Which brings us back to the Rangers, who are nudging Pittsburgh and Boston as the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference but have two key figures who could become unrestricted free agents in July: team captain Ryan Callahan, and defenseman Dan Girardi. Both would command hefty returns if they're dealt, yet the absence of one or both would create significant holes in the Rangers lineup, if that's the way GM Glen Sather decides to go. It looked like Girardi would be more likely to sign an extension with the Rangers, but right now neither player is close to such a deal. Delicate, interesting times on Broadway, that's for sure.
New York Islanders
Ah, the lovable Islanders. Remember April 2013, when they were the team on the rise, about to take advantage of their tremendous potential after pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins to a sixth game in the opening round of the playoffs? Today, it's just another fire sale for the franchise that travels only in ever-diminishing circles. Whether this is GM Garth Snow's last kick at the can with the beleaguered franchise is moot, because these next few days will say much about Snow's legacy on Long Island. Having overspent to acquire Thomas Vanek from Buffalo earlier in the season (a first- and a second-round pick and Matt Moulson), Snow has to deal Vanek to try to recoup some of those assets as the Isles languish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Vanek represents the top-end offensive player on the market, but can Snow close a deal that includes a first-round pick and some sort of draft pick/prospect package?
There's also defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who also will have considerable value, given the scarcity of defensemen available at the deadline. Boston is looking for defensive depth, as are the Anaheim Ducks and a handful of other teams. The Islanders have never addressed their goaltending issues and depth on the blue line, so this is where Snow goes after plugging those holes. Or not.
It's always a bit of a dilemma for a GM of a top-end team that has lots of good young players looking for a bite of the NHL apple, especially if you're the defending Stanley Cup champions. Last year, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman tinkered, adding Michal Handzus before the deadline to help his depth down the middle, but still allowed young players Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad to play roles during the Cup run. There are still questions about the depth down the middle, and whether Antti Raanta is ready to handle being the playoff backup to Corey Crawford. Crawford was consistently good for the Blackhawks as they won the Cup for the second time in four years, but there was always a comfort level knowing Ray Emery was the backup.
Is there the same kind of comfort with Raanta, who is playing in his first NHL season? Or does Bowman explore the option of adding a backup with NHL experience, someone such as Martin Brodeur, who seems open to a move from New Jersey, Tim Thomas or one of the three goalies with the Carolina Hurricanes?