Last week, while I was relaxing in the mountains of upstate New York, I tweeted about a story in the Russian press that cited Swedish web site Aftonbladet as saying KHL champions AK Bars Kazan were interested in signing New York Rangers 2004 first round draft pick Lauri Korpikoski, a restricted free agent. The same day, an internet message board rumor made the rounds, with the original poster claiming that the Finnish forward had told him personally that he would not be playing for the Rangers next season.
On the flip side, Phoenix Coyotes 2004 second rounder Enver Lisin, who seemed to earn a permanent home in coach Wayne Gretzky’s doghouse — and is also a restricted free agent — has had a 2-year offer from KHL club Atlant Mytishchi on the table since mid-June.
Today’s trade was simply a matter of two old friends trading problems — swapping players they thought they’d be unable to retain (and perhaps didn’t want to) in order to get something for them before losing them for nothing. Viewed that way, it’s impossible to criticize the deal from either side, no matter how much Rangers fans may rue the fact that defenseman Michael Sauer is the now only player left in the organization that could provide some sort of redemption for the 2004 trade that exiled Brian Leetch to Toronto.
Lisin, 23, has been criticized for many of the same issues that have dogged fellow Ranger (for now) Nikolai Zherdev, whether fairly or unfairly: poor defensive play, streaky scoring, motivational issues, and so on. But he’s as fast as any player in the NHL and has a pair of hands that rival any currently on the Rangers roster not belonging to Marion Gaborik. If head coach John Tortorella can succeed where The Great One failed, the Rangers get the top six offensive threat that Korpikoski was never going to be. If he can’t, the Rangers gave up a player it appears they were destined to lose anyway. Hard to complain about that.
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