Former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger is back in the sport. You heard that Ranger signed with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL back in August. Having last played the game professionally in 2009 - and not having completed a full season of play since 2006-07 with thanks to shoulder separations and rehab - it was pretty easy to be skeptical if Ranger would find his rhythm again.
Yeah, well, about that...
The Toronto Marlies have been no pushover in the AHL's western conference. They lead the league's Western Conference with 45 points and a 21-9-1-2 record in 33 games played. Basically they've resumed where they left off last season as runners-up for the Calder Cup.
One thing to note about the Marlies is their defense. Mike Kostka (former Tampa Bay Lightning farm hand and he of the game-winning goal that shouldn't have been) is 8th in scoring in the AHL with 6 goals and 28 assists, giving him 34 points and a plus / minus of plus-8.
And of Ranger, the guy who hadn't laced them up professionally since 2009, he's played 28 games with Toronto this season so far and recorded 5 goals and 13 assists for 18 points. He's a plus-17 as well. He's an asset to the club and a two-way threat.
...and his status in the NHL is still unrestricted free agent.
With Ranger playing for the Marlies, perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has the right to first refusal on signing Ranger. That could happen, though there's nothing to support that right now. There's also nothing to support the idea other NHL teams in need of defensive depth (hello Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers) attempting to get their hands on Ranger through their AHL affiliates. Ranger, if signed by an AHL team's parent club, would likely have to pass through waivers to join an NHL team at this point - exposing him to 29 other clubs. To get by that fact, if he wishes to play at the NHL level again, he probably has to wait until next season.
I could be wrong, though. I'll admit ignorance on all the complexities of the new NHL collective bargaining agreement and waiver rules. If waivers aren't going to obstruct a team from acquiring, signing and calling up Ranger, I could see a number of teams taking a chance on Paul.
Just not the Lightning, who have eight defensemen under contract as it stands (nine if you include the rehabbing-and-out Mattias Ohlund). That ship has sailed anyway; Ranger could have easily resumed his career within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization and opted to go elsewhere instead.
Ranger and the Marlies will do battle with the Lightning's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, in late February and early March.
(stick tap to Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey for aid on this story)