The Rangers underwent end-of-the-season physicals, met with President and General Manager Glen Sather, signed a slew of sticks, pucks, photos and jerseys and then said their good-byes yesterday at the MSG Training Center as the 2003-04 Rangers season officially came to an end.
With the numerous changes that took place over the past few months - from Sather stepping down as head coach to focus on GM duties ... to the nine trades that took place between March 2 and March 9 ... to the rash of injuries that the Blueshirts suffered - there are a lot of questions that will need to be addressed over the next few months as the Rangers look ahead to the 2004-05 season and beyond.
Sather spoke with the media while taking a break from his player meetings to discuss some of these upcoming questions and decisions facing the club in the near future.
On the process of re-shaping the Rangers roster over the next few months: GS: "There are a lot of questions out there. First of all, is there going to be a season? Which guys are on the free-agent market? We'll look at unrestricted free agents, but there are a lot of guys who won't be offered contracts. And we have a lot of draft picks."
On the Mark Messier situation: GS: "I'm not going to talk about Mark's situation. I'd like to talk to him a little more about it. I spoke with him about the year (in our meeting), but not about the future."
On the possibility of Tom Renney remaining as coach: GS: "In either role (coach or VP of Player Development), he's very valuable. We haven't spoken yet about the situation, about what he would want to do or where he's most valuable to the organization. I would say the spot he feels he's most valuable is where we feel he's most valuable."
On the possibility of promoting Ryan McGill from Hartford: GS: "I've watched Ryan a lot the last two weeks. They do a nice job, he and (assistant coach) Nick (Fotiu). Those players are enthusiastic, well coached, they work hard. That whole team plays the same way."
On the possibility of Eric Lindros returning next season: GS: "I'm not going to get into specifics about signing anybody. Eric worked hard, and he did everything he could do. It's unfortunate he got hurt."
On the disappointing 2003-04 season: GS: "The responsibility for the season lies here and I'm not going to duck it, but I'm not going to analyze everything that happened or why we didn't win. I'll assume the blame for what happened.
SHOULDERS ON THE MEND: Dan Blackburn, Darius Kasparaitis and Eric Lindros all sported shoulder/arm slings following their recent shoulder surgeries.
Blackburn, who underwent nerve exploration surgery on his left shoulder on March 31, has felt some slight improvement over the past week.
"There's some muscle contraction," said the 20-year old who injured himself last summer while participating in the Rangers' prospect camp in Calgary. "It's a big improvement from the last nine or 10 months."
During surgery, the surgeons found a piece of scar tissue impinging the nerve in his left shoulder and removed it, hopefully allowing the nerves to regenerate. Blackburn will continue his rehabilitation program under the guidance of the team's medical and training staff.
Kasparaitis, who has been sidelined with a tibial plateau fracture and a Grade 1 medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain in his left knee following an open-ice hit on January 19 at Boston, also underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 24, a re-section of his right clavicle.
"My shoulder was hurting the last few years," Kasparaitis said. "It hurt to lift weights and exercise. The way I play, I need for my shoulders to be strong."
The defenseman is expected to make a full recovery in time for next season's training camp.
Lindros underwent successful surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on March 25.
"The shoulder is sore," he said. "I have about another two months before I can start lifting weights again. I expect to have full range of motion back."
BACK TO CLASS - THEN OFF TO THE WORLDS: Defenseman Thomas Pock, whose NHL dream story came to an end on Saturday, will return to the University of Massachusetts to complete some coursework this week, before heading to back home to Austria, where he will represent his country at the upcoming 2004 World Championship in the Czech Republic.
Pock, who signed with the Rangers early in the day on March 23, drove 3½ hours from his Amherst, Massachusetts house to Madison Square Garden with his college roommate, arrived shortly before game time only to find out he was making his NHL debut that night against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then went out and scored the first goal of his NHL career.
In six games with New York, the 22-year old registered two goals and two assists for four points.
When asked if his absences from school over the past few weeks will be excused, he smiled and replied, "We'll find out tomorrow."