- Last Updated: 11:17 AM, July 2, 2012
- Posted: 2:07 AM, July 2, 2012
The first day of NHL free agency was like Groundhog Day for the Rangers.
After displaying commendable fiscal restraint in allowing important character actor Brandon Prust to escape to Montreal for a 4-year deal worth $10 million the Blueshirts could not justify matching for a forward who gets about 12 minutes a game, it all came back to negotiations with Columbus regarding a trade for first-line left wing Rick Nash.
But just as happened approaching the Feb. 27 trade deadline, just as happened two weeks ago leading up to the Entry Draft, Columbus general manager Scott Howson yesterday continued his attempts to pry the unpryable off the Rangers’ roster from GM Glen Sather through a mixture of absurd demands and propaganda delivered through third parties to suggest a bidding war that simply did not exist was in effect for No. 61’s services.
There is no question Sather wants to bring Nash to Broadway despite the power winger’s contract that carries a $7.8 million cap charge through 2017-18. The Post has learned Sather first inquired about Nash during the middle of the 2010-11 season, when Howson called to check on Michael Del Zotto’s availability after the defenseman had been sent to the AHL. At that point, Columbus had no interest in trading Nash.
That changed in February, however, when the winger asked out. But from the moment serious discussions between the parties commenced, the Rangers have made it clear they will not include Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider or Derek Stepan in a deal to bring the 28-year-old Nash to Broadway.
Nevertheless, Howson continues to demand that one — and perhaps two — of the three be part of the package in return for Nash, who has a no-move clause and has provided the Blue Jackets with a short list of teams to which he will accept a trade.
Despite that, the Columbus GM has entered into discussions with at least three teams not on Nash’s list — the Flyers, Hurricanes and Senators — in order to attempt to create leverage against Sather, who is believed willing to move a couple of players off the roster and a pair of prospects for the winger who has scored at least 30 goals five straight years and in seven of the last eight seasons of his 9-year career.
Should Zach Parise stick to his “No way” declaration about crossing the Hudson, there are no reasonable alternatives on the free-agent market for the Rangers, who have a clear and present need for a first-line left wing who can add offensive punch to a club that was limited to two goals or fewer in 34 of 82 regular-season games and 13 of their 20 playoff matches, and stand to be without 41-goal scorer Marian Gaborik (shoulder surgery) for a couple of months if the season begins on time.
While Prust went to Montreal, fourth-liner John Mitchell went to Colorado. Ruslan Fedotenko remained unsigned and his chance of returning for a third season perhaps is dependent on whether a deal for Nash is completed.
The Rangers spent minimal money in signing 34-year-old veteran winger Arron Asham and 26-year-old pugilist Micheal Haley as a sort of response to losing Prust.
The club, which failed in its attempt to sign free agent defenseman Justin Schultz out of Wisconsin, has a hole on the right side of the second pair Sather will attempt to address via a trade.Follow @NYPostsports