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Monday, July 14
Updated: July 15, 12:29 PM ET
Free-agent defenseman had career season

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Greg de Vries gave up the comfort of playing defense for the Colorado Avalanche to become part of the rebuilding process with the New York Rangers.

Greg de Vries
de Vries

On Monday, the 30-year-old free agent signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $13 million. He leaves behind such high-profile mentors as Rob Blake and Adam Foote.

"I really enjoyed my time in Colorado," de Vries said. "Maybe I thought it would be time to get out on my own and try to take a little more pressure on myself."

De Vries became an attractive option on the free-agent market after making only $1.375 last season as a 10-year NHL veteran. By earning less than the $1.79 million average in the NHL, he was able to become a Group V free agent. Normally, players can't reach unrestricted free agency until they are 31.

Paul Kariya's new deal with Colorado will allow him to have the same status after next season.

Rangers coach and general manager Glen Sather signed de Vries when he was the GM in Edmonton. Sather made de Vries a top priority once the free-agency season began July 1.

"He's a strong skater, and he's a strong character," Sather said. "He's a guy that's continually gotten better. He can play tough, and he can play smart.

"He just filled in all the little niches we needed."

The Avalanche made an offer in September to retain de Vries, but they were not major players for him once he became a free agent.

"He was the ideal guy for the situation we have," Sather said. "He fit into our budget. He was the type of person that I was looking for."

Last season, de Vries had a career-high 32 points -- including six goals. He spent five seasons with the Avalanche after a stint in Edmonton. His plus-15 rating, while playing all 82 Avalanche games, would have been the best mark on the Rangers.

He also added two goals in Colorado's first-round playoff loss to Minnesota. New York missed the postseason for the sixth straight year.

When Sather took over as Rangers coach last season, his first game was at home against Colorado right before the All-Star break. De Vries made it an unpleasant return for Sather by spoiling his New York coaching debut with a game-winning goal 2:29 into overtime.

"I saw him in the hallway after, and he didn't look too happy with me," de Vries said.

Sather is still trying to re-sign top defensemen Brian Leetch -- one of the few remaining marquee players on the free-agent market -- and Boris Mironov. Sather said the signing of de Vries wouldn't have any effect on negotiations with those players.

"We need seven top defensemen in this game," Sather said. "What has happened with Greg being there, it just eliminates one spot we're trying to fill."

The Rangers have a proposal on the table to Leetch, one that was met with a counterproposal that Sather said he wasn't willing to agree to. Bringing back Leetch, who has spent his entire likely Hall of Fame career with the Rangers, is something Sather wants to do.

"It's just an ongoing process of trying to make the deal," Sather said.

New York's 42-year-old captain, Mark Messier, still has not told Sather whether he will be back for his 25th NHL season or will choose to retire. The same goes for 36-year-old goalie Mike Richter, whose career is in doubt after a concussion early last season that forced him to sit out the rest of the way.

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