February 2011

With the NBA trade deadline over and Carmelo Anthony ensconced in his new home at Madison Square Garden, Ranger fans now eagerly await their chance to land a big fish in a trade at the NHL deadline on Monday. Sadly, that wait will last a lifetime – or at least it will seem that way.

With over a dozen teams in each Conference still within striking distance of the eight playoff spots, it is not a buyer’s market in the NHL’s trade bazaar – especially when GMs like Joe Nieuwendyk make bizarre demands.

Larry Brooks of the NY Post wrote that the Dallas Stars GM would trade RFA Brad Richards to the Blueshirts in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan.

I am not sure what is crazier – that Nieuwendyk could make that offer with a straight face or that Brooks could possibly dream up such a ridiculous rumor.

I do not subscribe to the notion that certain players are “untouchable”. I would have no problem trading any of three players listed above in the right deal. However, that offer is NOT the right deal.

The one thing to keep in mind in reference to the rangers and trade rumors is that President/GM Glen Sather is as closed-mouth about trade rumors as he is in talking to the New York media. Last year’s deal with Calgary leaked out because of Ales Kotalik’s delay in waiving his limited no-trade clause that included the Flames.

For what it is worth, Sather has gone on the record to say that he is not interested in mortgaging any of the Ranger future in terms of trading young NHL talent, the organization ‘s best prospects or any high draft picks.

Steve Zipay of Newsday wrote that his colleague Arthur Staple spoke with Sather and that the Rangers second and third round draft picks and lower-level prospects could be in play considering this year’s Draft is not as deep as past drafts. Remember, the Rangers have two second round picks in 2011 – having acquired Washington’s second rounder from Carolina as part of the Bobby Sanguinetti trade.

In the post-lockout NHL, trades are based on more than just talent considerations. In fact, the salary cap implications probably drive most trades these days. Even if Sather were willing to go all in with his top prospects and/or draft picks in order to secure a big-time player, he would be risking folding with an even better hand next year.

The Rangers’ trade options are limited because they cannot afford to take on much salary beyond this year. The Blueshirts can bury all of the horrible contracts they want in the AHL, but they still have to fit all the salaries back into their summer cap (which only allows for a 10% overage). In other words, Wade Redden’s contract comes back on to the books during the summer.

Of course, there is still the problem of what to do with Chris Drury. If the captain retires, then his $7+ million cap hit goes away. If he doesn’t, the Rangers can buy him out at a cap hit of $3.7 million next season and about $1.7 million the year after that.

Even if the Rangers decided to buyout Wojtech Wolski’s final year ($3.8 million) at a cap hit of about $500,000 for next season, the Rangers still run into problems when you factor in their own RFAs they need to re-sign.

Odds are the Rangers part ways with UFAs Vinny Prospal, Alex Frolov and Steve Eminger with Ruslan Fedotenko a possibility to return at a Ranger-friendly price.

The problem arises when you take a look at the RFAs the Rangers need to return to the fold: Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Gilroy, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer. While the Rangers very well may let Gilroy walk, the remaining players all figure prominently in the Rangers plan.

As you can see, there is little wiggle room to bring in a high-salary player at the trade deadline if you want to keep the core RFAs and even entertain the idea of signing Brad Richards as a RFA and looking to add a veteran to the young blueliners.

The salary cap constraints for 2011/2012 even play limit the Rangers ability to bring in mid-level players/salaries.

For example, two names who have popped up on the rumor radar are Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles and Ottawa RW Chris Neil. While both players do fit Blueshirt needs, both carry salary implications beyond this year.

Liles has one more year left on a contract that will saddle the Rangers with a $4.2 million cap hit next season. While they could use Liles offensive abilities, especially on the power play, that is a big salary hit to take on.

Neil, who would give the Rangers another physical presence and ease some of the enforcer duties on the banged up Brandon Prust, also carries salary implications for next year and beyond. His $2.0 million cap hit for the next two years is not completely outrageous; you do have to factor in that the Rangers have Derek Boogaard under contract for the next three years at a cap hit of $1.6 million.

Yes, you could buy him out but the Rangers would have $600,000 worth of dead cap space on the books for the next six years. Again, that does not seem like much but it starts to add up, especially next season if you are buying out Drury and Wolski.

The end result is that the Rangers pretty much need to follow the example set by the New York Mets during the winter. In other words, the Rangers need to shop in the bargain basement. Florida’s Bryan McCabe might not be a better player than Atlanta’s Ron Hainsey; however, the UFA-to-be McCabe is much more attractive than Hainsey who has two years left at a cap hit of $4.5 million per season.

If the Rangers are really interested in Neil, then they would need Ottawa to take Erik Christensen back in the deal because it would limit Neil’s 2011/2012 cap hit to about a million fishnagels.

In the best interest of the Rangers, they need to concentrate on bringing role players who will not have too negative an impact on their salary cap. It may not seem all that sexy in comparison to ‘Melo’s Garden coronation, it makes sense on both the short and long term.

When you look back at past trades, you need to look no further than the Rangers-Flames deal last year. Who would have thought that a Calgary spare part like Prust would turn into such a valuable member of the Rangers?

Last March, how people in Philadelphia wondered why GM Paul Holmgren traded for a guy like Ville Leino who had just nine goals and seven assists in 66 games with Detroit. He didn’t exactly light the NHL on fire in his 13 regular season games with Flyers – registering two goals and two assists.

Leino proceeded to start the playoffs as a healthy scratch, but once injuries to Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne opened the door, the Finnish native teamed with Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell to help lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. His 20 points (11 goals and nine assists) in 19 games tied the rookie playoff scoring record originally set by Dino Ciccarelli in 1981.

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Whoever came up with the term “fans are fickle” really hit the nail on the head. To experience the most recent example one only needs to read some of the Rangers beat writers’ blogs.

A year ago, Michael Del Zotto was the next best thing since sliced bread as the rookie made an impact on the Blueshirts. His sophomore season, not so much. Del Zotto might just be the poster boy for the dreaded “sophomore jinx”. You can probably split the reason for his struggles three ways: the NHL has done their homework on him, Del Zotto did not do his homework and step up his game, and Coach John Tortorella’s mixed signals have all contributed to the defensive’s woes this season.

On the opposite side, during the summer some Rangers fans were ready to tar and feather Steve Eminger before he ever laced on skates as a Ranger. Now, the 27-year-old stands as the “old man” of the blueliners and fans were ripping Tortorella for benching him for five consecutive games and are now questioning the coach’s reason for reinserting Del Zotto against the Los Angeles Kings.

Thankfully, owners do not let fans run teams because management would have to install a revolving door in the locker room to accommodate all of the changes – present company included.

As such, acquiring a defenseman seems to have replaced snaring Brad Richards as the fans number one deadline target. The luster has come off Richards for a variety of reasons. Fans might be realizing the Dallas Stars were not going to give him away. The Stars are in the midst of a tight playoff race in the Western Conference. His recent injury, an “upper body injury” (code for concussion), will see him miss at least a week of action. The final reason is fans are slowly realizing that he will be available in the off-season as an UFA. If the rangers do target him, it will hasten the end to Chris Drury’s career as a Ranger – which will make the majority of fans very happy.

With the focus centering on a defenseman (pun intended), the Rangers find themselves in a precarious position. President/GM Glen Sather has gone on record, for whatever that is worth, as saying he will not move any of his top prospects at the trade deadline. Unless someone makes him an offer he can’t refuse, this might be the smartest thing Sather has ever said in his tenure in New York.

The hardest thing to read is the current market for defensemen. As things stand now, each Conference has about a dozen teams fighting for eight playoff spots – and that does not include the hard charging New Jersey Devils in the East or the St. Louis Blues in the West. While the Blues are nine points behind eighth place Calgary, they do have a whopping five games in hand.

With so few teams ready to waive the white flag on the season, it should be a seller’s market. At the top of the buyer’s list has to be Vancouver. While the Canucks lead the NHL in points, they also lead the NHL in walking wounded when it comes to defensemen where they have five of their top d-men either on the injured list or out indefinitely.

Ideally, any trade the Rangers make should not include any top prospects, but it should be for a player who will be a RFA at the end of the year or does not carry a big price tag for next season.

The biggest prize that fits that bill is Tomas Kaberle. However, Lyle Richardson, aka Spector, writes that Darren Dreger of TSN is reporting the Toronto Maple Leafs are close to making yet another deal with the Boston Bruins.

Steve Zipay of Newsday came up with a list of UFA or reasonably priced d-men, but are Jan Hejda, Kurtis Foster, Brett Lebda or Jim Vandermeer really an improvement over what the Rangers have now? Two other names he mentioned, Brent Sopel (Atlanta) and Ruslan Salei (Detroit) are players whose teams are in the playoff mix.

Foster appears to intrigue the most people because he does have a big-time shot from the point and has only one year remaining at $1.8 million. Zipay points out that Foster could take Matt Gilroy’s salary slot next season. Quite frankly, I’d rather have Gilroy than Foster whose big shot does not make up for deficiencies in the defensive zone.

The one player Zipay did mention would garner much interest from the Rangers and the rest of the NHL. However, Bryan McCabe’s health status is in question. The Florida rearguard underwent facial surgery in mid-January and was expected to be out four-to-six weeks. It is difficult to judge just how effective, or healthy, McCabe will be during the final weeks of the season.

The situation is further complicated because the Panthers are seven points out of the eighth spot and have two games in hand on Carolina. As a result, Florida might not be willing to move McCabe on the cheap.

One other name that appeared this morning was offered by Larry Brooks of the NY Post. Brooks offered up Ottawa’s Filip Kuba as a solution to the Rangers. While it has been five years since Kuba’s career season (81-15-22-37), he is no stranger to Tortorella who coached him in his two seasons in Tampa Bay.

The Rangers need to stay away from Kuba for two reasons. First off, he played just 53 games last year due to injuries and missed 16 games with a broken leg this season.

The injuries could be overlooked, but the fact that he has one more year left on his contract at $3.7 million makes acquiring him a non-issue, even if Ottawa dealt him at a reduced rate.

Sather’s best strategy at the trade deadline would be to look to make an “under-the-radar” type move. Last season, no one would have expected Brandon Prust would be the best part of the deal with the Calgary Flames.

Even trading Michal Rozsival for Wojtech Wolski qualifies because it reduced the Rangers salary cap hit and set the Rangers up to eliminate more salary, at a reasonable rate, if they decide to buy out Wolski at the end of the season.

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