Derek Stepan's holdout forces Rangers to improvise
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The Rangers, who left Wednesday for Alberta to continue their training camp and preseason schedule, are staying at the Banff Springs Hotel, a resort with a ghostly past.
And there's one question continuing to haunt the team: Whether a deal can be struck in the contract stalemate with top center Derek Stepan, who missed his eighth day of camp and did not make the journey west.
The restricted free agent's lengthy absence, which matches Brandon Dubinsky's holdout in 2009 that ended with a two-year contract, has been hovering over training camp and causing coach Alain Vigneault to plan around the AWOL center, evaluating other centers with a single winger and then "working in a third guy."
They include, Vigneault said, Brad Richards-Rick Nash; Derick Brassard-Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore and/or Brian Boyle with Derek Dorsett.
Complicating the equation is the current inability of Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin to even take contact in scrimmages while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgeries. So Vigneault is left to evaluate some young forwards. "I look at [Oscar] Lindberg, the way he's skating. I really liked 'Monte' Kristo, Danny. I've liked young [Jesper] Fast also. Those guys are all pushing and they all have that skill level. I don't know if they're quite ready for the NHL, but you can tell they have an NHL skill level. I'm playing the guys that are here."
Those three were among the 39 players who boarded the two planes for several practices in Banff and a charity golf tournament to benefit victims of the floods in Calgary last summer. They will then play four games in five nights next week, in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver (where former coach John Tortorella now patrols) and in Las Vegas against the Kings.
One area became clearer when the goaltender rotation for those games was determined, and Johan Hedberg, on a tryout, became the odd man out and was released. Henrik Lundqvist will play the entire game against the Flames on Monday and the Canucks on Thursday. Incumbent backup Martin Biron, who played well against the Flyers on Tuesday, as did Cam Talbot, will play next Tuesday against the Oilers.
"We talked with Glen [Sather] and his staff, thinking how we were going to use Henrik," Vigneault said. "If he's playing those two and I want to give a full game to Marty, then there's only one game left. I called Johan to tell him, 'There's a possibility you might get a half game but also a possibility you might not get a game depending on how things unfold.' A veteran player . . . well-respected across the league, I left the decision up to him. He just decided to stay back."