5 New York Rangers Who Must Perform in 2013-14
After reaching the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997 in 2012, the New York Rangers were Stanley Cup favorites for the lockout-shortened 2013 season. However, the Rangers barely squeezed into the 2013 postseason, and fell to the Boston Bruins 1-4 in the Semifinals.
Not exactly the finish the Broadway Blueshirts were counting on after adding star Rick Nash to the roster in the summer of 2012.
The offseason brought dramatic culture changes to the Rangers, with the firing of former head coach John Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan. The Rangers organization brought in former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault; and assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson, Daniel Lacroix, and associate coach Scott Arniel.
In New York City, expectations are high for sports teams and failure is not an option. A New York City sports team is only as good as today's win.
Let's take a look at five members of the Rangers roster that will need to perform—consistently—otherwise they will be on thin ice.
5) Derick Brassard
When the Rangers acquired Derick Brassard as part of a shocking trade sending Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline last spring, expectations for newly acquired forwards Brassard, Derek Dorsett, and defenseman John Moore were average at best.
But Brassard, along with Moore wowed the crowds of Madison Square Garden, each scoring a goal in their debut as a Ranger. He wasn't just a flash in the pan, either—he scored 12 points in 12 games in the 2013 postseason.
In order for the Rangers to be successful long term, the consistent point production of Brassard is crucial. Any prolonged absence of center Derek Stepan, due to ongoing contract negotiations, puts even more responsibility and pressure on Brassard.
Although it is only preseason, Brassard appears to be off to a strong start. Last week against the Philadelphia Flyers, Brassard notched a goal and an assist with linemates Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot.
Rangers fans have to hope this continues well into the regular season.
4) Ryan Callahan
You might be wondering why Rangers' captain Ryan Callahan is on this list. But I'll tell you why: He is the heart and soul of this team, delivering intangibles on the ice and in the locker room that no one else on this roster can replace.
Callahan had a great 2013 season, with 16 goals and 15 assists in 48 games. But the Rangers will need him to be just as potent on the scoreboard—if not more—in 2013-14.
His hard-hitting, grinding, and gritty play in front of the net hasn't come without a price, however. Callahan separated his shoulder "about eight or nine times" last season, according to Rangers' General Manager Glen Sather. Callahan had to undergo shoulder surgery this past summer, and if the Rangers are lucky, he will return to the roster on opening night.
On September 15th, Callahan commented that "everything is on time" and that his rehabilitation is "going good." He had yet to practice with contact at that time, which he admits is "tough" and makes putting timetable on his return even more difficult.
Callahan said that his shoulder "never felt good" in the 2013 postseason, and was careful when playing, but that he had to play through the pain nonetheless, "it's a mindset."
Callahan had two goals and five assists in the 2013 postseason.
Any prolonged absence of Callahan during any point of the season would be devastating to the team. Callahan's continued health is going to be important to any postseason run, and fans have to hope that his return to the roster is only once he is fully healed.
3) Rick Nash
The Rangers made big sacrifices to bring Rick Nash to Broadway, trading away forwards Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon, and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Last season, Nash had 21 goals and 21 assists, but fell flat in the postseason, posting only one goal and four assists.
As a star player brought in to fix their anemic postseason scoring issues, Nash was absent from the scoreboard when it mattered the most.
Chalk it up to postseason pressure—an unfamiliar territory coming from only one postseason appearance as a Blue Jacket back in 2008-09—or the pressure of New York City.
But Nash needs to deliver consistently to keep the Rangers on top of the newly-formed Metropolitan Division for the 2013-14 season, which includes long-time rivals Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and the Washington Capitals, a postseason opponent in four of the last five years.
With an annual cap hit of $7.8 million through 2017-18 (currently the highest on the roster), Nash will be treading deep water if he fails to live up to expectations as a Blueshirt. Part of those expectations are near point-per-game performance in the postseason.
The Rangers need Nash to be the superstar he is all season, and remain healthy. Any repeat of last season's concussion absence or uninspired postseason play will make him the jeering target from the blue seats of Madison Square Garden.
2) Brad Richards
Many eyebrows were raised when the Rangers organization made the decision not to buyout Brad Richards, who carries an average annual cap, hit of $6.67 million through 2019-20.
This puzzling decision further complicated available salary cap issues when it came time to re-sign forward Carl Hagelin, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and currently forcing a standoff between the Rangers and center Derek Stepan—all in the past few months.
Richards point production has been on the decline since joining the Rangers, and after an abysmal (by his standards) regular season performance in 2013 of 11 goals and 23 assists, he was benched the final two games versus the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It appeared the Rangers were ready to wash their hands of Richards, but Rangers General Manager Glen Sather ultimately decided now was not the time for a cap compliancy buyout.
With one cap compliancy buyout remaining (the first used on Wade Redden), this is the final chance Richards will have to prove that he is worthy of his existing contract and to remain a Ranger in New York. Any continued decline in performance or confidence issues as he experienced last season will not be acceptable in 2013-14.
If Richards truly wants to remain in New York City, he will have to return to the point production he had with the Dallas Stars, where he scored 91 and 77 points in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, respectively.
It's a prove-it or lose-it season for Richards.
1) Henrik Lundqvist
You might be wondering why Henrik Lundqvist, all-star goalie for the New York Rangers is included on this list. He has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy multiple times, and won the award after the 2011-12 season.
But no one is under as much pressure as Lundqvist, who is the sole backbone of the team and is one of the major deciding factors in how far the team goes in the postseason. Throw in the fact that Lundqvist is in the final year of his existing contract—and is not willing to negotiate a new contract once the regular season begins—and the 2013-14 season becomes a major one for Henrik.
Lundqvist is clearly in the prime of his career, right now at the age of 31. There is no doubt that the next contract Lundqvist signs will keep him as a Blueshirt for many years, and help him become the top-paid goaltender in league.
The time for the Rangers to win a Stanley Cup is now, and time is running out for Lundqvist to deliver on that goal. Even the highly successful then-40 year old Martin Brodeur, a future Hall of Famer, fell short to capturing a fourth Stanley Cup victory in 2012 against the Los Angeles Kings.
What is my point?
Lundqvist is not getting any younger, and is in his prime today. As a highly competitive athlete, anything less than his name engraved on the Stanley Cup will be acceptable for Henrik.
The success of the Rangers heavily rides on the performance of Lundqvist. Take him out of the lineup, and the Rangers would be lucky to make the postseason.
In a contract year, and during the prime of his career, the Rangers chances on winning it all heavily ride on the success and health of Lundqvist.
If General Manager Glen Sather doesn't do everything in his power to reward Lundqvist with the contract he deserves, or build the very best Stanley Cup contending team he can for the next few years, Lundqvist may be one of the most accomplished goalies in modern league history to never win it all.