Rangers set to return as one of top contenders

Marc Staal #18, Carl Hagelin #62 and Brad

Marc Staal #18, Carl Hagelin #62 and Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers celebrate after teammate Marian Gaborik #10 scored a goal in the second period against the Ottawa Senators. (April 12, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

It seems like ages since the Devils eliminated the Rangers, 3-2, in overtime at Prudential Center in the Eastern Conference finals. Actually, it was May 25, less than eight months ago.

But with the NHL and NHLPA agreeing on the framework of a new collective-bargaining agreement, the Rangers -- a likely Stanley Cup contender again -- will be back this month with some returning stars and a handful of reinforcements. So here's a status report.

After the tentative CBA is ratified, training camp is not expected to open until Saturday at the earliest, according to reports, and a division-heavy, conference-only 48-game season beginning Jan. 19 is on tap.

During the lockout, only a few of the Rangers played overseas (Rick Nash, Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan). All players are in North America except for Marian Gaborik, who scored 41 goals last season and had right shoulder surgery June 6.

Gaborik is booking his return from Christmas vacation in Slovakia and will be ready. He'll share the load on offense with elite winger Nash, who was obtained from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon in late July.

The Rangers have both goaltenders, Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron, under contract, along with seven defensemen. That includes Michael Sauer, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion on a hit from Dion Phaneuf in December 2011. He remains sidelined with post-concussion symptoms.

Until the CBA is ratified, the Rangers cannot negotiate what is expected to be a one- or two-year deal with restricted free agent Del Zotto, who did not re-sign with the team before the lockout.

Camp will not be as crowded as in previous years, with fewer than 30 players. Chris Kreider, who has been inconsistent for the AHL Connecticut Whale, will be there. Kreider, who scored five goals in the playoffs straight out of Boston College, was scratched from Sunday night's Whale game, presumably to prepare to report.

Marek Hrivik, a 21-year-old Czech who leads the team in assists, also could receive an invite. Former Ranger and Long Island native Matt Gilroy, now in Hartford, is a possibility as an eighth defenseman.

Thirteen forwards are listed on the roster, including Kreider, new faces Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Arron Asham, and former Islander Micheal Haley, who also is with the Whale.

Haley is due $600,000, but he presumably could stay there while someone with NHL experience -- perhaps Chad Kolarik, who has 13 goals in the AHL, or center Kris Newbury -- shuttles back and forth as the 13th forward, depending on coach John Tortorella's needs and performances in camp.

J.T. Miller, 19, the team's No. 1 draft choice in 2011, had two goals and seven assists for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the just-completed World Junior Championships in Russia. He might get a look but is likely to return to Hartford, where veteran defenseman Wade Redden and his $5.8-million cap hit will stay and be targeted for a buyout in June.

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