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Hartnett: GM Gorton Needs To Put Stamp On Rangers At Trade Deadline

By Sean Hartnett
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Ahead of Monday's trade deadline, the Rangers will be active, but the question is how active?

The Blueshirts have typically been big game hunters this time of year, acquiring Derick Brassard, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle in consecutive springs.

Win-now was the mantra of former general manager Glen Sather and each of the aforementioned trades were game-changers, with Brassard and the now-retired St. Louis supplying clutch heroics and Yandle filling the persisting void of power play quarterback.

Jeff Gorton has been handed the keys from Sather. It's his turn to make the big calls. As long as Henrik Lundqvist is standing between the pipes, the Rangers stand every chance of making a run at Lord Stanley. Their mission is simple: get "King Henrik" his overdue parade down The Canyon of Heroes before his window to win closes.

Here's a look where the Rangers stand position by position ahead of Monday's 3 p.m. trade deadline:

FORWARDS -- The big question here is the health of star Rick Nash. A deep left leg bone bruise is causing pain and keeping him from skating. Missing from the lineup since Jan. 24, the Rangers could take advantage of a cap salary cap loophole employed by the Chicago Blackhawks last season when Patrick Kane suffered a broken left collarbone. Chicago placed Kane on long-term injured reserve and used the freed-up cap room to acquire Antoine Vermette days before the trade deadline. Vermette was difference-maker for the champion 'Hawks, scoring three game-winning goals and serving as a faceoff expert.

If the Rangers are able to place Nash on the LTIR for the remainder of the regular season, it would open up about $3.25 million in additional cap space. In that scenario, Nash would be able to rejoin the Rangers for the first game of the playoffs as the salary cap disappears during the postseason.

Ideally, the Rangers would like to add a forward who can fill two needs -- as a scorer and a penalty killer. The loss of Carl Hagelin has loomed large as the Blueshirts miss his penalty-killing expertise and tormenting speed. Seeing Hagelin excelling in a rival Pittsburgh Penguins uniform has annoyed the Garden faithful.

The fourth line has been a long-standing issue for the Rangers since the effective trio of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett was broken up following the Rangers' run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Only Moore remains and continues to demonstrate excellent instincts and raises his game under the playoff spotlight. Rugged-yet-polarizing winger Tanner Glass has garnered scorn from segments of the fan base, but is a player Alain Vigneault absolutely trusts and to his credit has improved in his second season in New York.

Rookie winger Marek Hrivik has performed well in a small sample, offering speed and penalty-killing prowess. At this point, it's hard to tell if the 24-year-old is a short-term fix or if the Rangers view him as part of the present solution.

The asking price for Andrew Ladd is probably going to be too high for the Rangers. Expensive center Eric Staal is more likely to become an Islander than a Ranger by 3 p.m. Monday. Jamie McGinn is a high-energy, two-way player who might be on the Rangers' radar. Scoring winger Jiri Hudler would be an interesting top-six rental if the Rangers can pull it off. He can play either wing. Same goes for Teddy Purcell, who is putting up solid numbers in Edmonton.

If the Rangers want to do something drastic, an interesting trade target would be Cam Atkinson, but his high-end talent and cap-friendly $3.5 million AAV mean it would take a huge package to pry him from Columbus.

DEFENSEMEN -- It would be surprising to see Gorton overhaul a blue line that came within a period of reaching back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals last May. Yandle's name has cropped up in trade rumors throughout the spring, but there appears to be little substance to the speculation. Although he is a pending unrestricted free agent, the offense-generating defenseman is far too valuable to the Rangers' power play to deal away.

Like them or loathe them, the Rangers are prepared to sink or swim with experienced Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Girardi has raised his game of late and the Blueshirts need Staal to return to his shutdown best.

Rookies Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei are on the path to becoming future mainstays. McIlrath has mostly been limited to a part-time role, but that could change given 39-year-old Dan Boyle's decline. Skjei compares favorably to a young Ryan McDonagh and should be totally off limits in trade discussions. Both are capable of stepping in and offering dependable play now if the veterans struggle.

GOALTENDING -- After a jittery performance against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 12, backup Antti Raanta rebounded to earn a confident win over Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 18. Like Cam Talbot before him, Raanta is capable of competing for a starting role on lower-echelon teams. He's an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

CONCLUSION -- It will be interesting to see how aggressive Gorton gets as the deadline ticks closer. While serving as interim GM in Boston, he pulled off a number of key acquisitions that helped pave the way for the Bruins. Gorton was responsible for landing Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Marc Savard and Phil Kessel. He now has his chance to put his stamp on the Rangers.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey

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