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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Russian Rocket' Heads to Rangers

NEW YORK -- Glen Sather sounded as if he was beaming Monday night as he spoke on the telephone about the Rangers' blockbuster acquisition of Pavel Bure for a startlingly low price. And why not? The Florida Panthers gave Bure away.

Sather, the Rangers' president and general manager, landed Bure, who has led the NHL in goals the past two seasons, for Igor Ulanov, a 30-year-old defenseman who fell out of favor soon after signing as a free agent; Filip Novak, 19, an unsigned junior league defenseman; and the Rangers' first-round pick in this summer's entry draft and a fourth-round pick in 2003. The Rangers and the Panthers will also swap second-round picks in this year's draft.

Sather feared he would have to deal Mike York, a 24-year-old All-Star, to obtain the gifted Bure, a right wing who turns 31 on March 31.

"We didn't want to give up anyone," Sather said.

He almost did not have to.

"It was one of those situations where we had to have more flexibility in our roster," Florida coach Mike Keenan said Monday.

Keenan was referring to the $20 million the Panthers saved by trading Bure, who has two guaranteed seasons left on his contract at $10 million a season. There is also a club option for the 2004-5 season for $11 million.

"We really deliberated over this," Keenan said. "These kinds of players are extremely difficult to acquire. Pavel Bure is the best goal scorer in the National Hockey League, pure and simple. He's going to come in and electrify the New York crowd and the Rangers' fans, and he's going to energize the team."

The Rangers sure hope so.

With 12 games remaining in their regular season, the Rangers trail the Montreal Canadiens by two points in the race for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Rangers are trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, which would match the longest drought in franchise history.

This is the second significant move by Sather, in his second season running the Rangers. He acquired Eric Lindros from Philadelphia last summer. Sather is gambling that Bure, who will almost certainly play on the top line with Lindros and Theo Fleury, will revitalize the Rangers' offense. The Rangers have lost five of their last six games, and have scored two goals or fewer in five of those games.

"There are two guys who can lift you out of your seat when they've got the puck," said Sather, who called Bure one of the top four or five players in the league. "Mike Modano's one. This guy is the other one. He's a constant threat. He's somebody who can score any time he has the puck. He's a superstar. He's an artist with the puck."

After scoring 59 goals last season and 58 goals the season before, Bure has only 22 goals in 56 games. Still, despite breaking his hand earlier in the season, he led the Panthers in goals and points (49).

"Quite frankly and honestly, Pavel never played with a No. 1 center here," Keenan said.

The Rangers nearly acquired Bure four seasons ago, before he was traded from Vancouver to Florida on Jan. 17, 1999, as part of a multiple-player package.

Bure, a native of Moscow who is known as the Russian Rocket, will have no such problem playing with Lindros. The Rangers are certain that Bure, with his blazing speed, will be able to open the ice for Lindros. Still, Sather seemed ambivalent last week about how badly he wanted to acquire Bure, who has a reputation for being selfish.

"It's been a real roller coaster whether to do it or not," Sather said, adding that he and Keenan had discussed the deal for about a month. "It was a tough trade for them to do. Yesterday, they told me they were not doing it. They called me this morning and said they had changed their minds."

Bure flew from Miami to New York on Monday night, and was expected to be in uniform at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, when the Rangers were to play the Vancouver Canucks. On Monday night, Sather denied that he had felt any pressure from the Garden chairman, James L. Dolan, to acquire Bure, even though the Rangers and the Knicks, the Garden's two main tenants, are in danger of missing the playoffs.

The pressure now is squarely on Ron Low, the Rangers' second-year coach, who will probably come under scrutiny if the team fails to make the playoffs. Although Sather denied it, the Rangers are believed to have contacted Ken Hitchcock, the former coach of the Dallas Stars.