Here’s my column from The Journal News and LoHud.com today (it’s the unedited version, so apologies in advance for any typos and such):
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH — The Rangers team that shook hands with the Devils late Friday night will never be exactly the same, because all teams make changes, especially those who have taken the giant steps the Rangers took this year.
They had a fabulous season, a very good playoff run, and still came up six wins short.
“For me, and I think I can say we, as an organization, we aren’t content with everything,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Monday. “You get knocked out in the third round, you don’t get where you want to be. We’ve made improvements, but I don’t think any organization in the league wants to sit still.
“We have to continue to improve as an organization, not just skill but all through it.”
So next year will be harder, and more of a challenge — actually starting this summer, and very soon, with the draft in June, trades, and free agency July 1.
“We’ve improved,” Brian Boyle said. “Our coach knows it’s there. He’s seen us play that way, so he’s going to demand more. He’s going to push us harder. That’s a good thing. It’s not always easy, but it’s a good thing. … That’s the challenge I think a lot of us embrace and we’ll be better for it.”
Some may not be around to embrace it, starting with Mike Sullivan, the valued assistant coach who is high on lists of head coaching prospects (Calgary?), and Tortorella said he won’t stop Sullivan from going.
Then there are free agents, and some difficult decisions, especially surrounding Brandon Prust and, despite an uneven season, could be coveted — a guy who led the NHL in fights and can play a third-line/checking/penalty-killer role.
“I love the guy,” Tortorella said. “It was an inconsistent year, but as far as the intangible and what he does for our lockerroom, he’s a big piece to the puzzle.”
Mats Zuccarello has options in Russia, and maybe in Europe, but wants to play in the NHL. He said Monday that he doesn’t want to just play 10 NHL games again, though. Ruslan Fedotenko could be kept depending on what the Rangers add over the summer. Will the Rangers try to move Marian Gaborik, who had 41 goals in the season, but came up so short against the Devils?
Will they try to move Brandon Dubinsky, who had a miserable 10-goal season after signing a big contract, and who missed a chunk of the playoffs with a high ankle sprain? Tortorella said that Dubinsky understands he has to come back not only as good as last year, but better, because that was the expectation this year.
Will they re-sign backup goalie Martin Biron, or defenseman Anton Stralman?
Tortorella said he saw Michael Sauer (concussion) Monday for the first time in months, and that he’s “a huge question mark” that he “can’t count on” having Sauer next season because the defenseman is still a long way from being able to work out.
Tortorella said his top offensive players didn’t do enough, but added that overall he didn’t think a lot of his team played enough “minutes” against the Devils.
Once again, the coach believes the Rangers need to add skill and more youth. But, he was asked, if the team has to be careful that any newcomers fit the identity of the Rangers.
“You’re always thinking about that,” he said. “But you’ve got to be really careful about ruling people out, too. Sometimes when you think it’s a really good piece and he may not exactly fit in all the little things you do, you can teach him those things along the way if he really brings you something else that you need. So you don’t want to box yourself in here.
“Listen, we have to work extremely hard to score goals and along the way, if there’s something that can help there, you find a way to teach your concept but allow it to bring some talent in to allow that to work for you. You can’t get stubborn here, either. “No matter what happens with our team if new bodies come in, we’re certainly not going to lose the premise of what we are. I think that’s a big part of us, a big part of the camaraderie of our room.”