- Craig Custance
The Pittsburgh Penguins struck first in the coming Eastern Conference arms race. In a tight trade market in which asking prices are sky-high, they managed to add a veteran forward with grit, leadership and playoff experience in Brenden Morrow. And they did it during a time when the sellers are hard to find because of the tight standings. Tip your hat to Ray Shero.
"Iginla would look real good in that spot," said one longtime NHL scout on Sunday afternoon. "Iginla plays like a Boston Bruin, there's no doubt about that."
And then there's the third team once considered the class of the Eastern Conference: the New York Rangers.
They battled back from a two-goal deficit to earn a point against the streaking Washington Capitals on Sunday and got a spark with the return of Arron Asham, but still couldn't earn the win. It was New York's fifth loss in seven games, not the direction a Stanley Cup contender wants to be heading as the final month of the regular season approaches.
The diagnosis of their problems and the identification of their needs vary depending on who you talk to. About everyone agrees they need a right-handed shot, top-four defenseman. So does half the league.
The difference is that half the league isn't in the middle of a Stanley Cup window that comes with a ticking clock. New York's Cup-winning coach, John Tortorella, is one with a shelf life that may be nearing its expiration. Their franchise goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, has one year remaining on his contract following this season. Guys such as Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan are about to get huge raises at a time when the salary cap is shrinking, which usually means tough decisions somewhere else in the lineup. Their franchise center, Brad Richards, is showing signs of rapid decline.
"He's not playing well," said an Eastern Conference scout. "His legs have left him."
So as the Penguins and presumably the Bruins ramp up for a Stanley Cup run with the deadline closing in, it's crucial that the Rangers' front office make the right decisions moving forward.
And those solutions could come on multiple fronts.
The Rangers were supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders and instead they're sputtering out of the playoff race. As the trade deadline approaches, Craig Custance examines some of the key options available to them.