Tarrytown – Emotion was all over the map as the 2021-22 New York Rangers met Monday at the MSG Training Center to clean out their lockers and conduct exit interviews with team boss Chris Drury.
Pride in what they had accomplished by reaching the Eastern Conference final and disappointment in not being able to pass the two-time world champion Tampa Bay Lightning, but there were different ways to cope.
In some cases, most notably the stars Artemy Panarin and Igor Shesterkin, there were unforgettable moments of well-being. The former joked about his plans to sing karaoke this summer, while the latter mocked Hart Trophy winner Austin Matthews for failing to score on him this season.
But in others, the wounds were too fresh for the humor. Chris Kreider remained visibly shaken, as his close friend Mika Zibanijad escorted him to the press conference room for support.
“It’s funny how you’re going in such an amazing race, and so many people are reaching out to tell you how proud they are of you and the group,” said Kreider, who was fighting to hold back his tears. “But right now it’s stinging. It’s hard to feel proud after a couple of days of bouncing like that.”
“But the sting is important,” he added. “We were just talking when Tampa lost to Columbus (in the first round of the 2019 playoffs) and (former Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella) said, ‘We made a monster.’ Obviously we felt we could have gone the distance. But that would push us over the edge.” .
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The “Heart” of Ryan Strom is located in New York
The belief that Rangers would grow out of this experience and eventually reach the promised land reverberated throughout the day of the meltdown, but the uncertainty about which players would be there to see it added to raw emotions.
Ryan Strom, who has revived his New York career in the past four seasons, has been the most visible. The 28-year-old prepares to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time and chokes while discussing his desire to stay.
He said, “My heart is here.” “For the past four years, I’ve tried to pour everything into this thing, in and out of the ice, as much as I can. Everything that happens, happens. I can’t predict the future. But all I know is that I love these guys and I think we have some unfinished business. Done. This team is designed for great things to come. So, we’ll see what happens. It’s a little emotional, frankly. It’s a great group of guys and I hope there will be more.”
Strom revealed that he was playing through a pelvic injury he sustained during a game on March 27 against the Buffalo Sabers.
It was exacerbated again when a push from Lightning striker Ondrej Palat caused him to fall embarrassingly during Match 3 of the ECF, forcing him to miss Game 4 and leave Game 6 early.
“It was kind of a bad way to finish, but that’s part of the sport,” he said. “It makes both thighs and both abs—it felt like I’ve been playing with a knife on my abs for the last short time.”
Strom is waiting on Tuesday to see if he will require off-season surgery, but confirmed that it was his decision to try to play games 5 and 6 with the injury.
“I think me and a couple of the other guys would have regretted a lot if we hadn’t progressed,” he said, likely referring to the ankle injuries of Barkley Goudreau and Ryan Lindgren. “It says a lot about our team and the character we have. … I wouldn’t make a decision one way or the other based on whether or not I had a contract. It was about this group of guys.”
The Blueshirts’ second streak position has scored 162 points (53 goals and 109 assists) over his last 200 regular season games, averaging 0.81 points per game since he tied up with Panarin early in the 2019-20 season.
He seemed well aware that re-signing is not a guarantee, especially given Rangers’ tight salary cap situation. (They are expected to have just under $11.8 million to fill the last four to seven positions on their list.) But his most frequent colleague made a sales pitch on his behalf.
“He’s a good friend of mine,” Panarin said. “We talk on the rink, off the ice, in bars. It’s a big part of my life. I can talk to him about deep things, about my thoughts. We share everything with each other, so of course (I want him back).”
Andrew Cobb weighs several factors
Complicating Strom’s decision is another central choice in the second line: Andrew Cobb.
He was top among four additions to the deadlines, scoring 32 points (14 goals and 18 assists) in 36 games for Rangers between the regular season and play-off games. He also led the team with 56.6% xGF in 16 regular season games, according to Evolving Hockey.
“He came here, he did a great job and he played hockey really well,” said coach Gerard Gallant. “He fought hard and did a lot of good things for us. He definitely played the top six for us. Normally, if you play in the top six for a team that qualifies for the conference finals, you can play the top six in most places. So, I like what he does. We all We love him.”
Rangers can only afford one position between Strom and Cobb, with both expected to earn average annual values of at least $5 million.
Early evidence suggests that Cobb is a favorite due to its versatility, although Drury is also expected to explore outdoor options.
“Honestly, since the trade deadline, I’ve told my agent, ‘Go kick the rocks. I haven’t been talking to you for some time,'” Cope said. Long term, then go from there. The long run is not just next year, but hopefully there will be four or five years — how do they see me in the hall in terms of driving range and all those kinds of things. So, there are a lot of things to absorb.”
The 27-year-old has mostly played as a right winger with the Rangers, but he has plenty of experience in the middle and possesses a win rate of 51.8% in his career.
He said he prefers playing in the middle wherever he signs, but noted that there will be many factors to weigh before making the final decision.
“Honestly, how can I possibly fit into the grand scheme of things,” he said. “If you’re going to go to a team with three top spots, but you might be a top-tier player, it won’t deter me… I don’t have a single standard set in mind or anything like that. It’s just going to be taking everything about the situation – where the team is headed. , special teams, coach, systems. Everything plays its part, not to mention the city, the quality of life, all those kinds of things.”
Scratch adds “motivation” to Kabu Kaku
While Copp, Strome, Tyler Motte and Frank Vatrano are the most prominent UFAs, Kaapo Kakko is the #1 priority among restricted free agents.
As an RFA, he can sign with any team, but the Rangers will have the chance to match. If they choose not to do so, that team will be asked to submit draft selection compensation.
It’s a rarity in the National Hockey League, but Gallant’s questionable decision to scratch the talented 21-year-old in Saturday’s elimination game raised questions around the league about how the Blueshirts viewed the No. 2 team overall from the 2019 draft — and what their content was. in New York.
Gallant declined to provide an explanation after the match, but called it a hockey decision on Monday.
“I’m trying to win a game of hockey and put on my squad,” he said. “When we sit down and talk about our squad, that’s what we do. We love the kid. He’s a good player – a good young player – but we thought this was the best squad to try and win that match.”
The coach admitted that he did not discuss the move with Kakko, who confirmed that he only found out when he saw the squad hanging in the locker room.
When asked if anyone from the coaching staff spoke to him, “No, nothing.” “I just saw the lineup and I wasn’t there, so that’s all I know.”
Kakko’s regular season was halted with an upper body injury that cost him 31 games, but he believes he played “probably the best hockey I’ve ever played” in the playoffs.
This made sitting even more confusing.
“It’s never fun when you’re not in the squad,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with that.”
Despite his disappointment, Kakko took the high road and seemed somewhat optimistic about going into what he described as a “big summer” for his development.
When asked if being scratched might influence him to consider signing for another team, he seemed motivated to prove he could succeed in New York.
He said, “I don’t think so.” “I love playing here… (he adds) maybe it’s more motivation. I want to show that I’m better than that. (Galante) should put me in the squad. I’m a good player.”
Vincent Z. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.