'Rent' time for Rangers

The Rangers’ recent correction in which they have gone 8-1-3 since the Dec. 16 Garden defeat to the Islanders that prompted the twin two-game exiles of Wade Redden and Ales Kotalik presents a challenge for GM Glen Sather.

Because even though the Blueshirts seem to be a playoff caliber team in a conference overloaded with deficient squads, this run against a succession of terrible opponents should not and must not interfere with the real business at hand of constructing a Stanley Cup contender.

To that end, no matter the standings, no matter the “game with points streak,” no matter the revenue the Garden would stand to derive from a few playoff home dates, Sather has the responsibility to be a seller rather than a buyer as the trade deadline approaches.

It’s a while yet before March 3, that’s true, but much of the trade business is liable to come sooner rather than later, what with an NHL Olympic-break roster freeze in effect from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28. The rental market will open early this season.

As such, it is imperative for Sather to cast his fishing line into the waters immediately while using pending unrestricted free agents Vinny Prospal and Christopher Higgins, and perhaps pending restricted free agent Dan Girardi, as bait.

Prospal, who may be able to return this week from the knee injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 26, is an important part of this season’s club, even while the Blueshirts have gone 4-1-2 in his absence. He might be an important part of next season’s club, as well.

But if a championship contender is willing to surrender a first- or second-round pick for the veteran who will turn 35 next month, Sather is obligated to reel in the deal, even if it dilutes the 2009-10 Rangers’ talent base and makes a playoff berth more problematic.

Higgins has become the go-to guy for coach John Tortorella, used in every situation. Still, it’s all but impossible to envision the Blueshirts re-upping Higgins this summer, especially with the option of transforming Brandon Dubinsky into a full-time left wing.

As such, if Sather can regain the third-rounder he sent to L.A. last June for Brian Boyle by moving Higgins, the deal must be consummated.

Girardi will be a Group II with salary-arbitration rights. As such, the defenseman’s next contract could become problematic if Marc Staal, also coming up on Group II, scores a huge deal. If the Rangers believe that Girardi is a solid top four, no questions asked, then there is no reason to move him.

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