Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
With the Rangers eliminated in five games Saturday in Washington, the New York hockey season came to a close. The Rangers and Islanders showed improvement in some areas but showed more that there’s work to be done, work that begins today.
Here’s a look at the next few months for both teams, leading up to September training camp:
Rangers: They need to lock up several of their own restricted free agents, including core forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, plus Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Michael Sauer. The Rangers pick 15th in the June 24-25 draft and could use that pick in a trade for an NHL-ready player.
Islanders: Lots of contract talk with restricted free agents (Michael Grabner, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey), lots of discussions about the No. 5 pick in the deep-at-the-top draft, which could easily be an NHL-ready teenager.
Rangers: They still have time to try and coax Boston College junior Chris Kreider into a contract; he’s the star among the prospects and considered the most NHL ready. Carl Hagelin, out of Michigan, could fit the team’s physical mold next season; Ryan Bourque, Ray’s son, may need some time in the AHL. Defensemen Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek may have a chance to vie for third-pair spots.
Islanders: Nino Niederreiter nearly stuck around last season, so he has a good shot to be an Islander in 2011-12 and make an impact. A slew of young defensemen are making the jump from the amateur ranks, but Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness and Calvin de Haan should need some AHL seasoning.
Rangers: UFAs Vinny Prospal, Bryan McCabe and Alex Frolov won’t be back; Ruslan Fedotenko and Steve Eminger likely will, at the right prices. Local product Matt Gilroy proved his value in the playoffs, but will be back only at a reduced salary from his $1.75-million. Wojtek Wolski ($3.8-million salary next season) will almost certainly be bought out, given that 25-and-under players can be bought out at one-third of their cap hit; tougher decisions loom on captain Chris Drury and Sean Avery.
Islanders: Captain Doug Weight has all but officially announced his retirement after two injury-plagued seasons. Radek Martinek had his healthiest season in years, but there may not be room for him to return to a crowded defense. Fan and dressing-room favorite Zenon Konopka is unrestricted and could return for the right price.
Who’s out there?
Rangers: Stars center Brad Richards is the prime free-agent target on July 1, but sources say the team will not break the bank to squeeze Richards into a tight cap situation. They’ll be looking to add a veteran defenseman who can give some offense, either via trade or free agency, and if there’s room to add a good forward such as the Flyers’ Ville Leino, they will get creative with the salary cap to make it happen.
Islanders: Despite being stocked with defense, Garth Snow will still be looking to upgrade there as he did last summer; the Canucks may not be able to afford both Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff on defense. Up front, Snow will be looking for his next Matt Moulson/P.A. Parenteau, but the Islanders could use some veteran presence at forward with an entire returning group under 28.
Rangers: John Tortorella, who was heading into his option year as coach, signed a new three-year extension in March, according to a report that was confirmed by sources yesterday. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan may get some head-coach interviews, but Tortorella is here for the foreseeable future. Glen Sather will be back, as well, along with a front office that has sharpened its focus over the last few seasons.
Islanders: Snow got Jack Capuano locked up months ago, and assistants Scott Allen and Dean Chynoweth, holdovers from Scott Gordon’s staff, will be back, ensuring some continuity for the young team that improved from December on. Snow will also be back; so will Rick DiPietro, who will be healthy going into training camp, but also have some competition for playing time from rookie Kevin Poulin and Al Montoya.