New York Rangers Players Under the Most Pressure Headed into 2013-14 Season
Playing in New York isn't easy.
The argument could be made that every player on the New York Rangers roster is under pressure for the upcoming NHL season. There are only a handful of markets that demand success year in and year out the way Manhattan and the surrounding area does.
Financial strain from the salary cap in New York has some Rangers players feeling the heat. That means underperformers will be forced to step up or ship out. Meanwhile, in what will be a contract year for 16 projected roster players for the Blueshirts, there is no shortage of players who need to have a big season if they want to cash in when it's over.
Here is a look at five Rangers players who will be on the shortest leashes and under the most scrutiny if things don't go well for them in 2013-14.
All salary cap figures provided by CapGeek.com.
Michael Del Zotto
Michael Del Zotto fell out of favor with former Rangers head coach John Tortorella last season. How things go early on with new bench boss Alain Vigneault will make or break Del Zotto's tenure with the Rangers.
He's buried on the depth chart behind Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. It's not even clear if he'll play the left or right side with defenseman John Moore, also left-handed, most likely to start the season as his defensive partner.
Scheduled for restricted free agency at the end of the season, if Del Zotto wants to cash in for a decent contract, he'll need to have a rebound year in a major way.
His offensive skill set could serve the team well in Vigneault's system, and with what should finally be an effective power play in place, maybe MDZ will get a chance to shine on special teams.
Brad Richards is in a tough spot.
Even if Richards has a great year, he could still find himself shipped out of New York because of salary cap concerns and a plethora of upcoming free agents next season.
If he doesn't perform, he'll almost certainly be bought out, not to mention relegated to a third-line center spot in the lineup.
Having his $6.6 million off of the books next season will certainly make it easier to re-sign players that should serve as the Blueshirts' core for years to come.
The Rangers have good depth in the middle, but you could argue that Richards was the difference in New York between the 2011-12 playoffs and the 2012-13 playoffs. His six goals and nine assists in 20 games in 2012 helped put the Blueshirts two games away from a Stanley Cup Final berth. In 2013, he played himself out of the lineup as a healthy scratch for the final two games of a disappointing season for the Rangers.
If the Rangers want things to be more like the former and not the latter this season, Richards needs to regain his elite form.
Rick Nash is out of excuses.
With Marian Gaborik gone, the Rangers' offense will live and die by Nash. With John Tortorella gone as well, there's no reason for Nash to have as slow of a start as he did last season.
Now that he has more than a few games of playoff experience under his belt, there's no reason for Nash to perform the way he did in last season's playoffs when he only managed one goal and four assists in 12 games.
If the power forward can't carry them to this season's playoffs and then perform well enough there to succeed, Rangers' fans may start to get restless.
Head coach Alain Vigneault should allow more freedom and room for creativity with Nash, so there's at least that. But the honeymoon period is over and it's time for Nash to lead the way on the goal-scoring front.
This one may come as a shock to some, but Derick Brassard is under a lot of pressure to perform headed into the 2013-14 season.
Brassard was the only Rangers' forward to consistently score points after the trade deadline. For the first time in a long time, Brassard was impressive on a nightly basis without anyone questioning his work ethic or focus. Most importantly, he stayed healthy.
In 25 regular season and playoff games combined with the Rangers last season, Brassard scored seven goals and had 16 assists.
He's headed into a contract year that could pay big dividends for him if he can prove last season's strong finish was not a fluke while adjusting to the third head coach he's had in less than a year's time.
With the Rangers up against the salary cap ceiling, $1.7 million is a lot to be paying a fourth-line player.
There's no guarantee that's what Brian Boyle will be this season, but with Mats Zuccarello and Taylor Pyatt returning and the addition of Benoit Pouliot, it's looking pretty crowded as far as potential third-liners go.
Free-agent signing Dominic Moore makes Boyle expendable.
Moore can kill penalties and take faceoffs just as well, if not better, than Boyle. Boyle's only advantage has got to be his size, but his physicality hardly has opponents losing sleep the night before games.
Boyle is not the only bottom-six player with a large cap hit. Aside from maybe Pyatt ($1.5 million cap hit), Boyle's role is all but undefined while others like Derek Dorsett ($1.63 million cap hit), Pouliot ($1.3 million cap hit) and Zuccarello ($1.15 mllion cap hit) all have specific roles.
Boyle is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. He'll likely be the subject of trade rumors throughout this upcoming season, as it's unlikely he'll be a priority considering Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Zuccarello, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto headline the list of 16 players projected to be on the 2013-14 roster that don't have a contract past this year.
Boyle has shown promise before. He had a successful enough college career to become a first-round pick with the Los Angeles Kings in 2003. He managed 21 goals with the Rangers in 2010-11. However, what has Boyle really done for anyone lately?
He'll need an extraordinary year to remain a Ranger beyond this season.