As the Rangers approach the February 27, 2012 NHL Trade Deadline (3pm EST) they must consider a couple of factors when determining their course of action.

Obviously, the conversation begins with the current salary cap situation, as well as future salary caps once the new CBA is completed. The NHL will be heading into unchartered territory that might not provide for amnesty buyouts like the previous lockout (See: Bobby Holik) and the new CBA might not be so forgiving in terms of burying salaries (and thus creating cap space) in the AHL (See: Wade Redden).

While the conversation begins with salary cap concerns, it does not end there. The Rangers are in a Catch-22 situation of deciding whether to go all-in and make a blockbuster move to acquire Rick Nash or do they stay the course and look to make a couple of smaller moves to supplement the Eastern Conference’s top team.

The biggest factor in this discussion revolves around which prospects, if any, the team would be willing to trade. After much trial and error, president/GM Glen Sather has resisted the urge to mortgage the future for short term gains.

Granted, acquiring Nash would be more than just a short term gain given that the Blue Jackets captain will not turn 28 until right around the time the Stanley Cup is awarded. However, the $7.8 million cap hit that Nash carries through the end of the 2014/2015 season does factor into the Blueshirts future.

Ryan McDonagh is a RFA at the end of the 2012/2013 season and Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Daniel Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist are UFA the following season with Marc Staal’s contract up following the 2014/2015 season.

Even if the Rangers are willing to cross the salary cap Rubicon at a later date, the question becomes what do the Rangers give up for a player the caliber of Nash.

In almost all of the stories being written, Brandon Dubinsky’s name is often mentioned. While Dubi is a nice two-way player, Nash would be a major upgrade. Is Nash enough of an upgrade for the Blueshirts to include their 2012 first round draft pick? Given the depth of the Rangers organization and that the pick could be at the bottom of the first round, trading away a first rounder short not be a problem.

The biggest problem becomes do you include Chris Kreider in the deal. That is where Sather needs to draw the line. Kreider has the potential eventually to give you close to what Nash does and at a fraction of the cost.

If Columbus GM Scott Howson is going to blow up his franchise then he needs to swing for the fences and I do not believe the Rangers should play that game. If you could make the deal for Dubinsky, a first round draft pick and let’s say a J.T. Miller, then I would have to think long and hard about it.

For Howson, the problem with trading Nash at this point in the season is that a trade partner has to have salary cap space available or can easily create cap space. These types are trades are easier to make in the off-season when teams have expiring contracts, a mindset of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic, and the cushion that allows teams to exceed the cap by 10%.

In addition, I value Dylan McIlrath almost as much as Kreider. While the Blueshirts defense corps is deep and talented, it lacks the physical presence and size that McIlrath brings.

Even if we push aside the salary cap quandary and the players/prospects decision, there is still one final factor to consider. Do the Rangers want to make a major move that would disturb team chemistry? Of all the trade factors to consider, this one might be the biggest and most difficult to judge.

Coach John Tortorella has built the Rangers along the idea of a true team concept with no one player more important than the other – except in the case of Henrik Lundqvist for obvious reasons.

On February 11, Daily News write Pat Leonard wrote, “GM Glen Sather is not expected to break the bank since the Rangers appear built for long-term success with a solid core, great goaltending and youth. This also is a tight locker room, so a trade that risks the team’s chemistry probably isn’t worth it to management.”

Leonard’s point is a valid one and it is one made by many Ranger fans. However, would a trade, or even two, really disrupt chemistry all that much?

In 1994, GM Neil Smith made the following five trades on deadline day.

• Phil Bourque traded from NY Rangers to Ottawa for future considerations.
• Peter Andersson traded from NY Rangers to Florida for future considerations.
• Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates traded from NY Rangers to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
• Mike Gartner traded from NY Rangers to Toronto for Glenn Anderson, the rights to Scott Malone and Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 1994 Entry Draft.
• Craig MacTavish traded from Edmonton to NY Rangers for Todd Marchant.

While the first deals were more housekeeping than anything else, the remaining three trades involved significant players coming and going and represented a big gamble and restructuring of a team that was a major Stanley Cup contender – without seeming to do any harm to that team’s chemistry.

Would the Rangers have won the Cup without making those trades? We will never know, but the one thing we are certain of is that Smith’s gamble paid off in 1994.

Of course, the current team is very different from the 1993/1994 team. The Cup team was led by Mark Messier and contained enough veteran leadership to overcome any chemistry issues. This team is a lot younger and more inexperienced when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoff wars.

The Rangers have already gone down the rent-a-Cup path in 1994 with Smith gambling and dealing away younger talent for veteran/battle-tested players. The Rangers won the battle (i.e. the Stanley Cup), but it can also be said that they lost the war because of the infusion of young talent that was dealt.

The one thing to recognize is that Smith brought in role players to supplement his star players where Sather would be bringing in a star player, to more or less, supplement his role players.

Some have suggested passing on Nash completely with the hopes of signing UFA Zach Parise during the summer. I have heard this idea many times – skip on getting Player A via a trade or free agency because Player B will be a free agent next year. Inevitably, Player B doesn’t become a free agent. While this strategy would alleviate some of the concerns of the new CBA, it is a risky strategy because what happens if Parise is not on the market.

Of course being a cynical Ranger fan (yes, I know that is redundant), what happens if you do sign Parise? The Rangers have not had the greatest track when it comes to signing former New Jersey Devils (See: Bruce Driver, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez).

In the end, I believe the only way the Rangers should bring Rick Nash aboard is if Scott Howson makes Glen Sather an offer he can’t refuse – and any offer that includes Chris Kreider and Dylan McIlrath can be refused.

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