5 Biggest Storylines for New York Rangers' 2013-14 Season

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIISeptember 25, 2013

5 Biggest Storylines for New York Rangers' 2013-14 Season

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    The New York Rangers bring back largely the same roster that went to the second round of the postseason last year. 

    Of course, there's one big exception. John Tortorella was fired and Alain Vigneault was brought in.

    How the Rangers respond to the change is, naturally, the biggest storyline surrounding the 2013-14 season.

    That said, there are a number of other big plot lines to watch as the season unfolds.

    Read on to find out what they are.

Alain Vigneault

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    Alain Vigneault was brought in to lighten the culture, change the mood and focus on offense.

    If he can accomplish those goals, then the Rangers should benefit. The offense was really dragged down, and the team was tiring of John Tortorella's act.

    Of course, it needs to be mentioned that Tortorella's style helped make the Rangers so successful. The implementation of a strong work ethic, the shot-blocking and defense-first mentality made the Rangers so tough to play against.

    Vigneault's challenge is to keep those traits while opening up the offense. By opening up the offense, they are going to lose some of the defense. Creating more offense means having the defensemen join the rush, which means that the defense is going to take more chances and risk more odd-man opportunities going the other way. 

    But if the defense is good, and if Henrik Lundqvist is still great and if the offense improves, then the Rangers could easily be one of the best teams in the league.

    It will be interesting to see how Vigneault implements his system. What does he keep from the old regime, and what does he get rid of? Will the players play better under the more relaxed Vigneault?

    These are the biggest storylines for the Rangers roster. Can Vigneault take the Rangers where he couldn't take the Vancouver Canucks? That, at least for now, remains to be seen.

Brad Richards

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    Brad Richards had a disastrous postseason: One goal in 10 games, benched for the final two. He barely escaped being bought out, and now he gets a second chance under a new regime.

    If Richards can really anchor the second line, then the Rangers will have impressive depth down the middle. If he's the same player in the postseason, then the Rangers are in trouble.

    Richards did have 16 points in 14 games in April, including six goals. That's the kind of production the Rangers are looking for.

    If Richards does not perform, then he will probably be bought out after the season, seeing that his contract would be on the books until 2020 if he is not bought out.

    That should provide Richards with all the motivation he needs. Then again, last year's disappointment should be all the motivation he needs. A successful Richards is essential to a successful Rangers team. He deepens the lineup, improves the power play and will help the team score.

    But a bad season by Richards will bring the team down. How far will the Rangers go this season? A lot of it depends on Richards. 

Marc Staal

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    Marc Staal's recovery is amazing. After suffering a gruesome eye injury in March, Staal returned to the ice in May during the postseason, only to shut it down for the rest of the season after that.

    Now, he's feeling good and is poised to be a huge part of this Rangers team. If Staal is fully healthy, then the Rangers could have the best defense in hockey. All the attention last year was on Ryan McDonagh, and rightfully so, but Marc Staal has been, quietly, one of the best defensemen in the league for some time. 

    He does it all. He can be physical, he plays with perfect positioning and can also lead the rush.

    If he's healthy, the Rangers' top-four of Dan Girardi, McDonagh, Staal and Michael Del Zotto can rival any top-four in the league. Having that kind of defense, behind what should be an improved offense, could work wonders for the Rangers.

    But it's a big if. He's adjusting to a new visor, and there's always going to be a little fear, a natural fear, in the back of his head. If he's back, really back, then the league needs to watch out. If not, it could be a struggle for the Blueshirts.  

The Kids

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    With Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin expected to miss at least the beginning of the season, there are two spots for youngsters to claim.

    JT Miller had a cup of coffee with the big club, but he's been limited by a hamstring injury.  It remains unclear how that will affect his roster spot. But the Rangers need wings, not centers, so even if he were healthy, he would have a hard time making the team.

    That leaves a huge opening for Danny Kristo, who has impressed coach Alain Vigneault. Vigneault told the New York Daily News that “I liked Kristo’s game tonight. I thought he showed some real poise and some really good offensive abilities.”

    Kristo scored 26 goals and had 26 assists in 40 games for the University of North Dakota and has a ton of offensive talent. He probably has the inside track of locking down one wing spot.

    Other candidates include Jesper Fast, Marek Hrivik and Oscar Lindberg. Fast and Hrivik might need some more AHL seasoning, but Lindberg, who like Miller is a center, is really intriguing, and was terrific in the Swedish Elite League last season. Again, the Rangers don't really need centers (even if Derek Stepan's holdout continues, the Rangers still have four centers. Stepan gives them five, making a spot for a youngster nearly impossible). They need wings. If Lindberg, or Miller, can play on the wing, then they have a huge chance of making the team.

    Whoever does make the team as the last two wing spots, they will need to contribute. Callahan and Hagelin are top-six players, and their offense needs to be replaced. Kristo and the others have shown potential. But if the Rangers are going to start the season strong, they need the kids to play well.

Power Play

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    Recall this familiar cry from fans: "If we could just put it in the net on the power play, we'd be in the Stanley Cup!"

    Okay, maybe not, but the point remains. The Rangers simply could not score on the man-advantage. In the postseason, they converted on the power play on just 9.1 percent of their chances. They scored just four times in 44 opportunities. That's just not good enough.

    If they could have scored, say, 10 goals, the Rangers would have been a lot more competitive against the Boston Bruins.

    Now that Alain Vigneault is in, the prevailing wisdom is that the unit will improve. Whether it's putting someone in front of the net as a screen, using Rick Nash in the slot or using Ryan McDonagh on the point, there are many choices Vigneault could make to improve.

    If the power play improves, the Rangers will be better. Simple as that. Teams have to convert on the man-advantage to be successful. The Rangers, for a long time, have struggled on the power play.

    With talented guys like Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan, to name a few, something has to give. There is too much talent to not score.

    An improved power play will help the Rangers become more competitive. One of John Tortorella's downfalls was the lack of success on the power play. Can Vigneault fix that? If he does, he could be hailed as a hero.