The New York Rangers find themselves in the dogfight nobody was expecting them to be in.
The acquisition of Rick Nash had everyone thinking this team would contend for a Stanley Cup in 2013.
The Rangers, though, are underperforming. Guys they pay a lot of money to are simply not playing anywhere near as well as they're supposed to. There's also a legitimate cause for concern regarding the team's defense corps, which has been a shadow of its former 2011-12 self.
If this team has playoff aspirations, the players are going to have work on their individual games so that the team can play better as a whole. In hockey, more than any other sport maybe, a team is truly the sum of its parts.
Today, we'll power rank the team's "parts" and identify which players are currently of more importance to the club's success.
Note: Any player currently on the IR will not be included. Those players are Marc Staal, Mike Sauer and Arron Asham.
Sometimes I feel bad for Stu Bickel, but then I remember how sensationally small his contributions to this hockey team actually are.
He hasn't played since March 8, which probably has something to do with the fact that he has zero points and is a minus-two in 16 games this season. Oh, and he also can't play defense.
His ability to fight is his only contribution to this team.
Roman Hamrlik was claimed off waivers by the Rangers earlier this month, and his performances have been, should we say, unnoticeable?
He's probably old enough to be someone's grandfather, and Torts is using him as if that was actually true.
He's sat out a couple of games, but if he's in the lineup, there's a chance he will get under eight minutes of playing time, like he has already in two of the six games he's played as a Ranger.
Matt Gilroy should be getting more games. He's been a better overall defenseman than Steve Eminger and Roman Hamrlik have been this season.
Apparently, Torts does not agree with me, considering he's only used Gilroy in 14 games this season. That's fewer games than Bickel has played in.
His steady defensive play and ability to jump into the offense has been underrated this season.
He's been a nice surprise since being called up earlier this month.
He's got good speed, he works hard and is willing to play in all three zones. He also has the backing of John Tortorella, who even used Michael Haley on the second and third lines at times this season.
He's still a fourth-liner, though, and is probably a better option than Arron Asham.
After a strong start, Taylor Pyatt has only registered one point in his last 21 games.
Although he has still been strong on the boards, his lack of offensive production has hurt this team in the depth scoring department.
He has to get his big body to the net and start sniffing out some goals.
Eminger has been Tortorella's current choice to replace Marc Staal while he's out with injury.
His physicality and hard work cannot go unnoticed, but his lack of offense and sloppy skating limits his effectiveness.
To be fair, he has played well, and if he continues, expect him to remain in the lineup.
The Rangers acquired Darroll Powe from Minnesota for Mike Rupp earlier this season, and it's been a good deal for the team.
His speed and ability to kill penalties was something the Rangers needed to obtain after the departure of Brandon Prust last summer.
The issue with Powe is he's not physical enough, and he's been an absolute zero in the offensive zone.
In 2010-11, Brian Boyle scored 21 goals. This year, in 25 games, he has just one.
He's even been scratched a handful of times. This is a concern considering he's the team's third-line center and is relied upon for strong play in all three zones.
He's been better as of late—more physical and stronger on the puck. He's got to head to the net more and capitalize on offensive opportunities.
Jeff Halpern is another one of the depth signings the Rangers made last summer who has performed well defensively but has been invisible on the scoresheet.
He doesn't have a single goal in 29 games. His only offensive production has been one assist.
He's still a great faceoff guy and his speed and board work have been excellent.
Marty Biron is going to be very important to this team in the stretch run.
With not many games remaining, Henrik Lundqvist will the get the overwhelming majority of the action, but the games in which Biron will start in, he'll be expected to win.
The team cannot afford Biron to stumble in the few games he will get during the stretch run.
The good news is he's been quite good this season. He's got solid numbers and was the star of the team's victory in Washington on March 10.
The only two things Brad Richards has done consistently well this season are holding onto the puck too long and turning it over.
His performance has been alarming to say the least. He's supposed to be the team's best center, yet he's affected them more negatively than positively.
It's clear his confidence is at rock bottom, but he has to find a way to contribute in some way.
After scoring two goals in his second NHL game against the Islanders. J.T. Miller has only two assists in 19 games.
Despite his lack of offensive production, he's been a breath of fresh air for the Rangers.
His speed and size has been welcomed after the losses of guys like Brandon Prust and Brandon Dubinsky last summer.
Torts has a lot of confidence in the 20-year-old, and he's sure to have an impact on the Rangers' remaining 19 games.
A fixture on the second defensive pairing, Anton Stralman has been the Rangers' second-best right-handed defenseman for the past two seasons.
And he's no doubt earned it.
His skating ability and positioning has made it easy for him to adopt and excel in Tortorella's system. With Marc Staal out for what could be the remainder of the season, look for Stralman to take on even more responsibility.
Marian Gaborik's infamous periodical disappearing act is in full swing.
His three goals in the last 24 games is completely unacceptable when you consider his enormous price tag.
He's been just as bad as Richards for most of the year, but his improved performances over the last few games, and his big goal against the Islanders, puts him ahead of his partner in crime on this list.
Carl Hagelin is one of the most consistent forwards for the Rangers this season, although he's been in a bit of a scoring slump for the last few weeks.
But Hags doesn't have to be scoring to be completely effective.
His speed and hard work are not only valuable to this team's forecheck, but also for creating offense. His skills were the main reason for Nash catching fire earlier in the year.
Early in the season, Michael Del Zotto was probably this team's best defenseman.
He had improved his defensive game greatly and was still very dangerous when joining the rush.
But his offensive game has slipped, although his defense is still solid on a nightly basis.
If he can create offense on a more regular basis, it'll be huge for this team.
Derek Stepan has been the Rangers' best centerman by a mile. His chemistry with Ryan Callahan has single-handedly rescued this team on a number of occasions.
It seems that any winger that plays with him ends up producing. He and Hagelin were able to turn their games around while playing together, and he's been Rick Nash's best pivot since joining the team.
If it wasn't for Step, this team would be much lower in the standings. His ability to step up and be the team's No. 1 center is a major reason why this team is fighting for a playoff spot.
A lot was expected this season from Ryan McDonagh, who was a stud last year from start to finish.
Though, his 2013 campaign has been riddled by inconsistency.
He's probably turned the puck over more times this year than he did in all of 2011-12.
He's had games, though, that he has dominated in, and hopefully he'll have those games more regularly, because he and Dan Girardi will face opponents' best players on a nightly basis.
The heart and soul of the Rangers, captain Ryan Callahan has really turned his game around.
Early struggles had fans concerned, but he's been on fire over the past month.
His ability to kill penalties and score big goals is invaluable, and if he can keep it up, he'll have to be in the discussion for the Selke Trophy at season's end.
With Marc Staal out indefinitely, Dan Girardi is the team's leader on the back end.
He'll see the likes of the best players in the NHL every night, and if the Rangers are to have a shot at the playoffs, much of it will depend on whether or not Girardi can shut those players down.
He too has not had as a great of a season as was expected, but he's certainly had his moments.
His dedication and hard work are his best attributes, and if he can give his all every night, there's no doubt he'll be a nightmare for opposing forwards.
Nash is the only forward on this team that has been able to score with any regularity, and it's because he's immensely skilled and generates opportunities every night.
And for a team that is short on goals, he becomes even more important. His teammates will need to start pitching in more, but they'll continue to look for him to lead the way for the remaining 19 games.
He'll probably need to score at least 10 more goals for this team before the season ends. It's not too much to ask for, considering he's a top player and teams need their top players to perform if they're to be successful.
The world's best goaltender is not only the most important player to the Rangers, but he may be the most important player to any team in the entire league.
Without him, they could very well be in last place in the Eastern Conference, and the truth is, Hank isn't even playing his best hockey.
With this team's goal-scoring troubles and defensive inconsistencies, Lundqvist will have to be lights out for the remainder of March and all of April. If he plays poorly, this team has no shot at winning anything.