Let's just get the fact out of the way first: Sportsnet is reporting the Toronto Marlies of the AHL have signed former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger to an AHL contract.
This story, the story of Paul Ranger's career, has been long and strange. Ranger first broke into the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06, playing 76 games for the Bolts. For the next several seasons, he locked himself into the Bolts defensive rotations, playing 70+ games two more times before having his 2007-08 season cut short by a shoulder separation that needed to be surgically repaired... Ranger came back from that, only to have his opposing shoulder separate in early 2009, ending his 2008-09 season after 42 games. More rehab followed.
Paul was in the lineup to start the 2009-10 season with the Lightning, but something happened that has gone unexplained to this day: Eight games into that season, Ranger requested (and was granted) a leave from the team. Though privacy won out (meaning that news organizations didn't dig into what was going on), fan speculation dangled the notion that Ranger was in drug treatment (though he never entered the league's substance abuse program), suffering depression, perhaps traveling the world, gone back to school, and loads of other answers on just what could have happened.
Early April, 2010 was the last time the media crossed paths with Ranger, who was picking up tax information at Times Palace and left with no comment.
He would not be seen participating in a hockey related function again for almost two years.
His reappearance in the media happened in March of this year, as it was reported Ranger helping to coach an AAA Bantam hockey team in Canada to a championship.
Ranger, who will be 28 next month, would have been welcomed back by the Lightning (should he have chosen to return to hockey the past two seasons), as much was said during the Bolts 2010 training camp. Both Guy Boucher and Steve Yzerman had talked to the defenseman about what he wanted to do... And the organization in general, got the impression Paul wasn't going to be back.
Ranger became an unrestricted free agent on July 1st of this year. Before that, the Lightning had controlled his rights. And if the Sportsnet report is true (verified by Damian Cristodero but without an official announcement), then all we can do is wish Paul the best of luck on his comeback.
While idle fan speculation had been more than willing to delve into the possibilities on what happened to Ranger, you have to wonder if Paul is ready to talk now about the past two years, especially because he's heading to Toronto. The press at the center of the hockey universe tends to be a lot nosier than the Tampa Bay media. This could be accentuated by the hockey press being idled by an NHL work stoppage.