The current and, more importantly, future salary cap implications should dictate how the Rangers proceed as they approach the February 27, 2012 NHL trade deadline.

According to CapGeek.com , as of February 21, 2012, the Rangers have about $6.0 million in cap space. However, Cap Geek points out that if the Rangers were to wait until February 27, then their cap space rises to about $6.9 million.

Here is how Cap Geek explains their calculations:
… if a team is listed with $10 million today and $25 million at the deadline, it could acquire Alexander Ovechkin’s $9.538-million cap hit today and not much more. But if it waited until the trade deadline, it could acquire Ovechkin, as well as Alexandre Semin ($6.7 million cap hit), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7 million) and Mike Knuble ($2 million), because the sum of those annualized cap hits ($24.938 million) is less than $25 million.

Unless Columbus GM Scott Howson presents Rick Nash to the Blueshirts on a silver platter, the Rangers best course of action is to look to add players who have expiring contracts. Not only do they bypass any future salary cap implications, the cost for rental players could be less than the cost for someone like Nash.

The 2011/2012 Rangers are a different animal than the 1993/94 Blueshirts. The 1994 Rangers were, hands down, the best team in the NHL at the deadline while the 2012 team is not – no matter what the standings might say.

Even if you wanted to argue that point, there is one thing that can’t be argued. In 1994, Smith did not have to contend with a salary cap – something that Sather must be concerned with in 2012 and beyond.

The problem with trying to sort out the buyers and sellers is that 11 points separate the 15th place team (Carolina) and the 8th place team (Toronto) in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, only Edmonton (15 points out of a playoff spot) and Columbus (25 points) can be considered out of the playoff hunt with Anaheim eight points out.

With so many teams still envisioning themselves as playoff contenders, it is a sellers’ market – thus potentially driving up the price on the type of complementary players the Rangers would be looking to acquire.

Setting aside Nash, the two players who seem to draw the most interest from Ranger fans are Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth. Both are solid players who would fit well in the Rangers – both on the ice and off. Both players will be UFA at the end of the season so there is no salary cap concerns beyond this year and both players would fit under this year’s cap: Smyth’s full-season salary is $6.25 million and Doan’s is 4.5 million.

The problem with both players is they each have no-trade clauses and want to remain with their teams. Doan, the Coyotes’ captain, has spent his entire career with the Phoenix/Winnipeg organization. Smyth, who has played with four different teams since the start of the 2006/2007 season, has indicated a willingness to remain in his native Alberta.

The one ace up the Rangers sleeve is that Glen Sather was the Edmonton GM when the Oilers made the 6th overall draft pick in the 1994 NHL Draft. The Sather connection and a desire to win a Stanley Cup might be enough for Smyth to head to New York for the 2nd time in his career. Interestingly enough, the Islanders acquired Smyth from Edmonton on February 27, 2007 (in exchange for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Meara and 1st round draft pick) – so history could repeat itself.

If Doan or Smythe prove to be outside of the Rangers reach, here is a brief list of names to keep your eye as the deadline nears, with their full-season cap hit listed.

BRAD BOYES ($4.0 million) – After posting 43 goals in 2007/2008 and 33 goals in 2008/2009, the RW/C has been a major disappointment scoring just 32 goals in the last 2 ½ years. Boyes will be an UFA at the end of the year and should be available for a relatively cheap price. Ranger scouts would have to really look hard to see if the 29-year-old has anything left in the tank.

JAROME IGINLA ($7.0 million) – The Flames captain is in the same boat as Doan and Smyth in terms of wanting to stay with his team. The major differences is that Iginla doesn’t become an UFA until after 2012/2013 so the Rangers would have to build his salary into their cap for next year and Calgary is the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. The 34-year-old is on pace for his 11th consecutive 30-goal season.

VINNY PROSPAL ($2.6 million) – The former Ranger just signed a contract extension so it is tough to read what Columbus is thinking. With them shopping both Nash and Jeff Carter, are the Blue Jackets looking to Prospal as a bridge to a new group of prospects or do they believe they can get more for him if he is signed for one more year. The advantage is that Prospal knows Tortorella and the team and would easily slide on to the first line with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik – allowing the Rangers to move Artem Anisimov to the second or third lines.

TUOMO RUUTU ($3.8 million) – Ruutu is on the wish list of some Ranger fans because he has, as Torts would say, “jam” to his game. Ruutu might not solve their goal scoring problems, but he would bring a “Sean Avery intensity” to the Blueshirts with a little more scoring. However, he does have one more year left on his contract and has had issues with injuries during the last couple of years. In fact, he is expected to be out at least three weeks with the dreaded “upper body injury”.

TEEMU SELANNE ($4.0 million) – I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the thought of the 41-year-old Selanne in a Rangers uniform. Just remember this, he would be third on the team in goals (19) and first in assists (33) and points (52) were he a Ranger now. Anaheim GM Bob Murray listed Selanne and Saku Koivu as untouchable as far as trades go. Then again he had to because both have no-trade clauses. Granted, Selanne is not the same “Finnish Rocket” he was in his prime and might struggle to score in the Rangers system, he still would add much needed offense – especially on the power play. Selanne is one PPG away from hitting double figures in six of his last seven seasons. The one year he didn’t score 10+ PPG was in 2007-2008 and he did score 7 in 26 games after he re-signed with Anaheim in January 2008.

If the Rangers are willing to look at a player who has a couple of years left on his contract, they might want to head down to Tortorella’s old stomping grounds in Tampa Bay and kick the tires on Martin St. Louis.

The 36-year-old winger has three more years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.6 million. Since he signed his current deal as 35+ player, the Rangers could not get salary relief by sending him to the AHL. Given his production during the last few years, that might not be a problem.

St. Louis is on pace for 76 points and will represent the sixth consecutive season he has scored 76+points. He is also on pace for 26 goals and that would make it 11 consecutive seasons of 25+ goals.

Prior to this season and since becoming a regular with Tampa Bay during the 2000/2001 season, St. Louis has played 80+ games every season except two. In 2001/2002 he missed 26 games with a broken leg and he had his consecutive game streak broken this year at 499 when he suffered a facial injury near his left eye during Tampa Bay’s game day skate prior to their December 8, 2011 game against the Rangers.

Not only would the Rangers benefit from St. Louis’s speed and playmaking ability, he would give the Rangers another option killing penalties. Since he is well versed in all things Tortorella, he should be able to make a smooth transition to the Rangers – helped by fellow Lightning Stanley Cup teammates Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko.

His biggest contribution would be a much-needed veteran influence/playoff proven player. In 63 career playoff games, St. Louis has 68 points (33 goals and 35assists) – including 20 points (in 18 games) last year and 24 points (in 23 games) while winning the Cup in 2004.

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