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Monday, July 1
Updated: July 2, 6:32 PM ET
Holik had sights on Rangers the whole time

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers signed center Bobby Holik on Monday night, acquiring a tough, two-way forward who won two Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils.

Bobby Holik

General manager Glen Sather called Holik's signing ''an absolute priority'' for the Rangers, who have missed the playoffs the last five seasons. Teams were able to start negotiating with unrestricted free agents right after midnight Monday, though Sather targeted Holik before that.

''I always knew it was a possibility this could happen, so I always knew what I wanted,'' Holik said. ''The only ones (offers) I gave any serious thought to were from the Rangers. My mind was somewhat made up about what I want to get out of being an unrestricted free agent.''

Last season, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Holik had 25 goals and 29 assists with the Devils. New Jersey also made a pitch to Holik on Monday, but it wasn't enough to keep him.

He will reportedly earn $45 million over five years with the Rangers.

''We did, in my mind, put in a very substantial offer this morning and we felt comfortable with the offer,'' Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told The Associated Press. ''There are certain things we can't control. It was a decision he had to make. It's his future, I respect that. I wish him the best.''

Holik said ''there was a major philosophical difference'' between New Jersey's offer and New York's, and that he ''didn't spend much time looking at it.''

''I gave the Devils more than one chance, not just today, but over the last 13 months to sign me to a long-term deal,'' Holik said. ''I didn't make this decision just today. A lot of things have gone through my head this year.''

Holik went to arbitration with the Devils last summer and was awarded a one-year, $3.5 million contract.

''I heard things that no player wants to hear,'' Holik said. ''I wouldn't mind if it was honest criticism, that you could take to heart. ... But it's a strange process.''

It was expected that major free agents such as Bill Guerin, Tony Amonte, Curtis Joseph and Rangers goalie Mike Richter might be signed quickly Monday, but only Adam Oates (Anaheim) and Robert Lang (Washington) worked out deals with new teams before Holik.

Richter could still be a teammate of Holik's, even though his rights were traded to Edmonton in a bookkeeping deal Sunday night before the free-agent deadline.

The Rangers' top goalie under contract is Dan Blackburn, Richter's backup last season.

Sather declined to discuss contract talks with Richter or any other free agent Monday night.

''Well, I wouldn't say we're finished looking at trades and the free agent market,'' Sather said. ''We hope that we're going to be in a position to make some headway this spring.''

The Devils, eliminated by Carolina in the first round of the playoffs this year, now have to figure out who will fill the void created by Holik's departure.

''First of all, you don't replace a player like Bobby Holik,'' Lamoriello said. ''He's a unique player. We have players we feel very good about. We'll see what else should be done and re-evaluate everything.

''We felt that this might be a possibility and we now have to look in a little bit different direction.''

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