New-look Rangers

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET

Even though the most recent world championship made a pleasant diversion, no one involved with Team Canada lost sight of the fact that bit was only a sideline.

All the players and coaches had other jobs to which they are now returning and, in most cases, commitments to National Hockey League teams.

They're eager to get back to their real jobs, and that's especially true for Tom Renney, who was an assistant coach of Team Canada, but in another incarnation is the head coach of the New York Rangers.

The Rangers finally have undergone a change in their approach to the game, and Renney is the point man, the guy who chose the personnel through his position as vice-president of player development and the guy who must try to orchestrate their success through his position as coach.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "Obviously, we're changing our philosophy somewhat. We hope to inject some youth into our organization and into our philosophy and to build rather than buy.

"Hopefully, we'll get to the point that we can sustain a product that people enjoy watching, no matter where the Rangers are playing."

But that has always been the burning question. In New York, where there are so many teams in so many sports, and so many expensively purchased stars, can the Rangers hope to maintain any support during a rebuilding phase?

"I think that's a fair question," said Renney. "I do think they can. I think New York is more blue-collar and roll-up-your-sleeves than people give it credit for. Because of Wall Street and whatnot, certainly there's a white-collar approach to the way of life there.

"But I believe that they really identify with people who work hard and punch the clock, and I really believe that they want a team that goes out there and demonstrates what good work habits are about, night after night, and a team that can grow before their eyes."

For as long as anyone cares to remember, the Rangers have tended to waste their draft picks and rely on their big-budget status to stock the team. But Renney, with support from general manager Glen Sather, thinks that approach is no longer viable.

"The big thing for us," he said, "is to play with some draft picks and allow the young Brian Leetches and the young Mike Richters to grow up in front of these people so they can identify with them for the long term, instead of this revolving-door thing.

WATCH 'EM GROW

"Where does the loyalty come from? If they get a chance to watch a young guy grow into a real good NHL player over the long term, then I think you develop loyalty with your fans."

The Rangers have made some mistakes, but they also have had some bad luck with injuries.

The latest has affected the youngster who was projected to be the Rangers' goalie for at least a decade, Dan Blackburn.

Two summers ago, Blackburn hurt his shoulder lifting weights. Now he can lift his catching hand and he can move it in towards his chest. But he can't extend it outwards.

For all intents and purposes, he can't catch the puck. He'll go to the Rangers' next training camp but he probably won't make the team.

"It's a long shot," Renney said. "He does have two blockers and he's got a little bit of a catching glove on one for dump-ins and freezing and stuff.

"We'll try him. I guess he's got a little bit of a nerve impingement of sorts and it kind of atrophied on him. He's got most of it back but there's one little synapse that hasn't happened and that's the critical one."

It's the first serious setback to the Rangers' rebuilding program. It won't be the last. They are embarking on a long and demanding road. But in the long run, it's the right path to take.


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