‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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When the Rangers acquired Kevin Klein on January 22, the defenseman was immediately reunited with two familiar faces from his youth in the Ontario Hockey League.
Klein spent his final season of juniors as a teammate of Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi on a Guelph Storm team that pushed the trio one step closer to the National Hockey League.
According to Klein, New York hasn’t changed Callahan and Girardi. They’re still the same hard-working, yet humorous guys who once rode the bus with him across Ontario and fought alongside him in the 2004 Memorial Cup.
“They’re the same guys,” Klein said. “Coming into the locker room, it’s nice that they haven’t changed and are still great people. I know there’s a seriousness to it. They’re true professionals, they come to battle every day. Off the ice when you’re having fun and bonding, that’s what makes the grind a little bit easier. That’s what keeps the game fun.”
Girardi’s future is decided. The veteran defenseman agreed a six-year extension last week. Callahan’s future has been the subject of debate. As of Wednesday morning, Callahan is yet to come to an agreement on a similar deal that would allow him to continue wearing the Rangers’ famous uniform with the captain’s ‘C’ stitched above his heart.
Callahan has kept a low profile and hasn’t spoken much to the media as Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline looms. He most recently reiterated that his heart is with the Rangers following Sunday’s defeat to the Boston Bruins.
“Obviously, my heart is still here and I want to be here,” Callahan said. “We’ll just see what happens. Yeah, definitely. It’s been on my mind, there’s no secret there. It’ll be nice to get it done with and move past it.”
Klein is hoping that Callahan remains in New York, but understands why his former OHL teammate is playing hardball with the Rangers on a new contract.
“Obviously, he’s a good person and a great captain too,” Klein said. “You want to see him stick around. He’s doing what’s best for him and his family. We’ve got short careers and he’s got to do what he’s got to do. You don’t hold that against him. He’s played extremely hard for this organization and been a great leader. We want him to stay obviously. If he moves on, you always wish guys the best.”
Klein believes that the rumors can sometimes become fuel for locker room jokes. The intense focus on Callahan’s future hasn’t been a distraction for the Blueshirts.
“When the rumors get going and you’re dealing with contacts and stuff like that — I think guys joke about it more than anything,” Klein said. “Certain guys are going through certain things. I think our team has done a great job of staying on task and not getting distracted by all the rumors. That’s what you have to do.”
Forward Brian Boyle expects Callahan to remain with the Rangers beyond Wednesday’s deadline.
“Definitely. He’s our captain, he’s our leader,” Boyle said. “We all expect him to be here.”
Unlike some teammates, Boyle follows the speculation closely. The 6-foot-7 forward is glued to his phone checking for updates and keeps a close eye on deadline coverage.
“A lot of buzz is going on,” Boyle said. “You look at the website or watch the network. It can be entertaining, but also can change a lot of lives. You can’t help but pay attention to it.”
Defenseman Anton Stralman takes the opposite approach.
“He’s obviously the captain for a reason,” Stralman said. “I’d like him to stay. I don’t get involved with the negotiations. I don’t know much about that. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
BOYLE, STRALMAN OPEN UP ABOUT THEIR FUTURE WITH THE RANGERS
Stralman and Boyle are among a large number of upcoming unrestricted free agents. Should the Rangers sign Callahan to a long-term extension, it would make it difficult to fit Boyle and Stralman under the salary cap.
Restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore will all receive sizable raises. Another major offseason priority for general manager Glen Sather is to sign key defenseman Marc Staal to a long-term extension.
Boyle said that there was a back and forth earlier in the season between between his agent and the Rangers. Instead of obsessing over his future, Boyle is just trying to enjoy whatever time he has left with the Rangers. Time will tell whether that will continue beyond this season.
“There was some minor stuff earlier in the year, then not really,” Boyle said. “It is what it is right now. You’ve just got to enjoy this time I have. Hopefully at 3:01, I’m still here and can enjoy the stretch run. You look at your phone. Everyone does. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
When asked whether there have been communications between the Rangers and his agent Marc Levine, Stralman admitted that there hasn’t been serious discussions about his future with the team.
“No, we haven’t got into anything like that yet,” Stralman said.
Stralman remains focused at the task at hand, which is helping the Blueshirts finish high in the Eastern Conference and trying to go on a deep playoff run.
“With the deal expiring, it’s a little nervous. You’ve got to take it for what it is and try to disconnect as much as possible.”
With the trade deadline fast approaching, anything can happen. Already, a number of high-profile trades have taken place. But Callahan’s teammates are hoping he’ll be around to suit up for Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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