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Rangers say goodbyes for the summer

Players, Tortorella excited about potential for next season

Friday, 05.01.2009 / 12:08 PM / News
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Rangers say goodbyes for the summer
RANGERS ON DEMAND
Tortorella Looks Ahead to 2009-10 Season Watch
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Lundqvist Reflects on Playoffs, Season Watch
Betts Discusses His Game 6 Injury Watch
Antropov, Dubinsky and Gomez Interviews Watch
Mara, Morris and Callahan Interviews Watch
Alternate captain Scott Gomez talks to reporters about a season that ended two nights earlier. Gomez and other Rangers were at the MSG Training Center on Thursday for the final time in 2008-09.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

Chris Drury and Paul Mara were busy making plans to attend upcoming Yankees-Red Sox games together at Yankee Stadium. Nikolai Zherdev was packing up his equipment, preparing to join the Russian team at the World Championships in Switzerland. Nik Antropov and Derek Morris, among others, were looking ahead to the uncertainty of unrestricted free agency. And John Tortorella was looking back, at what could have been, and ahead, to what he hopes his Rangers will become.

Thursday was break-up day for the Rangers at the MSG Training Center. The 2008-09 campaign officially over after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarters Finals series, marking the first time in three years that the Blueshirts’ season did not extend into the month of May and the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The players took end-of-year physicals, met one-on-one with Tortorella, and shared their feelings with the media before saying their goodbyes.

“In hockey there’s only one team come June that is happy, and we obviously fall in the category of the other 29 teams,” said Drury, the team’s captain, who revealed that he played the entire series against the Capitals with a broken right hand.

“But certainly I feel there are a lot of things to look forward to. Having a full training camp under Torts, and not just rushing into things, really getting to work with him, will be a real positive next year.”

The tone displayed in Drury’s comments was a consistent one from the players and coaches on Thursday. All were extremely disappointed in not having a stronger regular season and not advancing further in the playoffs. But at the same time, players and coaches all expressed excitement and optimism looking ahead to the 2009-10 season for a variety of reasons.

Most notable among those reasons is the chance for Tortorella to establish his will and way right from the get-go, as opposed to joining the team mid-stream this year after replacing Tom Renney as head coach in late February.

“We have some good guys here,” said Tortorella. “I think there are certain guys whose standard is going to have to be raised, and that’s my job to raise the standards and hold players accountable. I struggle with some of the effort with some guys, and that’s going to be addressed. I like an intense training camp, and these guys better be ready.”

Tortorella had two months to evaluate the players in the organization at the NHL level, and plans to meet with Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather and the club’s Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld in the coming weeks to discuss personnel changes, additions, and subtractions.

While stating that he will have input into the team’s make-up for next season, Tortorella emphasized several times that “I am the coach, not the manager of this team. I coach the players Glen provides me with.”

Certainly Tortorella will be seeking to ice a squad that will be in tremendous physical condition and will be able to consistently play the aggressive, puck-possession style he prefers.

“I looked at our Game 7 (against the Capitals) and that’s the way we need to play,” he said. “We had more puck control, and were better in the neutral zone. Those first 40 minutes is the team we need to be next season.”

As is the case with most coaches, especially ones coming off a playoff series defeat, there was a “but” lurking around the corner.

“But we’re an offensively-challenged team right now,” said Tortorella. “We didn’t finish and didn’t make that last play. And that’s a big problem for us. I don’t think we have (the scoring) totally as far as within our team, and I don’t think we got it totally from the people within our team (this year).”

Next season Tortorella will expect more scoring from the likes of veterans Scott Gomez and Drury, as well as from emerging youngsters Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. He also expects the power play to improve next year, with defenseman Marc Staal a likely candidate, in the coach’s opinion, to step up into a prominent role there.

“I’ve got to get back to creating, and to always make who I am playing with better,” said Gomez. “It’s an important summer for all of us, and it starts here in a couple of weeks. There will be no questions about what we are expected to do. It’s easy to say ‘wait till next year’, but, you bet, we are excited.”

One of the happier sights at the MSG Training Center on Thursday was that of veteran center Blair Betts riding a stationary bike for 20 minutes and reporting no ill affects afterwards, just four days after suffering a concussion and a fractured orbital bone on a late hit thrown by Washington’s Donald Brashear in Game 6.

Betts reported no headaches and no blurred vision, and hopes that he is on the road to recovery.

“It was everything people said it was,” Betts stated about the unpenalized hit that still landed Brashear a six-game suspension. “In my personal opinion, it was late and it was kind of a blindsided hit. I just wish a penalty had been called during the game. I don’t really care about the suspension. A penalty at that time of the game (when the score was still 1-1) could have been the difference in that game.”

There was further good news on the injury front when Drury was informed that his broken hand was not injured any worse during the Caps series and that he would not need surgery.

Of course, as many players pointed out, everyone is going to have more time than they would have liked to rest and recover from injuries both big and small what with the early end to this year’s campaign.

But the viable optimism and excitement for next season, and the eagerness for next September to arrive, has kicked in already as the team transitions from the 2008-09 season to 2009-10.

“I’m just excited about next year,” said Callahan. “I think with Torts you’re gonna’ have a new system, and it’ll be nice to start off with it, get everybody used to it right off the bat. I’m really excited about next year and getting it going again.”