The winds of change are blowing through an underachieving team.
With the April 3 trade deadline looming, the front office isn't waiting until then to attempt to right an unsteady ship.
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First came the long-awaited recall of rookie Chris Kreider and the demotion of Micheal Haley on Wednesday.
That wasn't necessarily sending a message, but was a move to inject some pop into the Rangers who are ranked 29th in the NHL with 2.27 goals per game and on the playoff bubble with just 18 games left in the season.
The message that the current roster has underperformed and that players who haven't met expectations better turn it up arrived when veteran center Jeff Halpern was waived on Friday, followed by defenseman Stu Bickel being placed on the wire Saturday.
Halpern was claimed by the Canadiens; Bickel, who was essentially the eighth blueliner, will know Sunday whether he remains in New York or relocates to the AHL or elsewhere.
Arron Asham, who has missed the last 15 games with back spasms, is expected to return Sunday, along with Kris Newbury, who was recalled Saturday, to provide some energy and grit for a team that misses the forechecking of departees Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Dubinsky, and the play at center of Artem Anisimov.
Halpern's move provided some "flexibility," coach John Tortorella said Saturday that signals that other players will continue to move, possibly this week.
Buffalo, Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado, San Jose and Tampa are said to be shopping players, and the Rangers are in the market for a center and a quarterback for the power play, which is ranked 25th in the league. If Marc Staal (eye and facial injuries) can return this season and return to form quickly -- and that is unclear -- the need for defensive depth is somewhat mitigated.
Money is an issue, however; the Rangers have about $1.6 million in cap space and the upper limit for next season is dropping from $70.2 million to $64.3 million. Taking on a big contract without sending significant dollars back in a deal won't fly.
Complicating matters is having enough cap space in the off-season to re-sign restricted free agent forwards Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, all of whom are coming off entry-level deals and are must-keeps, albeit at higher prices.
An in-house solution might be coming from Sweden, if Oscar Lindberg's playoff run ends. The 21-year-old center, acquired from Phoenix in May 2011, was 1-4-5 in Skelleftea's first-round sweep in the Swedish Elite League. He was 17-25-42 in 55 games. And there is right wing Jesper Fast, also 21, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who finished with 18 goals and 35 points in 47 games for the Elite League's HV71, which was knocked out of the playoffs. The Blueshirts hope to bring the speedy Fast, who will not have to clear waivers, to the U.S. for a look.
The Rangers have been active leading up to the annual deadline:
Feb. 28: Acquire John Scott from Chicago for fifth-round pick
Feb. 25: Acquire D Mike Vernace, 2013 third-round pick from Panthers for Wojtek Wolski
Feb. 3: Acquire Casey Wellman from Wild for Erik Christensen and 2013 seventh-rounder.
2011Feb. 28: Acquire John Mitchell from Leafs for a 2012 seventh- rounder
Feb. 25: Acquire Brian McCabe from Panthers for Tim Ken- nedy, 2011 third-rounder.Heard Around
Martin Biron runs the team's March Madness pool. Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh were in first and second before yesterday's games. Biron, who has never prevailed (Micheal Haley won when they were teammates on Long Island), reminded a questioner that he did capture the Masters pool. "But I forgot which five [golfers] I had until Hags [Carl Hagelin] texted me and told me I won by a stroke." . . . J.T. Miller, who collided with Henrik Lundqvist while he was stretching before practice, said the mishap wasn't the reason he left the ice. Miller is day-to-day with a sore left wrist suffered when he jammed it during the Panthers game . . . This next stretch is critical. Eight of the next 10 games are against teams currently in the Top 8 in the East.