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Breakup Day Notebook: Injuries, Worlds and Uncertainty

by Matthew Calamia / New York Rangers

Several Rangers said breakup day came too early for a team that has gotten accustomed to playing into at least mid May. But that was where the Blueshirts found themselves following a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The hockey isn't finished for everyone, though, as the Rangers will have at least two players heading to Russia for the 2016 World Championships, as Brady Skjei will represent Team USA and Derick Brassard will represent Canada.

Forward Mats Zuccarello said he didn't know yet if he'd be joining Norway at the tournament, which begins next week.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Skjei said Tuesday. "It's always an honor to put on that jersey. I haven't played for them since the World Juniors. I'm really excited and it should be a very fun tournament."

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With the season ending so too does the secrecy surrounding injuries, as both defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi eluded to what had been hampering them down the stretch.

McDonagh said he injured his metatarsal bone in his pointer finger blocking a Brandon Dubinsky shot back on April 4 in Columbus, which caused him to miss the final three regular season games and the first two postseason contests in Pittsburgh.

"It was tough. Obviously in the playoffs, I didn't know how I was going to feel," McDonagh said. "I thought at some point I was going to come back. We ruled out Game 1 before we knew about Game 2. [I] took a couple days off there to really accelerate how it felt. I really thought I could come back and make a good impact on the team and try and help them in games. In that aspect, it was at least good to play in the series and play alongside these guys that you've battled so hard with."

McDonagh said he had more trouble with little plays like passing, stick handling and getting pucks along the boards more so than a one-timer from the point.

Girardi, meanwhile, said he suffered a concussion when he was hit by former Ranger Brian Boyle of the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on April 5. Girardi missed the final two games of the regular season before playing in Game 1. He'd miss the next three games before returning for Game 5.

"I felt good going into Game 1, but throughout the game, I didn't really feel like myself," Girardi admitted Tuesday. "I finished the game and talked to the doctors after the game and some of the symptoms came back. They stopped me from playing. I had to rest."

Girardi would skate during his absence to stay fresh for when he was able to return from the injury. He said he felt "good enough to play" Game 5 and that he's still feeling well after that game.

The 31-year-old also played a majority of the season with a crack in his knee cap, and while he did not use that as an excuse for his play, he did say it wasn't an ideal situation.

"Four and a half months of that is not ideal for any player," Girardi said. "If I could go back, I'd probably try and take more time off, but a lot of you guys know I'm not that guy who's just not going to play. Missing whatever I did — six games — was already a lot for me."

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There's plenty of uncertainty heading into this offseason, starting with a handful of both unrestricted and restricted free agents. On the unrestricted side, defensemen Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle are without contracts. Up front, Eric Staal, Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg's contracts expire July 1, and in net goaltender Antti Raanta's.

"It's one of those things you have to sit down and think about it," Yandle said. "The season just ended. I haven't really had time to think about it too much as of now. It's one of those things I just have to take my time and think about. Obviously the team there is going to have to take their time and see what they want to do going forward. For me, it's just making the right decision and help myself out."

Yandle, whom the Rangers acquired from Arizona at last year's trade deadline, said he'd be open to coming back to New York.

"It's been nothing but amazing," Yandle said of his time with the Rangers. "The way they treat their players, the way you come to the rink every day ... it's a pleasure to come to the rink and I can definitely see myself playing here and it's one of those things — I have to weigh my options."

On the restricted side, forwards J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes need new deals, while defenseman Dylan McIlrath's is also up.

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The other uncertainty is who will be a part of the coaching staff when training camp rolls around in September. In his final press conference of the season, head coach Alain Vigneault did not rule out possible changes to his staff, which includes associate coach Scott Arniel, as well as assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson, Darryl Williams and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.

"I can't say that at this time," Vigneault said when asked about whether the staff would be back. "I met with the guys yesterday and I told them that I was going to take a week here to get myself back to where I need to be. [General Manager] Jeff [Gorton] and I agreed yesterday that we're going to take some time to analyze that and we'll make the decisions that we need to make."

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