For the first time since the NHL returned from the lockout the New York Rangers sit at home watching the NHL playoffs. Much like the years previous to the lockout, when the Rangers were missing the playoffs, they were bad – but not bad enough to position themselves at a shot at the first overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft.

As anyone who follows the Blueshirts knows, being a Rangers fan is like spending the entire season on a rollercoaster. While the 2009-2010 season was no different, the rollercoaster ride this season was particularly bizarre. The Rangers started and ended the season on big-time streaks with the mother of all miserable play. After losing their first game in Pittsburgh, the Rangers ran off a seven game winning streak to start the season at 7-1-0. With their playoff hopes fading, the Blueshirts mustered up a 7-1-2 streak to finish the season one regulation goal away from the playoffs.

However, the team that could be considered a doughnut (a hole in the middle – that is – no center) played horrendous hockey in the middle portion of the season as they bumbled their way to a 24-31-9 record – hardly playoff-caliber hockey.

So where do we go from here?

The first thing that needs to be done will not get done. Jimmy Dolan is not going put right what has gone wrong. In other words, he is not going to fire Glen Sather. In turn, Sather is not going to fire John Tortorella (yet) because Slats is not quick to admit he makes mistakes – whether or not Torts is to blame.

However, Sather is going to have to claim mea culpa in order to make any improvements to the Rangers because his salary cap wiggle room barely allows for keeping the status quo – never mind attempting to bring in a big-time free agent or trying to trade for help.

His first step is to clear out as much salary cap space as possible. He did a good job last year by trading Scott Gomez, thus making room for Marian Gaborik. In addition, he also managed to bring in defense prospect Ryan McDonagh.

Sather begrudgingly admitting his mistake in signing Ales Kotalik by turning the winger and Christopher Higgins into Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust. Not only did this trade clear some cap space by dealing away two years worth of Kotalik’s salary, the Rangers uncovered a diamond in the rough with Prust – a less troublesome version of Sean Avery.

The President/GM has to continue this hot streak by finding ways to remove both Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. Of course, that is probably easier said than done. Unlike the Gomez deal where Sather added a prospect, moving Redden and/or Rozsival is probably going to cost the Rangers some of their prospects and/or draft picks. This is not the ideal solution, but it might be the only one.

Yes, I know the Rangers can merely place both players on waivers and exile them to Hartford but at what cost? The last thing the Rangers need are high-priced players clogging up roster spots in the AHL – never mind the potential harm that could happen as a result of the negative feedback of disgruntled veterans. Besides, it is bad enough that Sather will have to dump Donald Brashear’s contract in Hartford.

Buying out Wade or Michal is not feasible because it merely stretches out their cap hit because the salary is spread out to twice what is left on the contract. In addition, the Rangers can’t afford to lose salary cap space on players who are no longer with the team. Larry Brooks of the New York Post explained the gory details of a possible Redden buyout in his April 14, 2010 article.

“The Rangers would be charged $1,916,667 the next two and last four years of the hit, while taking a $3,416,667 cap charge for 2012-13 and 2013-14, assuming, of course that retroactive amnesty is not part of the next CBA.”

No, what Sather has to do is start burning up the telephone and try to call in all of the favors he has built up through the many years he has been in the NHL. I am sure that he has built up enough cache that he can make another GM “an offer he can’t refuse”, if you know what I mean. It might even be necessary to swap one problem for another and hope that the change of scenery is enough.

For example, there were rumors prior to the Olympic break that the Blueshirts were talking to Edmonton about Sheldon Souray. Any talks that might have been initiated were doomed when Souray got hurt. The Oilers are as interested in moving Souray as the Rangers are in moving Redden and Rozsival.

The numbers between Rozsival and Souray are similar. Souray has two more years left on a contract that is a $5.4 million cap hit. Rozy also has two years left and his cap hit is $5.0 million. If Kevin Lowe were still GM, then Sather might have been able to get away with a one-for-one deal. With Steve Tambellini in charge, Slats will have to sweeten the pot a bit.

Depending on how sweet that sweetener is, Sather might want to move Redden instead because he has three years left on a contract with a cap hit of $6.5 million.

Whichever way Sather goes, he needs to move out both defensemen in order to free up salary cap space. Before the Rangers decide which free agents or trades to pursue, they have to decide what they are going to do with their own free agents – especially Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi. if the Rangers are able to move Redden and Rozsival it is going to be essential that Staal and Girardi are retained before the Rangers can move forward.

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