GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Dozens of players go to NHL workouts and training camps each September to prove themselves. For left wing Ryan Malone, 34, the climb has begun.
The unrestricted free agent, who has scored at least 20 goals six times but has struggled in the past two seasons with the Lightning, joined about 20 Rangers in an informal 90-minute practice Monday in what he hopes is the first step to a tryout or contract.
Malone's immediate future is clouded by declining play and off-ice issues, but on Monday, the 6-4 left wing seemed contrite and determined.
In his first public remarks since Aug. 19, when he pleaded no contest to driving under the influence after an April 11 arrest in Tampa and agreed to a diversion program for possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine, Malone admitted his poor judgment, apologized to the Lightning and was appreciative of a potential showcase in New York.
"I made a mistake and thankfully, luckily, no one got hurt," said Malone, who said he was reinstated a few days ago by doctors supervising the NHL/NHLPA's substance abuse and behavioral health program. "It has changed my life for the better, and my family's life. Obviously, last year was not the way I wanted it to go, especially at the end, so I'm just looking for the opportunity to show what kind of person I am on and off the ice."
Malone, who was drafted by the Penguins and played four years for Pittsburgh, had five goals and 10 assists in 57 games last year. He often was a healthy scratch by season's end and was bought out of the final season of his seven-year, $31.5-million contract.
On Monday, Malone also apologized to Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and the team. "They're a first-class organization, they've done so much for the community," he said, "and to the fans, I just want to say thanks for the support."
Malone had his driver's license suspended for six months and was assigned 50 hours of community service. He declined to talk about the case, but upon completion of the program, the felony drug charge will be dismissed.
Amid the legal troubles, Malone began working out and skated in the Octagon agency's camp in Minnesota last month along with Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh and other NHL players.
"I was joking with Step and Mac in Minnesota," he said. "They came into the gym and just started to work out. I'd been in the gym two months already. I'm in good shape, feeling well, and did what I needed to do to get ready. That camp ended and they said come on out [for the informal workouts]."
Rangers brass already had expressed interest. Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather called on July 1 and the conversations are continuing, Malone said.
"I've been lucky," he said. "This is the first time I've had to deal with this in my career. It's a good thing to realize how lucky I've been, but it brings back that desperation and . . . the love of the game, that you want to be part of something special. I don't want to go out the way last season ended, so this year is a big opportunity . . . I'm willing to do whatever it takes here to be part of a winning organization."
There will be plenty of competition from young wingers, but Malone, who played for the Lightning with current Rangers Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle and Dominic Moore, said he hopes to bring "experience, the physical aspect of the game, using my size, playing simple, just sticking up for my teammates. They signed [former Canuck and Penguin] Tanner Glass to help that role, but why not have maybe a couple more guys? I just try to bring my game and hopefully it fits in with the roster somewhere."
The concern remains that his NHL career, which includes 370 points in 641 games and 689 penalty minutes, could be over, Malone said.
"The fear is still there . . . in the back of your mind," he said. "That's there until probably the season's over. Hopefully, you get on a team. You believe in your preparation and hard work; all you can do is lay it on the line and see what happens."