By Sean Hartnett
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Changes are coming for the Rangers. It’s clear that they will not repeat last summer’s plan of retaining as much of their core as possible in the hope of this group attempting one more run.

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That belief eroded after a meek first-round playoff exit at the hands of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

Retooling with an eye on youth and speed is required for the Rangers to reclaim their status as an Eastern Conference powerhouse. Among those under the microscope will be star winger Rick Nash.

The big-bodied forward has two years remaining on his current contract at an annual cap hit of $7.8 million. He will turn 32 on June 16. His contract includes limited no-trade protection. He would have to name 10 to 12 teams he would approve a trade to if requested by general manager Jeff Gorton.

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In the eyes of many fans, Nash has become a symbol of the Rangers’ inability to get over the hump. It isn’t a totally fair label. Over the past two postseasons, Nash has recorded 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 24 games. During their five-game loss to the Penguins, the Rangers scored just 10 goals. Nash recorded two goals and two assists.

His postseason points-per-game average of 0.80 matched his career regular season average and his 20-percent shooting was a massive jump over his 7.2-percent shooting in last year’s playoffs.

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As we’ve grown accustomed, Nash provided strong play in the defensive end. Along with alternate captain Derek Stepan, he was one of few Rangers forwards who provided consistent two-way effort throughout the series. Even when the Blueshirts fizzled in Game 5, Nash made his presence felt by scoring a goal, recording four hits and registering three shots on goal.

Although Nash still has much to offer, his salary and injury history could scare off potential trade partners. He has had past concussion issues and suffered a deep bone bruise in his left leg during the regular season that caused him to miss 20 games. Few teams could afford his cap hit and the Blueshirts would likely have to swallow some of his remaining money over the next two seasons to get a deal done.

It will be hard to locate such a taker and even more difficult to see how the Rangers would improve their on-ice product by subtracting him for the equation.

Head coach Alain Vigneault does see changes coming, however. While he said he hasn’t delved deeply into how his roster might be altered, he expects a thorough roster evaluation to be conducted by the front office.

“It is too early to get into that right now,” Vigneault said following Saturday’s playoff elimination. “I can tell you, without a doubt, like any organization, we’re going to go through all the steps, from coaches to management, and we’re thinking in the player evaluation and what we think this team needs to do.”

The bottom line is Nash is a piece that works for the Rangers. Replacing his production and two-way aptitude would not be easy.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey