Rangers have plenty of questions
Web linksSteve Zipay's Blue Notes
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- That the Rangers need more scoring is an indisputable issue to be resolved in the offseason, but other summer questions came to the fore as the Rangers packed for home after a 20-game playoff run.
There are holes to fill: up front, on defense and perhaps behind the bench.
Michael Sauer, who suffered a concussion Dec. 5 against the Maple Leafs, isn't even working out, coach John Tortorella said in his first remarks about the ailing 24-year-old defenseman in months, and the Rangers are planning as if he won't be ready for training camp.
That leaves the Rangers with three top defensemen signed (Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal), and after that, uncertainty. Michael Del Zotto, 21, who had a bounce-back season, is a restricted free agent and is likely to be re-signed. But it is believed that management, which has enough cap room, might pursue free agent Ryan Suter of the Predators, who could partner with Staal.
Prospect Tim Erixon, a former first-round pick of the Flames who played 18 games with the Rangers and most of the season in the AHL, is knocking on the door. Rookie Stu Bickel showed promise and unrestricted free agent Anton Stralman performed well in the playoffs, but he, Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka, also unrestricted free agents, probably are gone.
Assistant coach Mike Sullivan also could be departing. Sullivan is said to be a candidate for head-coaching vacancies. "He is a huge part of this organization, a huge part of some of these kids developing, but he should be a head coach in this league," Tortorella said. "There's no way I stand in front of him."
Sullivan coached the Bruins for two seasons starting in 2003 and oversaw the defense and power-play units after arriving here with Tortorella in 2009. "Do I have aspirations to be a head coach again? Sure I do," Sullivan said, "but I have a great situation here.''
On the other hand, Mats Zuccarello, 24, the diminutive Norwegian winger whose two-year, $3.5-million contract is ending, doesn't like his situation at all. "I would love to be a New York Ranger, but I need to play,'' he said. "I can't play 10 games . . . It's not enough for me.''
Zuccarello, who starred in the Swedish Elite League, played 36 games in the AHL last season and 37 this season and was injured both seasons. "I know I don't want this to be the same way,'' he said. "I'm not going to lie, I have some opportunities . . . I must think about what is best for me.''
Ruslan Fedotenko, 33, who won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay with Tortorella and another in Pittsburgh and has been playing on a series of one-year deals -- the last two with the Rangers -- also might be moving on. "I'd like to come back,'' he said, "but I have to take some time, evaluate and see what happens."
One free-agent forward who likely will return is Brandon Prust, who tied for the NHL lead with 20 fighting majors. Yesterday, Prust revealed that he has been playing with a torn tendon in his left ring finger since a bout with Ottawa's Zenon Konopka on Jan. 12 and will have surgery.
Prust, who earned $800,000 this season and wants to stay with the Rangers, said money is "not the biggest issue" in his decision. Tortorella endorsed him, saying he brings intangibles to the locker room. "I love the guy," he said.