Asham: He's played for every other team in the Atlantic Division at one point or another during his career. Asham, by the way, still has one game remaining on the suspension he began serving during the playoffs for this bit of ugliness in his team's series against the Flyers.
Haley, meanwhile, is a more one-dimensional enforcer (or, in the words of one Rangers beat writer, a "sideshow/clown"): In 43 career NHL games, he's recorded two goals, one assist, and 151 penalty minutes. Like Asham, he got a two-year deal, though in the case of Haley, who played 51 games in the AHL last year, the first year of those years is a two-way deal, and the second is a one-way deal. (The Rangers also agreed to a new contract with Stu Bickel, the young defenseman who isn't shy about dropping his gloves, either.)
We're not sure the Rangers are any better off, in terms of personnel, than they were before the deadline: Prust was a great fit here, and even if — as Larry Brooks notes — his role as a penalty killer was diminished by the emergence of Carl Hagelin, he nicely filled the role of enforcer while also pitching in in other ways. But the Rangers believed that Prust's offer from Montreal was simply too big to match, and so with Asham set to make just $1 million per year of his two-year deal (and with Haley's deal believed to be worth $600,000), they at least have a bit more flexibility now.