You have to wonder what dirt Glen Sather has on Bob Gainey. It is one thing for Sather to be able to move Scott Gomez’s odious contract. It is even another thing for Sather to get back forward Chris Higgins – never mind a warm body. However, it is amazing that Sather was able to wrest away defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko in the same deal without giving up any of the Rangers main assets. While blueliner Doug Janik was also acquired from the Habs, it is expected the Rangers will let him walk as an UFA.

The losses of Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto are negligible when compared to the treasure Slats extorted from Gainey. I guess all those years of being in the NHL have finally paid off for Sather as he collects on the some of the favors he accumulated over the years.

“It gives us a lot more options or availability to do other things,” “We’re not up against the cap now. We’ve got lots of cap room. It just makes the options more inviting to us. Now, I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Sather explained during a conference call. “We also have some depth with some of the kids we have in the minors and we wanted to make some room for those guys.”

“Since this deal happened, I’ve had three other calls. It doesn’t take long for people to realize you’re going to make changes.”

The key now is for Sather to resist the temptation of the past two years – the results which hamstrung the organization in the first place. During the past two years, Sather rushed out of the box to sign two of the exact same players (Chris Drury/Scott Gomez and Wade Redden/Michal Rozsival).

With salary cap space, Sather has the chance to let someone else set the market for a change as he sits back and reads the tea leaves. Even if the Rangers don’t, or are unable, to sign any offense help, the team is still sitting pretty with a much valued commodity in the NHL – salary cap space – even after he takes care of his own RFAs Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky (something which he should do before another team launches a preemptive strike).

Sather has also positioned himself well in terms of being able to move one or more of his defensive prospects for help at forward without doing too much damage to his organizational depth.

As he moves forward, Sather should not only concern himself with landing a “big fish”, but he should be looking at the bottom of the ocean for some hidden gems. He needs to find his own Patrick Sharp.

The Blackhawks forward was nothing more than a NHL fourth liner/AHL top six forward prior to being traded to Chicago from Philadelphia. After scoring 14 goals in 72 games with the Blackhawks and Flyers in 2005-2006, Sharp has averaged 27 goals during the last three seasons and that average would be higher if he didn’t miss 16 games this year with a sprained left knee.

The key is to identify such a player and that is where Sather has to rely on his professional scouts. With the salary cap always looming large, it is important to be able to be able to go beyond the surface of raw numbers in order to find talent.

The acquisition of McDonagh, and to a lesser extent Valentenko, enhances the Blueshirts cache of prospects. With McDonagh in the fold, the Rangers now own five of the top 52 prospects that were rated by The Hockey News in their Future Watch 2009 issue: Evgeny Grachev (#19), Michael Del Zotto (#32), McDonagh (#37 – 3rd rated Canadiens prospect), Artem Anisimov (#48), and Bobby Sanguinetti (#52).
The web site Hockey’s Future’s rated McDonagh as Montreal’s number one prospect (ahead of P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty, THN’s number one and two prospects) and Valentenko as their 11th best prospect.

Valentenko is a 6-2/220 defenseman who was Montreal’s firth round pick (139th) in the 2006 NHL Draft. He played for their AHL affiliate in Hamilton in 2007-2008 and registered one goal and 16 assists and 58 PIM in 57 games with the Bulldogs. He started this season in Hamilton and played four games before returning to Russia. The Canadiens gave him a leave of absence to return to Russia to tend to family problems. While back home, he signed a three-year deal with Moscow Dynamo.

Interestingly enough, Valentenko supposedly blogged about his decision to leave Hamilton. In an online blog, the 22-year-old wrote that he was lonely and had grown weary of promises of recalls that the Canadiens did not follow through on (even though he was among the wave of recalls for the 2008 playoffs). According to Valentenko, he has the ability to return to the NHL after two years with Moscow Dynamo.

Here is how Hockey’s Future described Valentenko, a player they view as someone in the “Bryan Marchment mold”:

“Valentenko is blessed with a big shot — one that earned him hardest AHL shot honours in the 2007-08 season. He combines that with a physical game that borders on, but never crosses into, dirty play. Valentenko’s been described as one of the most-hated players in the AHL and combines an ability to get under opponent’s skin with the willingness to back it up.”

“His offensive abilities are limited, but he’s able to play a solid fundamental game: making the smart first pass, starting the rush, and taking care of his own end.”

McDonagh, perhaps the prize of the deal, was the Canadiens first round pick (12th overall) in the 2007 NHL Draft. The 6-1/200 McDonagh was named the winner of the 2007 Mr. Minnesota Hockey award given to the state’s top seniors. He has spent the last two years playing for the University of Wisconsin, where he was a teammate of top prospect Derek Stepan last year. McDonagh experienced a bit of a sophomore slump as he posted 5 goals and 11 assists in 36 games after posting 5 goals and 7 assists in 40 games as a freshman.

Herb Zurkowsky had the following write up of McDonagh in THN’s Future Watch 2009 issue:

“After suffering from the sophomore jinx this season, McDonagh’s play has improved and he’s looked upon as a leader by his teammates and coach. He is a strong skater and represented the U.S. at the WJC.”

“The Habs would like to see him open up and rely on his natural instincts, but McDonagh’s considered physically ready to turn pro as soon as he learns the fundamentals of the pro game. He’ll surely turn pro before finishing his final two years at Wisconsin.”

In 2007, the International Scouting Service rated him as their 19th best prospect and compared his game to that of Dan Boyle. Here is what ISS wrote about him in 2007:

“Good skater – Quick feet – Good hockey sense. McDonagh is an offensive d-man with good puck skills. Impressed ISS scouts with his play at the U-18 championship in Finland. He showed that he is able to skate the puck up the ice or make a smart simple pass. Moves the puck crisply. Does a nice job in D zone identifying his man and then going to him. Has good feet, contains his man well off the rush. Worked well with Kevin Shattenkirk on the PP. Did a nice job of playing between the dots vs. the rush – during 1 on 1s forced man wide. Showed a nice ability to get a good shot off while on the move. Used in all situations – even, PP and PK – logged lots of minutes. He brings a variety of skills to the game. He is a well-rounded player and willing to compete hard every shift.”

Chris Higgins is a 6-0/200 forward who was the Canadiens first round draft pick (14th overall) in the 2002 NHL Draft. The 26-year-old is a RFA who made $1.9 million last season. While he tailed off offensively last year (12 goals and 11 assists in 57 games), Smithtown, Long Island native posted three 20-goal seasons (27,22,23) the previous three years.

Last year was a lost season for Higgins as he missed six games due to a groin injury suffered in late October 2008 and then missed 19 more games mid-December 2008 through late-January 2009) due to a hand injury.

Interestingly, Higgins scored his first NHL goal against Kevin Weekes and the New York Rangers on October 6, 2005 at Madison Square Garden.

Faceoff.com offers the following scouting report on Higgins:

ASSETS: Has tremendous quickness and two-way aplomb. Can line up anywhere and be used in virtually any game situation. Owns above-average offensive upside.
FLAWS: Isn’t strong enough to win a lot of battles in the corners. Needs to display more offensive consistency at the big-league level.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six winger.

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