With the NHL trade deadline just a day away, the rumor mill is heating up as teams start jockeying for positioning to make that one trade that will put them over the top or signal the start of a rebuilding process.

Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero already laid waste to the NHL trade market with his pre-deadline deals that brought in the likes of Brendan Morrow, Doug Murray and Jarome Iginla. While Shero says he is done, his salary cap situation says otherwise. According to CapGeek, the Penguins have the ability to add $18 million in annual average salary to their payroll.

The Penguins have gone all in because all three of their acquisitions are UFAs and they might be facing a closing window of opportunity come the end of next season when Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Chris Kunitz become UFAs and Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter become RFAs.

Conversely, the New York Rangers have the ability to add about $6.8 million in annual average salary come the deadline. Unlike the Penguins who were adding to a powerhouse team, the Rangers have one-third the cap space to try and right a team that is fighting for their playoff lives.

Faced with a dropping salary cap come next season, and a disinclination to trade away any of their prized prospects, the Blueshirts do not expect too active at the trade deadline. Rather than the splashy headlines they made in 1994 on their way to the Stanley Cup, the best the Rangers can expect to do is tinker a little bit – reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic if you will.

The Rangers and San Jose Sharks have spent a lot of time scouting each other. From all indications, the Blueshirts focus was on Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe. While the Rangers could probably make Boyle’s contract work for this season, they would not be able to fit his $6.67 million contract next year unless Marian Gaborik headed west.

In addition to the salary concern, Boyle has a limited no-trade clause and the Rangers could be one of eight teams on his veto list.

Clowe fits well within Coach John Tortorella’s style and would bring some of that “jam” that Torts is always harping on. Clowe is an UFA at the end of the season so the Rangers would only have to accommodate his prorated $3.6 million contract for this season. Clowe would not be the direct answer to the Rangers offensive woes. For those answers, you need the likes of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards to start earning their big-time salaries.

Rather, Clowe helps add a physical aspect that the Rangers lost when they dealt away Brandon Dubinsky and let Brandon Prust leave as an UFA – both moves which were the right moves. The problem is Glen Sather never adequately replaced those two players and a player like Artem Anisimov. The 6-foot-2 and 225 pound Clowe has not scored a goal this season, but the Rangers are looking for him to create some space for the Blueshirt snipers to operate.

San Jose President/GM Doug Wilson explained the Clowe situation from the Sharks perspective.

“He’s one of these guys that’s feared and respected, he’s tough as nails, he can play the game, he’s a great teammate, and he’s a pending unrestricted free agent,” Wilson told The Associated Press.

“As a player and a teammate, teammates know he has their back and he’s just a tremendous heart-and-soul competitor.”

Apparently because of his no-trade clause, Clowe’s choices came down to the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Kevin Allen of USA Today spoke to Vancouver GM Mike Gillis who told him, “It seemed like geography was a (determining) factor.”

Allen then added his own take – “According to Gillis, Clowe liked the Vancouver situation, but preferred to move to the Eastern Conference team.

Setting aside all talk of no-trade and no-movement clauses, the Rangers have made it clear they are loathed to move the likes of Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller in trades and it is doubtful they would give up Dylan McIlrath or Brady Skjei before either blueliner had a chance to play for the Rangers.

Salary cap concerns and an unwillingness to move their top prospects are not the only restriction the Rangers face in making a deadline deal. Teams are always on the lookout for draft picks (especially first and second round picks) – and the Rangers have a problem there as well with their own first round draft pick belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets as a result of the Rick Nash deal.

The Clowe deal has robbed the Rangers of some of their 2013 assets – their own 2nd round pick and a 3rd round pick they acquired from Florida. They may also face losing a 2nd round pick in 2014 if Clowe re-signs with the Rangers or if the team reaches the Eastern Conference Finals.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC says the Rangers are among the teams showing a lot of interest in Curtis Glencross. The LW would be a good fit in Tortorella’s system as he would bring some speed, a physical aspect and two-way play. He can play on the power play, penalty kill, as well as skate a regular turn as a top 6-9 forward. He has scored 20+ goals the last two years, but does have bouts of inconsistency (see, he IS a perfect Ranger).

There are a couple of roadblocks. Other teams might be more willing to “go all in” as compared to the Rangers. Glencross does have a no-movement clause so he would to approve any deal to New York. Also, he has one more year on his contract at $2.55 million before he becomes an UFA. The salary isn’t that unreasonable, but with the cap dropping $6 million next season the Rangers would have to move some pieces before next season.
With the Rangers having limited resources, it might behoove them to concentrate their deadline conversations to strengthening their blue line.

The Rangers have options at forward if they decide to turn Kreider and Miller loose, with Jesper Fast (who practiced with the team on Tuesday) here and Oscar Lindberg potentially looming on the horizon.

The team cannot afford to rely on Marc Staal’s return this season. They need to proceed as if he is out for the rest of the year. If he ends up being ready to play this year then it will be an unexpected bonus.

The big problem is that defensemen are to the NHL what reliable pitching is to Major League Baseball teams – a wanted commodity that is not easy to acquire.

The Rangers could look to the waiver-wire for a cheap (and quick) fix and claim d-man Kurtis Foster who was placed on waivers after Philadelphia acquired Kent Huskins from Detroit after the Red Wings signed collegiate free agent Danny DeKeyser. Got it?

Foster’s defensive ability will not make anyone forget Rod Langway, but his big and booming shot from the point could help the Rangers floundering power play. If Tortorella is only going to give Roman Hamrlik five minutes of ice time, then Foster could get those minutes as a power play specialist.

Cam Barker (Vancouver) and Steve Montador (Chicago) were also waived by their teams. Montador has been out all season with a concussion and, according to The Hockey News, cleared waivers and was assigned to Rockford of the AHL. I was a big Barker fan during his draft year, but he has not lived up to his hype and might not survive the Tortorella “death stare” the first time he missed an assignment that led to a goal against.

One other name to watch is Ryan O’Byrne of Colorado. The 6-foot-5 and 234 pound O’Byrne is a right-handed shooting d-man with a very limited offensive game. However, he does use his size well and is not afraid to drop the gloves if necessary. He is making $1.8 million and is set to be an UFA at the end of the season.

The only problem with O’Byrne is that the Rangers already have three right shooters on the blue line and could really use a lefty shooter to replace Hamrlik in the lineup.

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