Brendan Shanahan is leaning toward returning for a 20th NHL season, and wants to stay with the New York Rangers.

Sporting a clean-shaven face and full-toothed smile, the 38-year-old forward spoke yesterday after his end-of-season interviews with 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 1-year, $4 million deal.

Noteworthy

* Europe's best club will challenge an NHL team next year in the Victoria Cup in Europe. The International Ice Hockey Federation said the winner of the European Champions Cup will participate in the new tournament, which will also include an unidentified NHL team and at least one other European club.

* Scott Gomez, 27, who led the Devils in scoring in the playoffs, will become an unrestricted free agent in July.

* The Islanders rewarded third-string goalie Wade Dubielewicz for leading the team's final-week surge to the playoffs by signing him to a 1-year contract. *