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Holik was expected to earn $6.726M this season

Bobby Holik Holik

NEW YORK -- The Rangers bought out the remaining two years on Bobby Holik's contract on Friday, sending the gritty forward away without a playoff appearance in New York.

Before the 2002-03 season, Holik was given a five-year, $45 million contract by the Rangers, who pried him away from the New Jersey Devils -- the team with whom he won two Stanley Cup titles.

But he failed to reach the playoffs with the Rangers, who haven't qualified for postseason play since 1997. New Jersey went on to win a third championship without Holik in 2003.

Holik was set to earn $6.726 million next season, following the 24 percent contract rollback mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players' association.

"The rules of the new CBA dictated that we leave some cap room in the future," general manager Glen Sather said. "In order to gain some relief in that zone, perhaps two weeks or a year from now, right now this was the right decision to make."

New York had until 5 p.m. Friday to buy out the rest of Holik's contract at two-thirds of its remaining value to save salary cap space. Teams can no longer have payrolls in excess of $39 million.

The Rangers also could have bought out Darius Kasparaitis but decided to keep the hard-hitting defenseman, who will earn $3.334 million next season.

New York already has $8.42 million tied up with Jaromir Jagr for the 2005-06 season, so keeping both Holik and Kasparaitis became prohibitive.

"Bobby was a solid player for us for two seasons, but this opens more channels for us," Sather said.

Holik, 34, is now an unrestricted free agent and will be able to sign with any team -- other than the Rangers -- when the signing period begins Monday.

"Our team is going in the direction of youth," Sather said. "Bobby's going to be 35 next year. There are some kids in the league next year that at 27, 28 are legitimate stars that'll be available."

In 146 regular-season games in New York, Holik had 41 goals and 50 assists. He had 25 goals and 31 assists during the 2003-04 season and was named the team's MVP. Holik has played in 1,024 NHL games in 14 seasons after starting his career in 1990 with the Hartford Whalers.

Holik has 281 career goals, along with 361 assists and 1,102 penalty minutes.

The Rangers also announced the signings of forward Hugh Jessiman and goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Jessiman, New York's first-round selection in the 2003 draft, played 12 games last season for Dartmouth before tearing a ligament in his right ankle. He missed 24 games before coming back to play in eight regular-season games and six in the postseason.

"Hugh has impressed our organization with his work ethic and commitment to improving his overall game," Sather said. "His combination of his size, skill and skating ability make him a very bright prospect."

Lundqvist, 23, played in 44 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. He went 33-8-3 with a 1.79 goals-against average.

"Henrik was the dominant goaltender in Europe last year competing against many of the NHL's best players," Sather said of Lundqvist, chosen in the seventh round of the 2000 draft. "He has risen to a championship-caliber player on both the Swedish professional and international level."