The annual New York Rangers makeover

Another offseason, another roster turnover for the New York Rangers.

With the free agent and trade markets now looking like the meat counter at your local Costco before closing time, Rangers general manager Glen Sather hopes these latest moves will get them past the second round in 2008-09.

“If you can’t get by the first round it’s time to make some changes,” he said on Thursday. “We felt that watching Pittsburgh and Detroit and some of these other teams that were being a little more offensive, a little more explosive, that we had to make some changes.

“We felt it was time to make some changes, and we made them.”

Last summer, New York made some of the biggest offseason moves by luring Chris Drury away from the Buffalo Sabres and Scott Gomez from the New Jersey Devils.

On Tuesday, New York started it's latest makeover with a head-scratcher by giving Ottawa Senators defenseman Wade Redden a six-year, $39 million contract and retained Michal Rozsival (4 years, $20 million) to be their top pairing on the blueline.

“In our opinion he’s the best first-passer in the game,” Sather said of Redden. “He moves the puck up exceptionally. He’s somebody that we had targeted immediately. He was our No. 1 guy on defense, as well as Rozsival.

“We wanted to get them both signed, and we did. We’re quite happy that we’ve got them. We think that’s going to help us move the puck to the forwards as well as anybody in the league.”

Sather should know this: Redden and Rozsival were tied for 21st in scoring among defensemen last season with 38 points.

Then came the Wednesday night fleecing, as New York acquired talented but enigmatic forward Nikolai Zherdev and young defenseman Dan Fritsche from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman.

Zherdev was picked fourth overall in the 2003 NHL draft behind Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal and Nathan Horton. The 23-year-old Russian set career highs last season with 35 goals and 61 points, but even though he has the ability to make dazzling highlight plays, he was distant with teammates and management and probably needed a change of scenery. I imagine he clashed with noted taskmaster and head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Does Zherdev sound familiar? If it were 15 years ago, this guy would be named Alexei Kovalev.

"Nik's going to play with some terrific players in New York, and I expect Nik to have a great year there," Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson told the Columbus Dispatch. "He might get to the 25- or 30-goal mark, or, who knows, he could hit 35 or 40."

Fritsche, also 23, led Columbus' defensemen with 10 goals including four game-winners.

Tyutin was considered one of the Rangers' most talented prospects coming up, but never seemed to fulfill expectations in four seasons. Backman did little in 18 games with the Blueshirts after being acquired from the St. Louis Blues just before the trading deadline.

"This was value for value. We'll be judged on how well our team does, and that's how it should be," Howson said.

On Thursday, the Rangers welcomed Markus Naslund into the fold, signing the former Vancouver Canucks captain for two years and $8 million.

Naslund’s scoring numbers have dipped recently. He's gone from a career-best 48 goals and 104 points in 2002-03 to 25 goals and 55 points last season.

Still, he seemed more than happy to set up shop on Seventh Avenue.

“Since July 1, my eyes have been set on the Rangers. It ended up taking a little bit longer but I’m very pleased that I’m a Ranger now,” Naslund said on a conference call from Sweden. “I want to feel that I play on a level where I know I can play. I want to play better hockey than I have the past few years. That’s why I’m looking at this as a challenge for me to prove that.”

The addition of Naslund also finally meant the end of Jaromir Jagr's four years in New York, and possibly the future Hall of Famer's NHL career after 17 seasons

On Friday, Jagr's agent Pat Brisson confirmed Jagr signed a two-year contract with Russia's Avangard Omsk of the new Continental Hockey League over in the motherland. Jagr later left no doubt.

“It was the toughest decision in my life, hockeywise. … No question about it. I hate making changes,” Jagr told The Canadian Press. Pittsburgh, the Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers are were believed to have one-year offers to the fifth overall pick in the 1990 draft.

“It was a very difficult but personal decision to make in light of the many NHL teams interested in his services,” Brisson told The Associated Press. “He is grateful to the NHL and especially the Rangers in recent years.”

If it is indeed the end of the line, Jagr falls one point short of 1,600 for his career. He also had 77 goals and 104 assists in 169 playoff games, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early '90s.

The Rangers made three moves that didn't get a whole lot of play, adding Aaron Voros from the Minnesota Wild, Patrick Rissmiller from the San Jose Sharks and Dmitri Kalinin from the Sabres.

Voros will provide toughness - the 6-foot-4 forward had 141 penalty minutes in 55 games as a rookie with the Wild last season. Rissmiller, also 6-4, had a career high eight goals with the Sharks in 2007-08. Kalinin, entering his ninth season, is a 6-foot-3 defenseman who seems fragile: He was out 23 games with a strained knee early last season, and sat out another 12 with a shoulder injury in March.

Some of the moves leave me puzzled. Is Redden worth $6.5 million a season? Sather considers Redden one of the best passing defensemen in the game, but he's never had more than 40 assists in any of his 12 seasons. Wouldn't Brooks Orpik - a younger, hard-hitting defenseman who got $22.5 million from the Penguins - a sounder choice in a physical Atlantic division?

Is a 35-year-old Naslund making $4 million a season better than a 36-year-old Jagr? It depends how the chemistry between Naslund develops with Gomez, Drury and Brandon Dubinsky.

And what of Mats Sundin? As of Friday afternoon, Sundin, 37, is still available and weighing a two-year, $20 million offer from the Canucks, but the Rangers and Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings appear to be in the mix.

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