NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15: Derek Boogaard #94 of the New York Rangersin action against the Toronto Maple Leafs during their game on October 15 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
When New York Rangers General Manager Glen Sather signed tough guy Derek Boogaard to a 4-year, $6.5 million contract last summer, the hockey world shook its collective head, sighed, and muttered "there he goes again." And before the giant enforcer was felled by a concussion in early December, it looked like Sather had in fact saddled his team with yet another albatross contract. Unable to compete -- or keep up -- at a satisfactory level for head coach John Tortorella, Boogaard rarely saw more than four or five minutes of ice time a night, sometimes playing as few as three or four shifts in a game.
Boogaard's injury -- he's not expected to play again this season -- has allowed Sather to avoid having to make any tough decisions this year. But there are three more years remaining on his contract. And with the Rangers needing to re-sign a handful of core restricted free agents this summer, and likely to pursue big-ticket free agent Brad Richards on July 1st, Boogard's $1.625 million worth of cap space must look awfully enticing.
Enter Andrei Nazarov, head coach of KHL goon squad Checkhov Vityaz. You know, the team famous for giving NHL/AHL-rejects Chris Simon, Darcy Verot, Brandon Sugden and Josh Gratton a place to ply their trade.
In addition to his duties with Vityaz, Nazarov, a former NHL pugilist himself, is also an assistant coach for the Russian national team. In that role, he is tasked with being the liaison between the team and the Russian players currently playing in the NHL. Nazarov was in New York for Tuesday's tilt between the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, checking up on Russian Ranger Artem Anisimov. But as Sport-Express reporter Vasily Osipov reveals in his post-game interview with Nazarov, the veteran of 571 NHL games and 1,409 penalty minutes also spoke with his former Minnesota Wild teammate Boogaard, and may have had a secondary purpose for his trip...
- And how would you comment on your interest in Boogard?
- It's clear that nothing has been decided yet, and that general manager Alexei Zhamnov is ultimately in charge of personnel questions for Vityaz. But I've known Derek ever since we played together for Minnesota, when he was taking his first steps in the NHL. Even then I guessed that Boogard would make some noise in the League. And that's happened.
- I'll phrase the question in another way: during your trip through the NHL are you searching for a fighter for Vityaz?
- First of all I'm here on national team business. But -- I won't hide -- the problem you mentioned is solved...
Like all reports in the Russian press, this one should be taken with a lump of salt until confirmed (or denied) by a North American source. In the meantime, Nazarov's comments should provide ample fodder for Rangers fans anxious to find a way to free up salary cap space to sign prized center Brad Richards while retaining this summer's crop of restricted free agents, which includes forwards Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, and defensemen Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy.
For Nazarov's comments on Ranger forward Anisimov, visit Beyond the Blueshirts. Osipov also spoke to Anisimov after the game. A translation of that conversation will appear at Beyond the Blueshirts in the coming days.