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Rangers ready for a very busy off-season

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Tortorella End-of-Season Interview Watch

By Jim Cerny,

The off-season is here, but the work continues for the Rangers.
Whether it’s team President and General Manager Glen Sather putting together next year’s squad with Assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld and head coach John Tortorella, or the players preparing themselves physically and mentally for an intense training camp and 2009-10 season under Tortorella, the Blueshirts’ off-season can hardly be viewed as a vacation.

Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld said the Rangers front office will take a "good hard look" at reasons why the 2008-09 Rangers did not meet all of their own internal expectations.
The shaping of next year’s Rangers began in earnest last Thursday, just two days after the Blueshirts were eliminated in seven games by the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Ppayoffs. That day Tortorella held exit interviews with each player, clearly laying out his expectations for next season. The players also received their intense off-season workout programs from strength and conditioning coach Reg Grant.

Not every player who met with Tortorella on Thursday will be back wearing a Rangers uniform next season, of course, as is the natural evolution of a team from season to season. Already veteran winger Markus Naslund has announced his retirement, and, as such, the Rangers will have to replace his offensive contributions and leadership next season.

“Does Glen Sather want to change this team? You’re (darn) right he does,” said Tortorella. “He knows that some change needs to be made. But so do 29 other teams. They’re all thinking the same thing. So it’s not an easy thing to do, and that’s why we’re going to have a lot of meetings to try and figure it all out.”

Coming off a first-round playoff loss, coupled with the knowledge that certain players are a better fit in Tortorella’s up-tempo style of play than others, leads to some inevitable change in the roster next season. But making change is not necessarily so easy. Among the considerations for Sather and the organization are the readiness of younger players to accept more important roles, whether or not certain prospects are ready to make the jump to the NHL level, which other teams might be interested in acquiring players currently on the Rangers’ roster, free agency, and the salary cap.

“We have to improve,” said Schoenfeld. “We’re not ready to chuck the whole thing, take them out back and shoot them. But we certainly did not accomplish what we hoped to accomplish, and we have to take a good hard look at the reasons why.”

Sather, Schoenfeld, Assistant GM Cam Hope, and Tortorella, as well as scouts within the organization, have already begun the evaluating and planning processes. The front office will work through the long hot summer months putting the decided-upon game plan into action. And then Tortorella will lead the Rangers through an expected rigorous training camp come September.

“I think guys are looking at next year and what Torts brings and know he’s going to push us a lot and make us be a lot better,” said veteran defenseman Wade Redden. “I think that attitude and that mentality that he’s brought, where OK is not good enough and he pushes everyone, will be the key for us.”

If there was one constant theme among the players before they went their separate ways for the off-season, it was that everyone needs to improve their individual game, and that the team needs to play much better collectively.

Tortorella and Schoenfeld have already challenged many key veterans on the roster, like Redden, fellow defenseman Michal Rozsival, and forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, to bounce back from somewhat disappointing campaigns this past year. They have also made sure to let youngsters like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, and Brandon Dubinsky know that more will be expected from them next season, despite how well each played under Tortorella this season.

Even star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is being asked to raise his level of play by the head coach.

“I hope guys are not satisfied, going home losing Game 7 (to the Capitals),” stated Drury, the team’s captain. “There is a lot more to it, and a lot more out there.”

Added Gomez, one of the Rangers’ alternate captains, “It was one of those years where it was what it was. But I think we all know that from the get-go (next year) it will be a lot different here, and it will start right from the summer on.”

One area that Tortorella wants to see marked improvement is in the overall fitness level of the players. Playing this coach’s preferred style of play is extremely demanding from a conditioning point of view, and Tortorella wants to make sure that the players are able to implement it right from the first day of training camp.

That means the players will need to work extra hard during the off-season in order to be ready to go on Day One of training camp.

“The first 5-6 days of our training camp are very intense,” explained Tortorella. “We don’t use camp to get in shape. You need to be in shape when you get to camp. It’s something (the players) can control. The way we want to play, the game comes easier to them when they are in the top shape possible. That’s what we are striving to do.”

Clearly, if the players didn’t pick this up during Tortorella’s first two months as head coach, there is no questioning what he expects from the team. And the style they play, and the expectations of the coach, should be crystal clear as the Rangers head into the summer and prepare for the fall.

For Gomez, Tortorella’s leadership and expectations are very similar to what he experienced while winning a pair of Stanley Cups with the Devils.

“This is the only way I have ever known while playing all of those years over (in New Jersey),” explained Gomez. “There’s one way you play, and for the coach it’s ‘you play my way or you don’t play’. It’s pretty self-explanatory. And I’ve grown to appreciate that.”

The work begins now for what will take place next season. From the front office to the coaches to the players there is no vacation.

However, there is hope and optimism and a willingness to work as hard as possible in all areas of the organization.

“I am really looking forward to next year already,” stated Callahan.
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