The New York Rangers are in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 1993-94 championship season. That season the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in seven games over the Vancouver Canucks in one of the most memorable finals ever played.
With fewer than 20 games remaining before the playoffs, New York is three points clear of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have allowed the fewest goals in the league thanks to Vezina candidate Henrik Lundquist, backup Martin Biron and a solid youthful defensive corps.
Ranger faithful are undoubtedly hoping that this year's squad can repeat history. But is Rangers General Manager Glen Sather looking around for one last piece to help push his team over the top? Perhaps a top six forward?
Here are some of the rumors swirling around the team as the Feb. 27 trade deadline nears.
Carolina's Tuomo Rutuu is being bandied about as the best available piece at forward on the trade market, but the Rangers aren't likely to make a deal for that kind of player. He lacks the kind of pizazz and star power that is required of a Rangers acquisition.
A far more appealing option, at least for star power, is Edmonton's Ryan Smyth. The 35-year-old Smyth is certainly not the 60-70 point player he once was, but he has potted 16 goals and 36 points with the Oilers this year.
Those totals would place him second on the team for the Rangers, two points ahead of $60 million man Brad Richards, who has been offensively challenged at points this season.
Smyth would bring the Rangers another veteran presence with plenty of playoff experience. Smyth has played in 93 playoff games over the course of his career and though he doesn't have a Stanley Cup title, he has played in the finals as a member of the 2005 Oilers.
There are a few issues that may prevent the Rangers from making a deal for Smyth, however. First, he has a no-trade clause. It seems likely that the veteran would waive that for an opportunity to join a legitimate cup contender for one more run, but it could be an obstacle.
The other hurdle would be Smyth's $6.25 million cap hit. The Rangers would have to give up at least $2 million in salary to make the deal work.
NHL bad boy and frequent resident in John Tortorella's doghouse, Sean Avery, could be an option as he fits the salary requirement, but he has little value to the Oilers.
The deal could be sweetened by the addition of Tim Erixon, or Dylan McIlrath as the Oilers are desperate for a talented young blue liner. New York certainly can oblige if they choose to. Not including Erixon or McIlrath, who are in the AHL, the Rangers have eight defensemen on the NHL squad under the age of 28.
So there are assets to be moved if the Rangers decide to pull the trigger on something like this. It will be a delicate balance if the Rangers decide to make a move as Sather will likely not want to upset the Rangers chemistry too much.
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