Rangers bolster blue line with ex-Cane Ward

Updated: July 3, 2006, 8:29 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Aaron Ward turned his third Stanley Cup title into a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the New York Rangers on Monday.

Carolina Hurricanes

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The 6-foot-2, 225-pound defenseman was a key contributor during the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the championship last month. Ward, a former first-round draft pick, scored the opening goal in Carolina's 3-1 victory over Edmonton in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

In 71 regular-season games last season, the 33-year-old Ward had career highs with six goals and 25 points. He led Hurricanes defensemen in goals and was 13th in the NHL with 164 blocked shots.

His fearless style was evident throughout the final series with the Oilers, and he even threw himself in front of a blistering slap shot off the stick of Chris Pronger in Game 5. That painful ankle block came after he was already shaken up by a hit from Raffi Torres.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather announced the signing just hours after Pronger, the top available defenseman, was traded by Edmonton to Anaheim.

Ward will earn $2.75 million in each year of the contract.

New York was thought to have had interest in obtaining Pronger or former Ottawa defenseman Zdeno Chara, but the 6-foot-9 native of Slovakia signed a five-year deal worth $37.5 million dollars with Boston on Saturday -- the first day of the NHL free-agent shopping season.

With those two headliners off the market, the Rangers acted quickly to get Ward in the fold. After winning two rings in Detroit, Ward was successful again in his fourth season with Carolina.

Sather hopes those winning ways will carry over to the Rangers, who made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1997 but were swept out of the first round by the New Jersey Devils.

"Aaron is another proven winner joining our lineup, having won three Stanley Cup championships," Sather said. "He brings leadership and experience to our team and adds a competitive edge to our defensive corps."

It was the second time in three days that the Rangers turned to Carolina to improve their club. They signed veteran forward Matt Cullen away from the Hurricanes on Saturday, giving him a four-year deal worth $11.2 million.

Ward had two goals and three assists in the playoffs this year. He joins a defensive unit that allowed the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference last season.

After being chosen by Winnipeg with the fifth overall pick in the 1991 draft, Ward was dealt to Detroit two years later when he finished his college career at Michigan. He spent seven seasons with the Red Wings before the trade with Carolina in 2001.

Ward notched 31 goals and 68 assists in 552 career regular-season games and added three goals and five assists in 78 postseason contests. He was part of the Red Wings' back-to-back championship teams in 1997 and 1998.

The Hurricanes have been hit hard since the start of free agency, as they also let backup goalie Martin Gerber go to Ottawa last weekend.

They did manage to re-sign 21-year-old center Eric Staal on Saturday along with defenseman Mike Commodore. The Hurricanes also gave a two-year deal to U.S. Olympian and former Tampa Bay goalie John Grahame, brought in to take Gerber's role as the backup to playoff MVP Cam Ward.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press