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.

Add to Yahoo Add to Google Furl this Add to Spurl Save to Del.icio.us Digg IT! Live Bookmarks! Blogmarks