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Hartnett: I'm Ready To Crown Penguins; Rangers Must Hold On To Best Assets At Deadline

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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The Pittsburgh Penguins pushed their chips across the table and have gone "all in" by adding former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla to an already loaded roster primed for a Stanley Cup run.

It was only hours earlier that Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli thought he had Iginla signed, sealed, delivered and ready to pull on the famous "Original Six" black and gold sweater of the Bruins.  TSN analyst Aaron Ward announced that the Bruins had traded prospects Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski and a conditional first-round draft pick to acquire Iginla – and that it was a done deal.

That wasn't the case.  It turns out that Iginla will be pulling on a very different black and gold jersey after the Flames allowed him to choose his destination.  Iginla is joining up with superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the Steel City after Penguins general manager Ray Shero completed a deal that sends prospects Ben Hanowski, Ken Agostino and a 2013 first-round draft pick to the Flames for their iconic captain.

Days earlier, Shero added the toughness and grit of former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and the physicality of penalty-killing expertise of giant defenseman Douglas Murray to the Penguins' stacked roster.

You might as well call Pittsburgh "Steal City" – because the Penguins are snatching away talent across the league to assemble a fearsome lineup. Shero has gotten ahead of the market by pulling off three trades that have solidified the Penguins' Stanley Cup ambitions and will leave rival GMs scrambling.

That said, it's up to New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather to tread carefully when examining the trade market.

Rangers Can't Be Foolish At Trade Deadline; Sather Must Protect The Future

We're six days from the April 3 deadline and Rangers fans are clamoring for Sather to upgrade the Blueshirts.  Whether it's any combination of San Jose Sharks stars in Ryane Clowe and/or Dan Boyle, Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ian White, or Phoenix Coyotes offensive-defenseman Keith Yandle, Rangers fans are desperate for change.

Barring an unforeseen blockbuster deal, J.T. Miller, Michael Del Zotto and Chris Kreider should be limits.  Considering the amount of young talent already playing at the NHL level, there's not a whole lot of depth in the Rangers' organization.  6-foot-5 Connecticut Whale defenseman Dylan McIlrath remains the most attractive trade chip in the Rangers' system.

Compounding the Rangers' lack of muscle at the trade deadline is the fact they're without a 2013 first-round draft pick after dealing it away for Rick Nash.

Keeping Hold Of Del Zotto, Miller And Kreider Is Paramount

Sather can't afford to panic by making a reactionary move.  He must stand firm and not cave to the pressure of letting go of a Del Zotto, Miller or Kreider to bring a puck-moving, hard-shooting offensive-minded defenseman to Madison Square Garden.

Del Zotto, Kreider and Miller are going to be key members of the Rangers for years to come. Breaking up this group would cause a dire effect on the future of the Blueshirts.  Now is not the time for Sather to sacrifice the future to give the Rangers' slim Stanley Cup chances only a marginal upgrade.

Rangers fans don't want to hear this, but New York stands no chance of competing with the Penguins or Bruins without shutdown defenseman Marc Staal available -- and with high-earning stars Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik performing far below their level.

Richards has a no-movement clause and his "lost season" has made him virtually untradeable, and Gaborik has a no-trade clause.  Considering the drop-off in Gaborik's value, this isn't an ideal time for the Rangers to move him.  There's a better chance of Gaborik being dealt in the summer.

I'm fully expecting both Richards and Gaborik to remain Rangers beyond the trade deadline.  The only way the Rangers are getting rid of Richards would be this summer when they're allowed to exercise an amnesty buyout.

As for players who could be gone by the deadline, I expect the Rangers to float fading forward Brian Boyle and streaky defenseman Anton Stralman in discussions leading up to the deadline and perhaps entertain the possibility of sending summer acquisition Taylor Pyatt to a Western Conference team looking for a depth winger.

The Rangers' focus must be about the big picture and not 2013.  Their best plan is to make a couple of ancillary changes to their roster at the trade deadline, cross their fingers that somehow Gaborik and Richards find their games before the playoffs and hope that Henrik Lundqvist plays near-perfect between the pipes.

Will This Season Be Brad Richards' Last As A Ranger?

If I'm in Glen Sather's shoes, I'm riding this season out – then I'm buying out Richards and replacing him with Washington Capitals unrestricted free agent-to-be Mike Ribeiro this summer.  Ribeiro's situation is complicated.  There's a chance the Capitals meet his demands for a long-term deal, but an even greater chance that Washington trades him before April 3.

Should Ribeiro become available at the trade deadline, he's going to be a rent-a-player -- then he'll look for big bucks in free agency.  His summer landing spot could very well be New York.  After years of mediocrity in Dallas and disappointing times in Washington, Ribeiro desperately wants to part of a contending team.  If the Rangers want to free themselves of Richards, he'll be an ideal upgrade.  Ribeiro is in the midst of a 35-point season in 33 games for the Caps.  He's spoken openly about a desire to receive a five-year contract.  Five years of Ribeiro would be wiser than the Rangers keeping their word on the seven years they owe a diminished Richards.

Is it more important for the Rangers to make a big splash at the trade deadline or to keep their best young talent? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.

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