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Veteran forward Brendan Shanahan leaning toward return to Rangers

Sporting a clean-shaven face and full-toothed smile, the 38-year-old forward spoke Tuesday after his end-of-season interviews with New York general manager Glen Sather and coach Tom Renney.

He hasn't come to a final decision whether to continue his surefire Hall of Fame career, but that is the direction his mind has taken him.

"My instincts are that I will probably play, but it's something that I'm going to think over," he said in front of dressing room stalls full of practice gear no longer needed this season. "As far as playing and coming here this year and being part of the Rangers, there's nowhere else I'd rather play."

Shanahan can become an unrestricted free agent for the second straight summer. A year ago, Sather and the Rangers lured him away from the Detroit Red Wings with a US$4-million, one-year deal. In his short time with the Rangers, he provided the perfect contrast to the leadership style of first-year captain Jaromir Jagr, who tends to set examples with his play instead of his voice.

There is no question Jagr wants Shanahan back with the Rangers next season when they try to move further than the second-round playoff ouster they endured last weekend.

"We never really played together on the ice, but off the ice, he makes it a lot easier for me," Jagr said. "He gives me more time to concentrate on myself on the ice. That's huge. You know, it's not easy to be a captain. You cannot just look at for yourself, how you play, but make sure the system is right, and make sure everybody does what they're supposed to do."

Shanahan and Jagr's linemate Michael Nylander are New York's biggest unrestricted free agents.

"Of course we want to sign those guys," Jagr said. "I think the guys like to play here. That's important. They both know we've got a good enough team to do it. We are able to go very far in the playoffs. We're missing something. Maybe next year is going to be different."

Jagr already promised it would be for him.

After fighting to regain his strength following a devastating shoulder injury in last year's playoffs that required off-season surgery, Jagr is finally able to build up his muscles. He posted Rangers records with 54 goals and 123 points last season, only to drop - by his lofty standards - to 30 goals and 66 assists this year.

"The last two months, the muscles started building up again, and I could feel it a lot better," he said. "I lost a lot of muscle, especially in my upper body, especially on the shoulder. And no matter how hard I worked, it looked like nothing was happening. And the last three months, the last two months, it was getting bigger and bigger every day.

"This is the first time in the last two years it's going to have time to work during the summer. I think I can be better than I was last year, or maybe the year before that. I'm going to make sure I'm going to be the best player I've ever been."

Sean Avery, a restricted free agent, also wants to return to the Rangers. He was a difference-maker in New York's first-round sweep of Atlanta, but was kept off the scoresheet in the six-game series loss to Buffalo.

The Sabres didn't react as much to his agitating game, and Avery couldn't get under the skin of Buffalo's forwards as effectively as he had against the Thrashers. But his style and energy provided a key energy boost to the Rangers' late drive to the playoffs.

"I feel like I finally found a home and somewhere where maybe I fit in," said Avery, acquired from Los Angeles in February. "I'm still a little disappointed, but looking to the future, it's somewhere I would like to be for a long time, for sure."

He might need surgery to repair his left wrist, but wasn't about to blame the injury for a performance he felt was subpar. That didn't stop him from taking shots at Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who disclosed ailments after their teams were eliminated from the playoffs.

"I think that's just something you battle through," Avery said. "Those (excuses) are for guys like Sidney (Crosby) and guys that have to keep themselves in the media, saying they weren't hurt or they were hurt. I love when guys are done and say they were hurt or they had the flu.

"Roberto Luongo ... he had the flu now? It's a big mystery why he was late for overtime. It's fine. You battle through things."


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