- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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With the 2012 free-agency period just days away, all three Big Apple hockey locals are gearing up for their respective needs. The goal-starved New York Rangers are looking for offense, while the downtrodden New York Islanders have been active in trying to bolster their blue line. And perhaps the most compelling storyline of this year's class resides in Newark, N.J., with impending unrestricted free agent Zach Parise's future with the New Jersey Devils unresolved.
Can the Devils lock down their 27-year-old captain? Can the Rangers finally pull off a trade for Rick Nash? And can the Islanders add some pieces that elevate their team from the basement of the Eastern Conference?
Stay tuned starting Sunday at 12 p.m. when the free-agent period begins.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Similar to years past, expect the Rangers to be one of the most active teams once the market opens. But don't assume it'll be the free agents they covet most.
According to a source with knowledge of the team's plans, the Rangers are still keenly interested in acquiring star winger Nash via trade.
They were aggressive in trying to make a deal for the 28-year-old Blue Jackets captain before the trade deadline in February and they revisited those attempts at the draft last week. Both times general manager Glen Sather was unwilling to yield to Columbus general manager Scott Howson's demands, although Howson's trading options could narrow the longer he waits.
"I am not sure that we will have any trade before free agency," Howson told ESPNNewYork.com when asked about the potential of making a deal before Sunday.
The Rangers remain on Nash's list of teams to whom he'd approve a trade -- he owns a no-move clause on his eight-year, $62.4 million deal -- and they're a logical destination for the left wing, who has played his entire career in Columbus since being drafted first overall in 2002.
The Rangers will be without sniper Marian Gaborik for the first few months of the season -- he underwent shoulder surgery earlier this month -- and were struggling offensively beforehand with only 2.15 goals per game this postseason.
Nash would be an ideal fit to play on a line with center Brad Richards and Gaborik, but if Howson refuses to relent on his asking price, the Rangers could look elsewhere for scoring. A trade for Anaheim's Bobby Ryan should not be ruled out; the 25-year-old forward is reportedly on the block and has posted four straight seasons of 30 goals or more.
One free agent the Rangers will be in on?
That would be 21-year-old right-handed defenseman Justin Schultz. The coveted young blueliner would provide a huge boost to their power play and some insurance on the blue line should Michael Sauer's health not improve. (Sauer, who has not played since suffering a concussion in December, is "doing much better," his agent, Ben Hankinson, said, although he characterized Sauer's recovery as a "slow process.")
The Rangers are expected to be on Schultz's short list of teams from whom he will field offers over the next few days. The British Columbia native also has a connection with a few Rangers; both Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh were teammates of his at the University of Wisconsin.
Tough guy Brandon Prust is unlikely to return to the Rangers, but the prospect of bringing back backup netminder Martin Biron appears much more promising. Although a deal has yet to be reached, the two sides are still hopeful they can work something out.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Although many around the league seemed ready to punch Parise's one-way ticket out of New Jersey on July 1, the franchise winger surprised some by expressing a desire to remain with the Devils after their deep postseason run.
Like his teammate Ilya Kovalchuk was two summers ago, Parise is in a position to command a staggering payday as a player in the prime of his career with no shortage of suitors.
No doubt the Devils want to lock him up long-term, but given the team's dire financial situation, there is a heavy dose of skepticism that it is even possible.
Co-owner Jeff Vanderbeek is in the process of trying to restructure the team's debt, but NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPNNewYork.com that the Devils are not necessarily handcuffed by the distress. He said the Devils are "in a position to continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis, including signing players before and after July 1."
Should the team's financial woes prevent Parise from staying, and multiple league sources anticipate this will be the case, he will garner significant interest from Detroit, Los Angeles and his hometown Minnesota Wild, among others.
Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who had a remarkable playoff run at age 40, is expected to return, although several of the team's other UFAs-to-be may be stuck in a holding pattern until Parise's future is worked out.
Key veterans like backup netminder Johan Hedberg and defenseman Bryce Salvador are natural choices for general manager Lou Lamoriello to bring back, but their future with the team could be contingent on Parise's decision.
Both players would have attractive options elsewhere.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders' financial picture has been, and remains, similarly bleak. The beleaguered franchise is expected to operate near the cap floor once again as it tries to hasten the "rebuilding" phase, although general manager Garth Snow already made one favorable move toward that effort.
With the team's well-documented history of hard luck attracting free agents, Snow acquired veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in a trade with Anaheim at the draft this past weekend. The 35-year-old blueliner adds depth and experience to the team's back end and should strengthen a core that is led by Swiss captain Mark Streit.
With the free-agent class thin, P.A. Parenteau will be seeking a pay raise after a career-high 67-point season (18 goals, 49 assists). The 28-year-old winger, who made $1.25 million in 2011-12, won't be coming back to the Islanders, however.
Instead, Parenteau will test the market.
According to his agent, Allan Walsh, "P.A. will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1."
As the free-agency period approaches, all three hockey locals are gearing up.