There has been much debate on the Internet dealing with whether the New York Rangers should be buyers or sellers at the NHL’s March 3, 2010 deadline. It has been my contention that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Rather, it has been my stance that the Rangers should be both at the deadline by dumping as much dead weight as possible (hence the seller part) and looking to acquire as many assets as possible for next season (the buyer part). It looks like Glen Sather has finally listened to me.

Sather’s acquisition of Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust from Calgary in exchange for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik represents the Rangers being both a buyer and a seller. From the buyer standpoint, Jokinen represents the Rangers best chance to dress a number one center this season. While his 11 goals and 24 assists do not support his $5.5 million contract (as per nhlnumbers.com), that figure comes off the books at the end of the season because Jokinen is an Unrestricted Free Agent – while Prust will be a Restricted Free Agent.

The trade is a win-win proposition both for this year and beyond. The Rangers are not taking much of a risk in the enigmatic Jokinen given that Higgins and Kotalik never panned out as the Rangers had hoped. If the 6-foot-3 and 215 pound Finnish center is a bust, the Rangers have still recouped the $3 million they would have had to pay Kotalik next season (and the year after). The Rangers will need every available penny if they want to sign RFAs Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi.

I have to admit that I though Higgins would be good for about 20-25 goals with the Rangers as he entered the final year of his contract. While his defense and work along the boards translated well, his offense got lost somewhere at the American-Canadian border. As for Kotalik, his play on the point during the power play was a plus early in the season, but he never found his game at even strength and he became a liability on the point when the goals stopped coming. It was extremely unlikely Higgins would return to the Rangers next season unless he was going to take a major pay cut.

If the Rangers can get lucky for a change, then they reap the rewards of a Jokinen salary drive as they find the perfect center for Marian Gaborik. If the Rangers get REALLY lucky, Jokinen plays well enough that they can trade prior to July 1, 2010 when he becomes a free agent. If the hockey gods decide to truly bless the Rangers, Jokinen decides to stay in New York at a reasonable contract while moving Wade Redden and/or Michael Rozsival. Hey, if you are going to dream, you might as well dream big.

Jokinen gives the Rangers a center who has scored 29 or more goals in his last six NHL seasons – including a career season in 2006-07 with Florida (39 goals and 52 assists) as he tallied 34 or more goals in his final three years with Florida prior to being traded to the Coyotes in June 2008.

Can the Rangers reasonably expect Jokinen to pick up his play? Sometimes an unexpected trade is motivation enough, if the following Jokinen quote from TSN.CA is to be believed.

“‘It comes with the salary, you make $5 million, 11 goals is not going to cut it,’ said a visibly shaken Jokinen. ‘It’s definitely a slap in the face to get traded.’

Jokinen did see an upside in heading back to the Eastern Conference.

“‘I get a chance to play with one of the better players in the league in (Marian) Gaborik.’”

Prust earns yet another chance to rack up frequent flyer mileage. The 5-foot-11 and 195 pound forward spent his first three plus season with the Flames organization before being traded to Phoenix as part of the deal that sent Jokinen to Calgary. Prust ended up back with the Flames after the Coyotes swapped him for defenseman Jim Vandermeer.

“I’m looking forward to going to the big city and playing in Madison Square Garden so I’m looking forward to it, but I’m sad to leave again,” Prust told TSN.CA.

While physically Prust fits the light heavyweight category, he will fight all comers as he is second only to Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka in fights this season.

You have to believe that Coach John Tortorella will give Jokinen every chance to mesh with Gaborik and Vinny Prospal on the first line. The 31-year-old center struggled to adapt to centering Jarome Iginla because Jokinen is not really a playmaker. However, as Rangers fans have seen, Gaborik’s playmaking abilities are almost as good as his scoring prowess and. in reality, it will Prospal’s job to serve as the playmaker.

If Jokinen doesn’t mesh with Gaborik and Prospal, Tortorella could put him on the second line and move Brandon Dubinsky back to the first line – with Chris Drury becoming the playmaker for Jokinen and Ryan Callahan.

What is less clear is how Prust fits into the lineup. You have to figure that Brian Boyle remains as the fourth line center with Torts shuffling Prust, Erik Christenson and Aaron Voros between the winger spots.

Hopefully, the Prust acquisition is the beginning of the end of the Donald Brashear Era (or is that Error). While the Rangers still have a little salary cap leeway (about $700,000 or so), they could free up even more space by placing Brashear on waivers and then sending him to Hartford if some team isn’t dumb enough to claim him. Shipping Brashear out would clear up about $500,000-$600,000 in additional cap space when you prorate his salary.

With about $1.2 million in cap space, the Rangers could be in the hunt for a veteran seventh defensemen (if they do not recall Ilkka Heikkinen) or a veteran backup goaltender if they want more experienced netminder backing up Henrik Lundqvist post-Olympics. They could even use that cap space to upgrade at forward if they decide to move a RFA like Christenson or Enver Lisin.

After spending a lot of years bashing Sather for his shortsighted moves, this is one time I actually have to praise him. Now if he as good as Jim Dolan really thinks he is, Slats will channel his inner Donnie Walsh and dump off the other two bad contracts still remaining (Redden and Rozsival). The Rangers have not shot to move Drury’s contract because he has a no-movement clause that prevents the Rangers from doing anything (trade or demotion) without Drury’s consent.

Scouting Reports (From thestar.com):

OLLI JOKINEN

ASSETS: Is a big presence up the middle and a good face-off man. Has above-average hands and the instincts of a natural goal-scorer. When motivated, he plays a complete game.
FLAWS: Is a better scorer than playmaker, so he tends to get off his game when paired with other goal-scorers. His leadership skills, along with the rest of his game, lacks consistency.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Moody scoring center.

BRANDON PRUST

ASSETS: Works hard and loves to get in the face of his opponents. Has solid defensive instincts and is an aggressive forechecker.
FLAWS: Needs to play with more discipline. May not score a lot of points at the NHL level, since he lacks natural ability.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Physical agitating winger.

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