Glen Sather’s flurry of free agent signings and re-signings has left the Rangers perilously close to salary cap hell – and the Blueshirts still have to deal with the potential arbitration cases for Sean Avery and Marcel Hossa. Of course, this salary cap dealings doesn’t include the continuing rumors about the Rangers interest in Sheldon Souray.

As a result, there are some rumblings that the Rangers’ President/GM might be looking to open some cap space whatever the reason. Both John Dellapina (“Daily News”) and Luke Decock (“[Raleigh] News & Observer) have articles dealing with the possible return of Matt Cullen to Tobacco Road. If the Rangers were to trade Cullen, they would clear $2.8 million from their salary cap.

The Rangers would be taking a big risk in moving Cullen; however, it is a risk that might have to consider. While he was miscast last year as a second line center, Cullen would surely prove to be valuable as a third line center that plays an all-around game. He would add scoring to a checking third line and would defense to a scoring third line. He is also a crucial special teams element – especially with Jed Ortmeyer no longer in the organization.

The only problem is, in today’s salary cap era, Cullen is a luxury a team up against the salary cap might not be able to afford. The Rangers do have some flexibility with Avery and Martin Straka being able to play center as well as the option of moving Blair Betts back to the third line, thus giving the team an opportunity to let a kid see some time on the fourth line. It is very possible that a Brandon Dubinsky, Tom Pyatt or even Artem Anisimov could force their way into the top three line mix.

Decock points out that any trade for Cullen could involve the Rangers taking back some salary and mentions Trevor Letowski as a possible target. Letowski’s $800,000 salary would still allow the Rangers to save $2 million in caps space while not driving Carolina too far beyond their $44 million payroll goal.

If the Rangers have to take some salary back, at least the 30-year-old Letowski could be useful as a third/fourth liner as a winger or center. He is a spitfire who has good speed, but the problem is he is small (5-10/180). Outside of concussion problems last year, he has been pretty durable during his NHL career. His salary is also low enough that the Rangers could move him if they wanted to further lower the salary cap – especially considering he is in the final year of his contract.

The other name that Decock mentioned was Restricted Free agent defenseman Anton Babchuk who made $900,000 last year. While the last thing the Rangers need is another young blueliner, they could move him in another deal to get a draft pick or two. The only problem is that Carolina tried, and failed, to acquire a second rounder for him during the draft. If the Rangers kept him, they would be getting a 6-5/200, 23-year-old d-man who has great offensive potential and the size to be a top-four defenseman. He still needs more time develop and learn how to be more effective. The problem with acquiring Babchuk is that he would be more costly than Letowski over a longer period of time.

Outside of these two players, there really aren’t any other players that fit into the equation for either the Hurricanes or the Rangers. Either the players don’t clear enough salary cap space for Carolina or would add too much salary to the Rangers payroll. The only player who might even come close is goaltender John Grahame at $1.4 million, but even that is too expensive for the Rangers tastes. Besides, they could probably sign former Panthers and Canucks netminder Alex Auld for about half of Grahame’s salary if they wanted to replace Stephen Valiquette as the backup goaltender – something they should look into if they clear enough salary cap space.

Bruce Berlet reports some interesting news that has implications both in New York and Hartford.  Berlet writes that former Wolf Pack Coach/GM Jim Schoenfeld will replace Don Maloney in the Rangers front office.  As a result, Wolf Pack assistant coach Ken Gernander will become the new bench boss in Hartford – not a surprise given Gernander’s work as a captain and assistant coach with the Rangers AHL teams in Hartford and Binghamton.  Assistant coach J.J. Daigneault will remain and I guess it will remain to be seen if the Rangers add a third coach.

Berlet also says that Dwight Helminen has joined the exodus of former Ranger prospects who have headed across the pond to play in Europe.  Helminen has signed with a team in Finland.

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