Sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division (67 points), the Rangers are in good shape with 23 games to go. But there are some tough decisions ahead for general manager Glen Sather before the team begins preparing for the playoffs. Here are three storylines to watch now that the Olympic break is over:
1. Will the Rangers trade Callahan?
Hours before the roster freeze was lifted Sunday night, trade talk involving Ryan Callahan picked up speed once again, putting the 28-year-old captain smack in the middle of rampant speculation. Callahan already got a taste of the craziness in the week prior to the Olympic break, and the talk is unlikely to ease up in the days leading up to the March 5 trade deadline.
A source told ESPNNewYork.com on Sunday night that no significant progress has been made on a contract extension for the spark-plug winger, which only makes it more likely he'll be moved. While Callahan has expressed his desire to remain a Ranger, the two sides still have to bridge a gap in both dollars and terms. Callahan may draw significant interest from a fellow playoff contender, which will force Sather to make a tough choice: keep his captain and risk losing him for nothing when he hits free agency on July 1, or move him to another club and potentially disrupt the team's chemistry.
Sather will have a similar decision to make regarding fellow UFA-to-be Dan Girardi. The veteran right-handed defenseman may arguably fetch more in return than Callahan, and the two sides have yet to come to terms on an agreement for an extension, either.
2. What will be the impact of Zuccarello’s injury?
Given his aggressive, physical playing style -- yes, he was still blocking shots even with the U.S. losing to Canada in the waning minutes of the Olympic semifinals -- Callahan was an injury concern for the Rangers as he departed for Sochi. But Callahan emerged from the tournament unscathed. Unfortunately, Mats Zuccarello did not.
The diminutive Norwegian winger, the lone NHLer on his country's squad, was sidelined for Norway’s qualification-round loss to Latvia last week with what was later revealed to be a non-displaced fracture in his left hand.
The injury has an expected recovery time of three to four weeks, which means Zuccarello is likely to miss at least two weeks of the NHL schedule once play resumes for the Rangers on Thursday. That’s a tough blow, considering Zuccarello is leading the team in scoring with 43 points and is having a career season.
3. How will Hank do down the stretch?
It was no surprise that Henrik Lundqvist had a stellar tournament for Sweden to help his injury-ravaged squad earn silver in Sochi -- he entered the break playing some of his best hockey of the season -- but how will he fare from here on out? The Rangers hope the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner remains on a roll, but with a busy schedule ahead, coach Alain Vigneault may have to look for more opportunities to give Lundqvist some rest before the playoffs.
Luckily for the Rangers, backup netminder Cam Talbot has proven himself more than capable this season, posting an impressive 10-5-0 record with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. The Rangers have three remaining back-to-back sets, so look for Talbot to at least spell Lundqvist a few more times before season’s end.
Olympic recap: The Rangers sent three Americans -- Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan -- to Sochi, but the trio was part of a disappointing U.S. performance that ended with the team returning without a medal. Meanwhile, Rick Nash was the sole Ranger to win gold, putting in important work on what seems ridiculous to call Canada’s fourth line. He bested Rangers teammates Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin in the gold-medal game against Sweden on Sunday. Lundqvist was named to the all-tournament team.