Cross Checks: Marc Staal

Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch was named the captain of the New York Rangers after the departure of legendary teammate and long-standing team leader Mark Messier in 1997.

Leetch remembers how it felt when people started calling him captain, the recognition that came with wearing the 'C' of an Original Six team and the responsibility that came with representing such a proud franchise.

“When you talk about Original Six teams, a big market and a passionate fan base, that adds to the focal point. It is a special thing,” Leetch told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation. “When Mark left and I was named captain, I was proud of that. I was disappointed why [it happened] -- with Mark not being re-signed -- but I was very proud to wear the Rangers jersey and wear the 'C.'

“It probably means something in every franchise, but when you see a Montreal Canadiens jersey, a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, a Chicago Blackhawks jersey,” Leetch said, rattling off fellow Original Six teams, “it certainly carries a certain weight.”

[+] EnlargeBrian Leetch
Elsa Hasch /Getty ImagesFormer Rangers captain Brian Leetch thinks current D-man Ryan McDonagh can handle the 'C.'
The Rangers have not yet named a captain for the 2014-15 season. A leadership group emerged to take the reins after former captain Ryan Callahan was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the deadline in March, but no player has officially accepted the baton. Still, the odds-on favorite to succeed Callahan in that role is 25-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

McDonagh, a smooth-skating, offensively skilled and physical young blueliner, would be a fine choice for the Blueshirts, according to Leetch, who helped lead the Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that season. Leetch thinks McDonagh will have tremendous support from his teammates.

“That group of guys have been together [McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi] so that leadership is a shared thing. The roles within the locker room have been established. If [McDonagh] is given the captaincy, it won’t change his approach in how he interacts with his teammates,” Leetch said. “I think it’s a natural thing and I agree he seems to be a logical choice. He’s a main guy for the foreseeable future.”

The St. Paul, Minnesota, native took a huge leap this past season to the point where his name entered the Norris Trophy conversation. Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, has enjoyed watching McDonagh’s game evolve.

“It’s fun to see a player gain that confidence and take that next step, and that is certainly what he did,” Leetch said. “The coaching staff deserves credit, too. You need that confidence from the coaches, your teammates, to be given that kind of responsibility as well as the opportunity to make mistakes.”

Although McDonagh has ascended to the top-pair shutdown role with Girardi for his stout defensive ability, his offensive potential was nurtured and encouraged, Leetch said.

“A lot of times you need to be reminded of that. He wanted to be as good as possible defensively, and his skating allowed him to do that, to shut down other players, but you saw that ability to make the tape-to-tape passes and skate the puck out of the zone,” said Leetch, who holds the Rangers’ franchise scoring record among defensemen. “He’s got more and you really need that push every day from coaches and teammates. I saw that happen throughout the year.”

The Rangers’ sturdy back end was a huge component in their playoff success this past spring, when they made a run to the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings. Anton Stralman signed with Tampa Bay in free agency, but Leetch would like to see much of that defensive corps remain intact.

Priority No. 1, of course, is signing Staal to a new extension. (His agent, Paul Krepelka, told ESPN.com via email, “all quiet on that front right now.”) Although Staal has been hampered by a string of serious injuries in recent years, he returned to form with a strong performance in the 2014 playoffs.

“I think it’s really important to have that group of guys back there. I add Girardi in the mix as well, just the stability and familiarity, and the personalities. They're very good teammates in locker room, good people, and they have that continuity, plus the ability to perform on the ice in front of Henrik Lundqvist,” Leetch said.

“My fingers are always crossed that Marc can stay healthy because he’s on the verge of getting to that next level. Obviously, that’s my hope for him, and I think he’s an elite player with the ability to be a top D in the league if he can continue to play and get those reps.”

As for Leetch’s future, he’s not quite sure of what lies ahead. Since he left the NHL’s Department of Player Safety earlier this month, Leetch’s most pressing plans have been the deep-sea fishing expeditions he’s taken this summer (shut out only once, he adds).

And although he enjoyed the gig with the league’s disciplinary arm, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“Those West Coast teams were too much for me,” Leetch joked of the long hours spent watching NHL games each night. “I didn’t mind the rest of it. In fact, it was very interesting, and I really liked the responsibility, but the hours away from the family [was tough],” Leetch said.

“I’ll do some TV work again with MSG [Network] and I’m talking about doing some other things, but nothing is set in stone.”
LOS ANGELES -- This is what heartbreak looks like: a stunned Derek Stepan with his stare fixed on the ground, arms folded on his knees, shoulders sagging in the moments after defeat. Henrik Lundqvist clasping his tape-laced fingers behind his neck, bowing his head in a locker room that was staggeringly silent. Dan Girardi, unmoving in his stall, sitting stoically in his sweat-soaked jersey.

"I have nowhere to go. No hurry now," Girardi said. "Just kept it on. No reason. I just -- just hanging onto it, I guess. Hanging onto the last moments here."

There were so many poignant moments to remember for the New York Rangers throughout what was a remarkable postseason run. So much to be proud of, yet all those fond memories were difficult to summon in the wake of the team’s season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe Rangers' playoff run ended with a Game 5, double-overtime loss to the Kings.
Those moments will be recalled in a few days' time. They’ll probably be rehashed many times throughout what will feel like a long, endless summer. Down the road, years from now, those memories will be shared over beers, laughs, maybe even some tears, too. There will be a sense of pride.

But not now.

"There will be. Not tonight, but there will be," said veteran Brad Richards, the Rangers’ de facto captain. "Tonight’s not a night to reminisce, but there will be a time this summer when you look back at what an amazing run it was. Has to be amazing to get this far. Things have to come together. No one will ever know, except for us, how fun it was and how we came together. You lose three overtime games in the final. It’s hard to explain."

It was already tough for the Rangers to articulate, to put into words just how exactly they were feeling physically, mentally and emotionally after a beautifully chaotic and drama-filled double-overtime game that ended with Alec Martinez’s game winner.

Some tried to explain what it was like.

"Empty," said defenseman Anton Stralman, who had a particularly strong postseason. "Emptiness, I think."

Marc Staal, as steady as any player in that room, both on or off the ice, made no effort to conceal his anguish.

"It’s the worst feeling you can have as a hockey player," said Staal, which is not hollow hyperbole coming from a player who has suffered through a pair of frightening, career-threatening injuries in recent years.

Maybe the worst part for all of those involved is that the group will never again get a chance with the team constituted as it currently stands. Richards has likely played his last game as a Ranger, with a potential buyout looming. Rick Nash, with another disappointing postseason performance, might not be long for Broadway. The team has six impending unrestricted free agents and several key restricted free agents to get under contract as well.

It will not be the same group of players come training camp this fall.

"Who knows if we’re going to have another crack at this? We might not get another crack at this opportunity," Girardi said, almost unbelieving. "That’s why it hurts, I think, that much more."

It will also sting, for some time, for the Rangers to look back on a series that went five games but was riddled with squandered leads, missed opportunities and some odd outcomes.

The Rangers played better in the games they lost than in their sole victory in Game 4. The Kings erased leads, rallied back, showed resilience. The Rangers never even really felt like they settled into their game. They dropped the first three games and seemed shell-shocked by their position.

"It felt like we closed our eyes and opened them and we were down three-nothing [in the series]," Staal said.

But the Rangers salvaged pride in Game 4, avoiding a sweep on home ice at Madison Square Garden, and they should have left the handshake line with their heads held high as well.

They left every ounce of effort on that Staples Center ice Friday night in what was maybe the most riveting stretch of playoff hockey this spring, maybe ever. There was not a single moment to mentally adjust, no time to take a deep breath. Just end-to-end, do-or-die hockey in its purest form. It was wildly entertaining, captivating and absolutely mesmerizing.

Both teams had their chances, great chances, to end the game in each overtime period. There was Ryan McDonagh’s shot off the post and Tyler Toffoli’s crossbar shot in the first period. There was Nash’s shot directed at an open net, foiled only by a sliver of shaft of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s stick in the next. Lundqvist was superb the whole way through, denying every Grade-A chance that passed his crease for his second outing of 40 saves or more, but it was just one juicy rebound surrendered that ended up in the back of their net.

Martinez buried the chance, a play that seemed to unfold in slow motion, if only because it signaled the end to a game that many hoped would just keep going. It was that good.

Coach Alain Vigneault, talking to just a smattering of reporters with the muffled sounds of victory music lingering in the background, lauded his club for its heart.

"You go into this hoping you don’t regret anything," Vigneault said. "We put it out there. We gave our best shot, our best effort. Three games here all went to OT. What can I say?"

There was not much to say, after all. But there will be time to think and reflect.

Defenseman John Moore, finally showered and dressed in his suit, paused on his way out of the dressing room. There was a television monitor in the barren hallway, and he took a brief glance at the Kings celebrating their Stanley Cup win with friends and family on the ice.

He looked away and kept walking.

It’s too painful in the immediate aftermath, but they will remember this run -- the team’s first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.

It was special, even in defeat.

"It’s definitely worth it. Worth every second, these two months," Richards said. "Right now, you’re just sort of speechless."
NEW YORK -- Derek Stepan still can’t even eat solid food. He won’t be indulging in anything of the sort for at least another six weeks. He’s still not sure if he’ll be able to eat the meal at his own wedding this summer. He’s learned to get acquainted with the blender, and he’s willing to get creative.

Broken jaw and all, he’s headed to the Stanley Cup finals.

[+] EnlargeDerek Stepan
AP ImagesDerek Stepan can't even eat solid food yet, but he still played a critical role in sending the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals.
The 23-year-old center has become another one of hockey’s prime examples of toughness personified, as he returned to the New York Rangers lineup in Game 5, just four days after undergoing surgery to have a plate inserted into his jaw, and played a critical role in helping the club advance to its first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1994.

All the pain and discomfort since he sustained the suspension-earning hit from Brandon Prust all seemed worth it to Stepan, who still couldn’t help but smile when recounting the final moments of the team’s 1-0 win in Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"That's a cool feeling,” he said. “I've been here four years and I've never had a feeling quite like that. That's something I won't forget for sure."

Stepan, who notched two goals in his first game back from injury in game 5 on Tuesday, lauded the team’s medical staff for helping him get back into the series. He said that he had to adjust to the hulking, bright green facial protector attached to his helmet, but got used to it after a few days.

As of now, he’s feeling all right. About as good as anyone else in the playoffs, it seems.

“Yeah, not too bad,” he said.

The euphoria of victory was enough to leave Stepan in a forgiving mood at least. After the game, he seemed to harbor no ill will towards his former teammate Prust, who was slapped with a two-game ban for the hit that broke Stepan’s jaw.

“I’m not going to hold it against him,” Stepan said, “He feels bad about it, he knows it was late. We’ll just move on.”

• • •


Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said he didn’t know what to do when the Prince of Wales trophy was awarded at center-ice after the Rangers’ Eastern Conference final victory. He deferred to the team’s elder statesman, and de facto captain, Brad Richards.

Richards told him not to touch it.

Back in 2004, when the 33-year-old veteran won a Stanley Cup Championship with Tampa Bay along with teammate Martin St. Louis, he was instructed not to touch it, as per hockey superstition.

Since it worked out so well for them 10 years ago, he continued to heed the ritual.

"Well, I just -- Marty and I have been there, [Daniel] Carcillo, unfortunately, just wasn't dressed, so we didn't put his opinion in, but no one else was dressed that's been there. We won it without touching it, and it was instructed that way when we won,” Richards explained. “If half the team was there, maybe we would have had more debate on the ice, but it wasn't much debate. We're not doing it, and that's where we went with it."
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers may not win this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it won’t be for a lack of heart. At no other point in the season was the team’s loyalty, commitment and compassion on better display than Friday’s emotional 5-1 win in which they rallied behind teammate Martin St. Louis, who played Game 5 only one day after the death of his mother.

After the team charter landed in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon, the 38-year-old veteran found out his mother, France St. Louis, had unexpectedly died at 63 of a heart attack. The Rangers provided St. Louis with the team plane to fetch his family in New York, then procured a private plane to take them all to Montreal, where he joined his father and was able to see his mother one last time before she was taken away. He was told by the team to put family first, take whatever time he needed. But when he spoke with his father Friday morning, the decision was clear.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis, Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo
Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Rangers avoided elimination in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.
“I know, deep down, my mother would -- my mom would want me to play this game. She’d be proud of me coming here and help as much as I can. And the boys have been so supportive, the support I got from the New York Rangers, my teammates, and my friends and family, friends around the league, old friends, has been unbelievable,” said St. Louis in a touching, heartfelt postgame interview after the Rangers avoided elimination.

“She was a great lady, the best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it.”

Most of St. Louis’ teammates were unaware of his intentions on game day. Words started to spread at the pregame meal at the team hotel. Some were in utter disbelief that he was coming back. Some, especially those who have known St. Louis for some time, were not surprised at all. But all of his teammates recognized the sacrifice he was making. Here was a teammate in excruciating emotional pain, and he was putting that on hold to play a hockey game because it mattered.

"I think it shows how much he cares about the guys in this room," said defenseman Marc Staal. "He didn’t want to leave us when we needed him most. Shows a lot about a guy. I don’t know if I could do it."

Hockey has always been a sanctuary for St. Louis and it was again Friday night, when the team put forth an inspired, purposeful performance that kept their season afloat. Derick Brassard scored two goals, as did the maligned power play, and the Rangers forced a Game 6 at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s always been like that for me. Once you get on the ice, I’m not going to say I forgot my whole situation -- she was with me the whole way -- but this is probably the most comfortable place that you can be as a hockey player,” St. Louis said.

Those around him did their best to keep his spirits high. There was a brief talk, in which he was thanked for his return, before team meetings just hours before puck drop. During the third period, Brassard gave him a jubilant hug on the bench, tussling his helmet in appreciation. Even Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby made a special stop near the Rangers’ dressing room to pay his condolences to the well-respected veteran before the game began.

After the game, alternate captain Richards talked about the “culture” of hockey players, saying he wasn’t surprised St. Louis played. No one on the team could have grasped the depth of St. Louis’ loss better than Richards, either. The longtime friends, who played together in Tampa, have known each other for years. Their families have grown close. Just 10 days earlier, Richards said, St. Louis’ mom was patting his fiancee’s belly, overjoyed for the impending arrival of his first child.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective about the other night’s hockey game," Richards said.

According to Brassard, the tragedy hit home for pretty much everyone, seeing their teammate go through such a shock.

“If we could’ve all gone to support him, we would have done it,” Brassard told ESPNNewYork.com.

He thought of his own mother, and how despondent he would have been to receive such news.

“When things like that happen, it makes you realize,” Brassard began, getting emotional. “I wanted to call my mom and tell her I love her.”

The Rangers did the best they could, for St. Louis and for one another. They were able to harness that emotion and channel it. That sort of raw energy allowed them to power past the Pens, a totally different look from the team that was on the ice in Games 3 and 4 looking both ragged and defeated.

Now they will have another chance to prolong their season on Sunday. Fittingly, Game 6 falls on Mother’s Day.

“We get another chance to continue, on Mother’s Day,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It will be real special for our group.”

PITTSBURGH -- New York Rangers veteran center Brad Richards recalled a game more than three years ago, back when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. It was a 3-2 shootout loss for the Stars at American Airlines Center, and it was a game Richards remembers well because of the way defenseman Marc Staal performed.

He recalled how hard of a time he had playing against Staal, whose long reach and sound stick work disrupted Dallas’ play during the 33:06 of ice time Staal logged. Staal finished the game with an assist and a plus-1. That stellar match has stuck with Richards even since the two have become teammates on Broadway.

After a rocky two years that were largely derailed following a pair of devastating injuries, Staal is looking more and more like that player Richards remembers.

"We've only been able to see a little bit of it because all of the major injuries he’s had, not just little things," Richards said. "That takes a lot of time. I think as time goes, a full year this year pretty much, hopefully we’ll see him closer and closer to how he was."

[+] EnlargeMarc Staal
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMarc Staal has been productive for the Rangers this postseason.
Staal missed extended time due to lingering effects of a concussion in 2012, and he endured another lengthy absence after a harrowing eye injury in 2013, but Staal played in 72 regular-season games and all eight playoff matches for the Rangers this season. That sort of continuity has enabled the re-emergence of Staal as one of the steadiest defensemen in the league.

He was awarded the team’s sartorial MVP trophy, the Broadway Hat, following his effort in the Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He ranks third on the team in ice time with an average of 20:24 and has two points and is plus-7 through eight games in these playoffs.

His teammates have been heartened to see this progress, not just as benefactors of his play on the ice, but because of how well-liked and respected Staal is off the ice, as well.

"I've got nothing but good things to say about Marc Staal,” said young center Derek Stepan, who was invited to live with Staal while he was in between apartments during the NHL lockout. "Since I’ve gotten here, he’s been someone I can lean on."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knew Staal only by reputation while Vigneault was coaching in Vancouver. This season he has gotten to witness the 27-year-old’s growth first-hand.

"I think he’s a guy this year that has improved throughout the year,” Vigneault said during the Rangers’ media availability in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon. “We always knew he was a good defender and he’s still one of the best defenders in the league in my opinion but he’s also, this year, he’s improved his puck decisions. He improved moving the puck, helping us break out a little quicker out of our own end.”

That’s been vital for the Rangers, especially this season, as they’ve embraced a speed game that requires the defensemen to activate from the back end. Those sort of quick plays had given Staal difficulty in the past. His eye injury previously effected his depth perception and appeared to make him less sure of himself when he had the puck.

But constant repetition and consistent playing time have improved that facet of his play, as he has reverted back to trusting his instincts rather than trying to anticipate the play.

“The more hockey you play, the more automatic things become. You kind of get into the groove as the season goes along where you’re not always thinking too much, you’re just playing,” Staal said. “At the large part at the beginning of the year, I was thinking too much of what I should do next instead of just reacting or playing, and those decisions [that] become natural and automatic to you weren’t there really at the beginning. Throughout the year, I think that’s gotten better.”

Staal’s return to form has been a godsend to the Rangers, particularly in the playoffs when neutralizing an opponent’s top players becomes even more critical throughout the course of a seven-game series. The Rangers already boast an outstanding first defensive pairing in Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, but Staal’s steadiness on the blue line has meshed seamlessly with the understated, yet heady, Anton Stralman.

The two players handled important minutes Friday against both Sidney Crosby's and Evgeni Malkin’s lines.

"He’s a great player. He’s very underrated, I think," Staal said of his Swedish counterpart. "He doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves. He’s been playing great all year long. Very smart with the puck, very good positionally and he’s got a good stick. We work well together, so we want to keep that going."

The Rangers do, too. The team’s forward depth has provided an edge during this playoff run, and the team’s balance on the back end is becoming a tremendous asset, as well. The defensive corps effectively shut down Philadelphia’s top line in the first round, and it already seems to be thriving against a top-heavy Penguins team that has opted to both load up Crosby and Malkin and use them on separate lines so as to create a more balanced attack.

Neither player scored a goal Friday. Crosby was held off the scoresheet for the 12th consecutive playoff game and finished the night at minus-3. If this trend continues, and Staal remains an integral part of the equation, the Rangers will be in excellent shape.

“That’s a benefit of the team and why we’re in the second round, probably,” Richards said. "It’s going to be tough every night with those guys [Crosby and Malkin]; they’re world-class players and they’re going to keep coming. It’s going to be a challenge for [Staal and Stralman], but we’re very happy to have them back there doing what they’re doing.”

St. Louis addresses trade talk

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
3:20
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GREENBURGH, N.Y -- Rangers forward Ryan Callahan isn't the only captain fielding questions about his future in the week leading up to the NHL's trade deadline on March 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis returned home from Sochi, Russia with little time to revel in Team Canada's gold medal-winning performance in the 2014 Olympic games. Instead St. Louis was asked to address the rampant rumors that he had requested a trade from Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman after he was initially left off Team Canada's roster Yzerman, who also constructed the Canadian national team, later added the 38-year-old veteran forward as an injury replacement for Steven Stamkos.

In short: St. Louis did not deny it.

"I've had talks with Steve about my future with the team and I'll leave it at that," St. Louis told reporters on Wednesday, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Why is this relevant in New York? According to the New York Post, Rangers general manager Glen Sather called Yzerman to inquire about St. Louis' availability, though Yzerman did not seem to reciprocate interest in a deal involving the Art Ross Trophy winner for a rental player in Ryan Callahan, who is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Rangers and Callahan's camp remain at an impasse in a contract extension for the 28-year-old winger.

A league source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that St. Louis was unhappy after the initial snub by Yzerman, though it is not immediately known if the damage has since been repaired. St. Louis does have a no-move clause in his contract, though it is believed that New York would be an appealing destination to him since he has a home in Connecticut and trains there during the off-season.

Though it does not appear anything is imminent on the trade front, the situation in Tampa is one to monitor closely as the deadline nears.

• • •


Defenseman Marc Staal, who has been hampered recently by back spasms, said he felt better on the ice during practice Wednesday. Assuming he feels the same Thursday morning and experiences no setback or tightness, he expects to be in the lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

• • •
Derek Dorsett (leg) took part in a full team practice Wednesday, though Alain Vigneault said he plans on holding the gritty forward out until the team's back-to-back set this weekend.

• • •


With starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist one of seven players returning from the Olympics, backup netminder Cam Talbot will get the start Thursday vs. the Hawks. Lundqvist will be back in goal Saturday against the Flyers.


CALGARY, Alberta -- Team Canada wrapped up its three-day Olympic camp with more "walk-through" practices Tuesday, and, while it has been unusual to see the players in ball-hockey mode on the covered ice, the innovative approach was a winner with the players.

Despite not skating for real, there was a sense of accomplishment at the end of it all.

“Being on the ice, going over video, getting to know some of the guys, I think we made the best of every situation," Sidney Crosby said after camp wrapped up Tuesday.

“A lot of information, details on the way we want to play. Just trying to grasp all that is important, because there isn’t a ton of time over there, so you make the most of having the time here together.”

Some people may snicker at a camp without actual on-ice practices, but Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman felt it was worth it, no question.

"The feedback from coaches and players is they think it’s been worthwhile,” Yzerman said. "They’ve spent a lot of time, even if they’re going on the floor, in meetings and video sessions. It just takes that one step further and they can walk through their positioning. Some guys learn different than others. Some guys tune out in video and meetings and whatnot. If we do this in a practical manner, it kind of drives the point home a little bit."

Head coach Mike Babcock spent a lot of time organizing the event and had specific goals he wanted to reach here.

"[The players] came here for three simple things. No. 1 was to get to know everybody better from players to coaches to management to trainers, to get to know them and have a comfort level," Babcock said.

"No. 2 is to understand the details of how we're going to play -- terminology, where to stand, how to play in your own zone, how to play on the power play, penalty kill. We've gone over and over that. The walk-throughs made it slow enough to really spend some time on it.

"The third thing I think was critical for them is the evaluation process. How do you get to Sochi? We've tried to explain it to each and every guy so when they leave here they've got three months to do their part. They're in control of whether they go."

Just how much the players remember in terms of their system teaching come four months from now remains to be seen.

“I’m sure guys will need to refresh a little bit, but as far as just getting an idea for a foundation, it’s great we’re able to do it here,” Crosby said. "Kind of an unconventional way of doing it, but I think nonetheless we were able to benefit from it.”

Countries have until Dec. 31 to name their 25-man rosters, Yzerman indicating Canada would name its team sometime between mid- to late December.

"At the start of the season, we’ll start with this group of 47 -- we’ll keep an eye on everybody -- but focus on particular teams, particular games, particular players that we’re deciding on,” Yzerman said of narrowing down the choices. "There was a few guys we don’t feel the need to watch. But we know what they can do and they’re going to be on this team, assuming they’re healthy. We’ll arrange our schedule over the next week or so to get ready for the start of the regular season. We’ll get together as a group early November to narrow things down a little bit and talk about what we’re seeing and make sure we’re all in constant communication and get organized from November to mid-December and make our final decisions at that point."

In 2010, Canada was criticized for some its selections despite winning gold. Only in hockey-mad Canada is winning gold not quite good enough to satisfy everyone.

Yzerman knows the Team Canada brain trust won’t please everyone with its decisions this time, either.

"In 2010, we won, could you have put six or seven different guys on that team and still have won? Probably, maybe?” Yzerman said. "But we’ll beat it to death and talk about it and try and put the best team together. There will be logic behind our decisions whether it looks like it or not."

Canada's captain


The naming of a team captain will wait for now.

“It will probably be similar to Vancouver. I think it would be wise to wait until the team is named before we announce a captain,” said Yzerman, who named Scott Niedermayer captain last time around. "We’ll talk to the coaching staff about it and collectively reach a decision on that."

Hard to think Sidney Crosby won’t get the "C," although there will be a number of great candidates given that most of these guys are captains on their respective NHL teams.

“It’d be an honor for sure,” Crosby said of whether he’d be named captain. "But it’s not something that’s on my mind a whole lot. We all want to be on this team and lead by example when we need to, but it’s an honor to be a captain on any team.”

Regardless, Crosby will have a bigger leadership role than he had in 2010 when he was a 22-year-old first-time Olympian.

“I think if I look back at last time, I was probably more in awe and trying to learn from those guys [more] than anything,” Crosby said. "I don’t think it's a conscious decision you make, I think its just a natural progression when you’ve played on a team before, you understand things a bit better. It’s a comfort level. It’s a difference between going to your first Olympic camp and your second one. It’s a mindset.

“I think it’s kind of a natural progression for all the guys who were in Vancouver to come here and be a lot more comfortable, but with the number of guys we have here who are captains or leaders on their team, I think you’ll see a lot of guys who are comfortable.”

Yzerman said it’s logical that some of the young stars from 2010 will step up in the leadership department this time around.

"Sidney, Shea Weber, those types of guys that played very well and are elite NHL players,” Yzerman said. "Four more years later, a lot has happened in their careers. They’ve learned a lot. They’ve matured a lot. The Scott Neidermayers, the Chris Prongers aren’t here. It’s up to those players to take a step forward. So, yes, I expect some of these younger players to take a step forward. Jonathan [Toews] or Sidney, for example, they’ve won gold medals, won Stanley Cups. They’ve accomplished a lot. They’re still young guys. But they’re leaders on their own clubs and we expect them to be here.”

Sharp's ready this time


Four years ago, Patrick Sharp arrived at the Canadian Olympic camp a little wide-eyed. But it’s a different feeling this time around for the Chicago Blackhawks star.

"Going back then, I think I was a different player,” Sharp said Tuesday. "I was 26 or 27. I don’t want to say I was star-struck, but I was excited to be here. But I don’t know if I really believed then that I belonged. I know that’s a bad thing to say as a player. This time around, I’m much more confident, I’ve played in a some pretty serious games. Since 2009 we’ve gone deep in the playoffs three times and won the Stanley Cup twice. So a lot has changed for my game since then, and hopefully, I can play well this year and show the coaches and Hockey Canada that I belong."

What does Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman say about Sharp’s opportunity to make the team?

"A very good chance," Yzerman said. "One, he can play all of the three forward positions, which is a great asset. He plays in all situations, power play, penalty killing. He has been on teams that have won Stanley Cups and been an important player. Teams that win, certain traits they have, their players play a certain way and can play in big games and play under pressure and know how to win. He’s got all those things going for him."

Sharp’s ability to play all three forward positions is an obvious asset.

"I hope so,” said Sharp, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario. "I know it’s tough putting these kinds of teams together and moving guys around in different positions. That’s something I’ve done my whole career in Chicago. If that helps my chances, that’s great."

You sense in Sharp’s voice how much it would mean to him to make this team. He was asked if making Team Canada would mean as much or even more than winning the Stanley Cup.

"That’s tough to answer,” Sharp said. "That’s like saying, 'Who do you like better, my wife or my daughter?' It’s two things that would be incredible accomplishments. And I’m jealous of Seabs and Duncs and Johnny who were able to win the Cup and the gold in the same year. I certainly want to be part of that and will do anything I can to make the team this year."

Marc Staal's recovery


Rangers blueliner Marc Staal says he’s ready to go after suffering a scary eye injury last season.

"It's good. Really good. I had a really good summer of training and I feel really good," Staal said Tuesday. "When I'm on the ice, I don't really notice it at all. I'm excited and anxious just to start the season up and get it going."

Staal said he has adjusted well.

"It was more of just adapting to the depth perception and things like that when I was coming back,” Staal explained. "It just wasn't clicking when I was trying to come back in the playoffs there. But with the time off and the training now, everything's back to normal and I'm feeling really good."

Many people believe Staal could make Team Canada as long as there are no signs he’s limited by what happened to his eye.

"I have no limitations at all. It's been a great summer of training,” Staal said. "Physically from the time I was cleared to start working out, there wasn't anything I couldn't do as far as physically getting ready. So that part of it has been really good this summer, just getting into shape, getting stronger and getting ready for the season."

Weber's game


Early in Canada’s trouncing of Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Shea Weber threw his body around and it set the tempo for the victory.

But that was on NHL ice. He has given some thought to how he’s going to have to adjust his game on the bigger ice in Sochi.

"Yeah definitely," Weber said. "I had the chance to play in the world championships in Russia and Switzerland, so I’m a little familiar with it. You can get caught out of position a lot easier. It’s wider and there’s more time and space for those guys to make passes through you. So you have to be conscious. You still want to play physical but you don’t want to take chances."

Weber is a lock to make this team again, but he certainly hasn’t tried to sit down and figure out the 25-man roster.

"No, that’s why I’m the player, there’s too many tough decisions,” said the Nashville Predators captain. "You go down the list and everybody deserves the chance. That’s why they’re here. There’s even guys that aren’t here that probably will get a good look during the season. We’re very fortunate in Canada to have a big selection, but definitely some tough choices."

Lucic is in shape


A lot was said last season about what kind of shape Milan Lucic was in. The topic reared its ugly head late in the regular season when he was a healthy scratch because of his ineffective play. He picked it up big time in the playoffs and was once again the player people in Boston were used to watching.

Good news, Bruins fans. One look at Lucic this week at the Olympic camp and you know he’s in excellent shape.

"I'm in a lot better shape than I was going into [last] year,” Lucic said. "I didn't take much time off; I maybe took a week off after we lost to Chicago just because I was feeling really good, how I ended off on a personal note and I kind of wanted to keep that going. I went back to how I used to always train. I had some things that were kind of bothering me that weren't allowing my body to train as hard as I used to and I rectified a couple of those problems and it's starting to feel better in the gym."

Iggy talk


Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is eager to see Jarome Iginla on the Bruins this season.

"For sure, it's going to be great,” Bergeron said. "I've had a chance to play with him and to meet him in Vancouver and he's an amazing guy and also player, very professional and a great leader as well. Very excited to have him with us and looking forward to getting to know him even more."

Clowe, Staal status unclear

May, 6, 2013
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NEW YORK -- Both injured defensemen Marc Staal (eye) and Ryane Clowe (believed to be a concussion) skated Monday morning during the Rangers' optional morning skate at Madison Square Garden.

It remains unclear whether either -- or both -- players will return to action in Game 3 against the Capitals. Rangers coach John Tortorella said he will not address injury or lineup questions during the post-season.

Staal did not speak with the media after the skate, making it difficult to gauge his availability for Monday, but there is an interesting point to consider. Assuming he is close, which he is believed to be, wouldn't it make the most sense for him to get back in at home?

Given the home team's ability to make the last change, the Rangers' would be better able to manage matchups. Plus the team could ease him back into play in comfortable surroundings. Staal's knowledge of the ice, the dimensions, the lighting and weird little nuances of MSG would diminish the adjustments necessary to accommodate any lingering limitations of his right eye.

Staal, who has been skating with the team for weeks, has not played since being struck in the eye with a puck during a game against the Flyers March 5.

Clowe did speak to the media Monday morning, but said he was not yet sure if he will be available Monday.

"I feel pretty good out there," Clowe said. "Obviously you guys [the media] want to know if I'm going to play tonight, [but] I'm still not sure about that."

It's clear that the 30-year-old veteran, who has 68 games of playoff experience as a former long-time San Jose Shark, is itching to get back. But the Rangers are likely exercising caution with what is believed to be a head injury that has shelved him since the team's playoff-clinching win in Carolina in the penultimate game of the season.

"Like anyone else at this time of year, no one's ever 100 percent, but when I come back I'll definitely I'll feel capable of everything I can bring and my style of play -- obviously, a physical style -- so that's what I'm looking at here.
WASHINGTON -- Rangers forward Ryane Clowe skated with the team Friday for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury (believed to be a concussion) in the Rangers' playoff-clinching win in Carolina last Thursday.

Clowe said he felt "pretty good" and added that he may even be available to return to the lineup for Game 2 against the Capitals on Saturday.

"I'm not gonna rule out tomorrow," Clowe said after the Rangers' brief skate on Friday at the Verizon Center. "Tough to watch this time of year. Playoffs -- it's the time of year and the hockey I look forward to the most. So, it was hard to watch last night. But, I'll discuss it with the trainers and the proper people today and let them know how it felt. So we'll see."

Clowe sounded like the conditioning factor is not his biggest concern, given the anticipated adrenaline jolt the playoffs provide.

"I feel like that this time of year I can jump in every time, just because I've played a lot of hockey up to this point," Clowe said. I just feel like you can run on [adrenaline]. It's kind of like my first game in New York. I didn't really have any sleep but you run on adrenaline to get back into it. So, I don't think conditioning is that big of a factor."

Coach John Tortorella also confirmed that a player healthy enough to play will be in the lineup at this time of year, regardless of conditioning level.

"Because if we don't win, we're done," he said. "So I don't give a d*** about conditioning."

Clowe's return could lend a big boost to the Rangers offense. The rugged 30-year-old winger brings size and grit to the lineup, and he also adds experience. In his eight-plus seasons with the Sharks, Clowe had 18 goals and 45 points in 68 playoff games.

"It's good to see. I think everybody skated today. We have a lot of players out there and [you] hope for the best, that everybody's healthy," said fellow playoff veteran Brad Richards. "A lot of decisions to be made and everybody's chomping at the bit. I'm not a trainer or a doctor. I don't know exactly where everybody is, but it's good to have everybody out there."

In addition to Clowe, injured forward Derek Dorsett also appears to be nearing a return. For the first time Friday, Dorsett skated in a regular jersey -- he previously donned a non-contact jersey -- which presumably means he was cleared for contact.

Brian Boyle and defenseman Marc Staal also practiced with the team, although it isn't clear when any of the four players will return. Tortorella said Thursday that he will not discuss any injuries or lineup questions during the playoffs.

WASHINGTON -- With the playoffs underway and the subterfuge already in full swing, injured Rangers forward Brian Boyle revealed very little after skating with the team Thursday for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury April 16.

Boyle seemed encouraged by the morning's skate but didn't offer up much more regarding his potential return to the lineup.

"I felt good," he said.

Any idea of a timeline?

"I felt good," he answered. "It was positive."

Boyle did concede, sort of, that he is hopeful to return to the lineup at some point during this series vs. Washington.

"Playoffs. I want to be out there as quick as I can. It felt good, so that's all I really know," he said. "I don't have any idea how it's supposed to work. I'm trying to feel as good as I can as fast as I can."

Boyle was similarly noncommittal when asked whether he would require medical clearance before he can resume playing.

"We've got a whole staff of medical guys," Boyle said. "Again, I'm not a doctor."

Boyle also declined to answer whether he has skated prior to Thursday on his own.

• • •


Injured defenseman Marc Staal was a bit more forthcoming about his progress; Staal has not played since being struck in the eye with a puck on March 5.

The 26-year-old said he doesn't want to risk coming back until he is confident he can make a positive impact, especially considering the heightened pressure this time of year.

"When I feel like I'm going to be able to help the team win and be successful, I'll get back on the ice," Staal said. "Hopefully that's sooner rather than later."

How will he know?

"As soon as I'm not second-guessing myself or hesitating, or [once] I do things I normally do becomes automatic again is when I can jump into a playoff-type game," Staal said.

Staal praised the work of the Rangers' defensive corps in his absence and said he doesn't want to "compromise" that by returning prematurely. He admitted that the situation might be different if this was a regular-season scenario, but that it makes no sense to take the risk with critical playoff games on the line.

"If it were Game 10 maybe I'd jump out there for a few shifts," he said. "But right now the stakes are too high."

• • •
Derek Dorsett (collarbone) skated with the team in a white non-contact jersey. Ryane Clowe (believed to be concussion) made the trip to D.C. with the team but did not skate.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Pre-empting the crowd of reporters surrounding his dressing room stall, Marc Staal assured them he had no new information about his injured right eye.

And although Staal did not definitively rule himself out, he said he will "probably" not play in Game 1 of the team's first-round series against the Capitals in D.C. on Thursday.

"I'm not going to ... I'm probably not going to play tomorrow," said Staal, who has been sidelined since being struck in the eye with a puck March 5.

Staal continues to practice with the team in hopes of returning soon. The 26-year-old defenseman missed almost half of last season with a concussion.

"There are good and bad days," he said. "So, [I] keep taking it day by day and hope it keeps getting better."

• • •
Ryane Clowe, whose undisclosed injury is believed to be a concussion, and Brian Boyle (lower body) did not practice with the team Wednesday

Derek Dorsett (shoulder) practiced in a yellow noncontact jersey.

• • •


With four days to rest, recover and prepare in between their regular-season finale against the Devils on Saturday and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday, the Rangers have had their most significant amount of practice time thus far during the lockout-shortened season.

A good thing in some ways, though coach John Tortorella senses his team is getting restless.

"They're sick of practicing," Tortorella said. "We're not used to it, especially this year. You're playing every other day. Even the coaches ... we're just used to playing. This is the time of year you should be playing. Again, I'm not complaining, it's just a lot of time."

So much time, in fact, that Tortorella decided to wrap things up early Wednesday. Both Monday and Tuesday the team practiced for double sessions, with the second session devoted to special teams.


GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- In matching up against the Washington Capitals for the third straight year, beginning Thursday night in D.C., the Rangers face a familiar foe with an understanding of what to expect in a series between the two clubs.

Four times in the past five years the Rangers and Caps have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Coaches, personnel and system structures have changed, but the enmity has not.

"It's always a battle," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "It seems like it usually goes the length or close to it. I think we match up against each other pretty evenly."

Last April was a prime example, when the teams met in Round 2. The top-seeded Rangers prevailed, but it took seven grueling games to do it.

No game was more indicative of the grit, passion and intensity level that characterized that series than Game 3 -- a triple-OT match that went on well past midnight in a true war of attrition until Marian Gaborik's game-winner ended it after 114 minutes of play.

"That was a really hard-fought series and that game pretty much summed it up," said defenseman Dan Girardi, who logged 44:26 minutes on the Rangers' back end that night. "Overall, I just think it's going to be a really big battle. I think in front of both nets is gonna be key, what team can establish the forecheck and control the tempo there."

Girardi has drawn the unenviable task of matching up against Alex Ovechkin throughout the years, and that duty is not bound to get any easier with Ovechkin entering the postseason on a stunning clip.

Capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer for the third time in his NHL career, Ovechkin finished the regular season at a scorching pace. Earning the NHL's first star of the month, Ovechkin notched 14 goals and 22 points in the month of April while leading his team to yet another Southeast Divison title.

No. 8 may have gotten off to a sluggish start, in part because of a transition from his natural wing, but he has since proven that he can still electrify and dominate a game.

"He's dynamic whatever side he's on," Girardi said. "He never really stays on one side for long… so we'll have our hands full with him. He's playing really well right now. We've got to be sharp against that line and their second, third, and fourth lines. They have four solid lines that can fore-check and score some goals. We're going to have to be very strong defensively."

The Rangers will likely have to do so without cornerstone defenseman Marc Staal, who has yet to play since suffering a frightening eye injury March 5.

Staal continued to practice with the team Monday, but does not appear to be nearing a return.

"I haven't written myself off, obviously," Staal said. "So far, every day I try to improve and get more work in and get more comfortable and confident with the puck in situations I'm going to be in on the ice."

With that gaping hole on their back end, the Rangers will have to rely on reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net.

Though 23-year-old Braden Holtby has been impressive of late for the Caps, Lundqvist gives the Rangers a distinct edge in goal.

Lundqvist has plenty of experience playing against Washington in the playoffs, but this year's team is a decidedly new look than previous years, he said.

"It's the same team name but it's a different look, especially when I look at them over the last four, five years here," Lundqvist said. "It was all about offense, then all about defense, now it's in the middle. They're a team where you have to respect a lot of things about their game, especially their offensive, top guys."

Fortunately for the Rangers, they’ll have three full days to prepare for the new-look Caps under rookie head coach Adam Oates' direction. That's a luxury afforded them with an unusual schedule that doesn't have the teams meeting until Thursday for Game 1.

That would be a blessing for the Rangers, especially if it allowed injured players like Staal, Ryane Clowe and Brian Boyle to return to action, but none seem to be on the immediate horizon.

Plus, the series ends in unusual fashion with Games 6 and 7 slated to be played on back-to-back nights Sunday May 12 and Monday May 13.

The schedule won't make much difference, Girardi said. After all, both teams know what they're in for in Round 1.

"Both teams know each other really well and I think both teams are raring to get going," Girardi said. "I think we both wish we were starting earlier, but both teams will be ready come Thursday."

Penguins forward Jordan Staal has been on both the giving and receiving ends of hard hits with his hockey-playing siblings plenty of times.

But rarely have the effects been as devastating as this past February, when oldest brother Eric dished out a thundering blow on Marc during a game between the Hurricanes and Rangers. The 24-year-old defenseman, 20 months Jordan's senior, has yet to play a game because of post-concussion headaches stemming from the hit.

"Obviously I feel bad for both my brothers," Jordan Staal said after the Penguins morning skate Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum. "It's not a great situation, but again, it happens in the games. Hopefully, it will be over soon enough."

The incident isn't exactly dinner-table conversation at the Staal homestead back in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It's a family that has already produced three NHL players -- youngest brother Jared, 21, plays for an AHL team in Charlotte -- and with that comes the knowledge of the risks inherent in a physical game.

"We haven't really talked about it a whole lot," Staal said. "It's unfortunate that it was Eric who ended up taking out Marc, but it's part of the game. I'm sure Marc will be back soon enough."

Staal, who first disclosed he was still battling post-workout headaches when camp opened in September, has yet to practice fully with the team.

It was a startling revelation for the team's top defenseman, who led the Rangers with 24:55 of ice time last season. He missed five games following the injury last season, but symptoms did not seem to worsen until his workouts resumed over the summer.

Staal is currently on injured reserve and has yet to resume skating, but Jordan is hopeful that he will return soon.

Jordan has witnessed the slow, steady and well-chronicled progress made by his Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby, who has been out with a concussion since last January, and has seen how difficult the road to recovery can be.

"There always is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometime it's harder to see for most guys," Staal said. "Marc's still got a little bit of a road ahead, for sure. He's starting to feel better than he was before but it's a long road, obviously."

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the hit, Marc has a strong support system, Staal said.

"It's not easy, but our family's going to help support him as much as we can."

Defenseman Marc Staal, who is still suffering from post-concussion headaches, may not be going to Europe with the Rangers when they head overseas Monday.

Staal, who went to see a specialist yesterday, did not skate for the second straight day. According to coach John Tortorella he continued his evaluation with medical staff today.

The team should know more about Staal's status by tomorrow, Tortorella said.



GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- We are listening to New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal talk about the headaches that continue to plague him as he tries to recover from a concussion sustained when blasted by brother Eric some seven months ago, and we are left with one overarching feeling: This is not good.

Never mind that Staal skated drills Tuesday after leaving the Rangers facility Monday without getting on the ice because he felt lousy.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesThere have been some improvements, but needless to say, Marc Staal and the Rangers are concerned about his health for the upcoming season.

Never mind that he reports there have been some improvements in his condition as the summer has worn on.

Instead the fact that intense workouts continue to leave the Rangers’ top defenseman with headaches, sometimes severe, sometimes lasting hours, sometimes hours after exertion, seem like nothing but bad news.

“After the season, I took a month and a couple weeks off with no headaches. I had a little ringing in the ears and stuff like that, but it started to quiet down. As soon as I started working out again that’s when I noticed something wasn’t right,” Staal told reporters at the Rangers’ training facility Tuesday afternoon.

Staal passed his physical at the start of camp and was cleared for contact. But the first couple of days at camp were difficult and Staal said he felt not great Monday so took the day off.

He did feel better Tuesday and didn’t feel any problems while talking with reporters, but the bottom line is that Staal’s symptoms have been recurring in an irregular pattern.

“As the length and the harder the workout, some days I’ll get a headache late in the day that’ll last four or five hours. Or one hour,” he said.

“I feel no symptoms if I don’t do anything. If I sit on the couch all day I don’t get any headache. If I push myself really hard, later in the day -- more often than not -- I’ll get a headache,” Staal said.

At the risk of sounding alarmist (hey, we’re the media, it’s what we do) that does not sound good.

In fact, it sounds anything but good.

Remember when Sidney Crosby had to scale back his workouts this summer when he reported a return of symptoms when he ramped up the intensity level? The news created a kind of national panic.

Now Crosby has skated hard at the start of Pittsburgh’s camp and hasn’t missed a day of drills. He hasn’t been cleared for contact and hasn’t played since early January, still, at a distance at least, he seems almost to be in a better place than Staal vis--vis his symptoms.

This is a Rangers team that has set the bar high for the coming season.

After being dumped in the first round of the playoffs last spring, the Rangers added the top free agent on the market in Brad Richards.

Rangers
ESPN.com Illustration

The former playoff MVP’s job is to continue the superlative production that has marked his career thus far and, along the way, act as a catalyst to get the most out of the talented but underperforming Marian Gaborik.

With Henrik Lundqvist, he of the league-leading 11 shutouts last season and a young, tough, blue line, the Rangers were looking to move from back of the playoff bus to a more comfortable seat near the front.

Yet what Staal is enduring threatens the very foundation of that plan.

Staal, newly married and the owner of a five-year contract that will pay him just a shade less than $20 million in total, is one of the cornerstones of the Rangers' plan to return to contender status.

He is not Zdeno Chara or Nicklas Lidstrom or Chris Pronger except that, in some ways, to the Rangers that’s exactly what the 24-year-old represents.

There is so much to like about the way the Rangers have entrusted the future of the blue line to the kids.

Staal and defense partner Dan Girardi are admirable mentors for guys like Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Michael Del Zotto and rookie Tim Erixon, who is hoping to crack the Ranger squad this fall.

Staal is crucial to that because everything else, job assignments, ice time, expectations, flow from him on down through the defensive lineup. If he is absent for any length of time, that plan becomes skewed, the foundation weakened.

Last season, his fourth in the league, Staal set personal bests in most offensive categories. He led the Rangers and was fourth in the NHL in average ice time per night and led all NHL defensemen with four shorthanded points.

Listening to him talk Tuesday, it’s amazing he was able to play at all after suffering the injury in late February.

“I give Marc Staal a tremendous amount of credit. He played last year. He wasn’t dead on, but he certainly felt he could help the team and he did. You watch how he played. I trust him. That’s the key is trusting the player,” head coach John Tortorella said Tuesday.

Given his evolution, there was nothing to suggest Staal would not take an even bigger step forward this year and with him the Rangers.

Until now.

“Sometimes an athlete is sore but really isn’t hurt. That’s dealing with groins and maybe a shoulder or your back or whatever it may be. You try to push them through it and make them understand that not everybody feels perfect and you still need to get out there and play. But this one here you’ve got to be cautious because it’s not tangible. It’s a very difficult injury,” Tortorella said.

“You leave it up to the player. I think I need to trust your player, and he needs to communicate with you how he’s doing that’s what we’re trying to do with Marc. We communicate with him every day and see how he’s going about his business, how he feels after, and we’re going to continue doing that,” the coach said.

Now, no one is saying Staal won’t be ready to roll when they open the regular season in Stockholm against the Los Angeles Kings. Or that he’s necessarily going to miss significant playing time. But there is absolutely no idea of knowing when Staal will take part in scrimmages or whether he’ll play in any exhibition games or, well, you get the point.

“It’s frustrating. It’s something I’ve never had before, so frustration is probably the best word for it. I’ve been improving over the last two three weeks quite a bit. Hoping it keeps going in that direction,” Staal said.

The Rangers were already trolling for a veteran defenseman -- Paul Mara’s name has come up -- but that search will no doubt intensify with Staal’s uncertain condition.

Big picture, though, Staal represents a player that in his own way is every bit as important to the Rangers and their dreams of making a Cup run as Richards or Gaborik or Lundqvist.

And even before the puck drops on the team’s first exhibition game there is a large shadow cast over the Rangers.

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