One Thing New York Rangers' Top Stars Must Prove in 2013-14 Season
The New York Rangers have a ton of stars. That's a good thing, but they all have something to prove in the 2013-14 season.
If each player can get over their question marks, then the Rangers will be in a very good position to contend.
If not, it could be a long season for the Blueshirts.
What do each of the Rangers' top stars need to prove for this season?
Read on to find out.
Henrik Lundqvist: How Will He Fare Without Defense-First System?
It's tough to say that Henrik Lundqivst has anything to prove. He's the best goaltender in the world. He's Team Sweden's best hope for a gold medal and he is, by far, the most important player on the Rangers.
That said, this is his first time playing for a coach that isn't defensively-minded. Both Tom Renney and John Tortorella placed an increased importance on defense, and that helped Lundqvist get to where he is.
Alain Vigneault doesn't ignore defense, but he's definitely an offense-first coach. That means that players won't block as many shots, and they won't collapse in the defensive zone as much. Defensemen will join the rush and there will be more 2-on-1 opportunities headed towards Lundqvist.
There's no doubting that he can make the big saves, but this is his first time playing in a system like this.
There shouldn't be panic, though. Roberto Luongo put up some huge numbers in Vancouver under Vigneault. There's no reason why Lundqvist won't.
It just bears watching. I don't think Lundqvist is going to struggle. It will just be interesting to see how he performs.
Rick Nash: Playoff Performance
Rick Nash was the big-time performer that the Rangers thought they were getting in the regular season. He scored 21 goals and had 42 points in 44 games.
But in the playoffs? Nash was nowhere to be found. He scored just one goal and had just five points in 12 games. He had 42 shots, so he was a factor, but his shots were just not going in.
Consider this: During the regular season, 11.9 percent of his shots went into the net. In the postseason? Just 2.4 percent.
Maybe it was a fluke. Players do get on unlucky streaks, and maybe Nash just happened to have had his at a bad time.
Or maybe he choked under the pressure.
We won't know until next May, assuming the Rangers make it. We know that Nash will put up big numbers in the regular season, and he will be an important member of Team Canada.
But assuming the Rangers do make the postseason, Nash has to deliver. He was brought in to be a closer—to take the Rangers over the hump—and he flopped in the postseason.
We all know how talented Nash is, but that means nothing if he can't perform in the clutch.
Obviously, there's a lot of time in between then and now. But it's absolutely crucial that Nash delivers in the postseason. If he doesn't, the Rangers simply won't win it all.
Ryan Callahan: Health
Ryan Callahan probably won't be ready for the start of the season, but he is making progress on his surgically repaired shoulder.
As Alain Vigneault told the New York Post, Callahan is ahead of Carl Hagelin, who also had an offseason shoulder surgery: "Ryan I think is a little ahead of Carl as far as shooting the puck. Carl is more of a controlled motion and is not as committed to his shot right now as Ryan may be."
That's all well and good, and the Rangers will obviously benefit from Callahan's return. But there is cause for concern: Callahan plays an all-out style. He's going to charge into the boards, throw his body in front of a puck and put his body in danger.
But, as Glen Sather told the New York Post, Callahan "must have separated his shoulder eight or nine times during the year and he kept playing."
Maybe Sather was exaggerating. Then again, Callahan had only five points in 12 postseason games. Maybe Sather wasn't exaggerating.
If Callahan can play a full season without getting injured, then he will have a big season. But check out the amount of games he's played in each of the last four seasons:
Granted, the 45 games played was last season, during the lockout-shortened schedule. But the point remains—Callahan has never played a full season in his career. He's put up incredible numbers, become an invaluable member of Team USA and become the Rangers captain—imagine what he would do with a full season.
Callahan will obviously not play a full season this year. But if he can stay healthy once he returns, then not only will his numbers go up, but the Rangers will be better off for it.
Brad Richards: Bounce Back
Whether you like it or not, Brad Richards is still a star. He still has an 'A' on his sweater, and he still makes big money.
Richards probably knows that this is his last chance in New York. If the Rangers do not buy him out after this season, his contract will remain on the books through 2020. If he doesn't perform, he's out of here.
It's possible that Richards will benefit from a new system and a full training camp. It's possible that he will embrace a fresh start and have a big year.
It's also possible that last year was not an anomaly, and he just got old really fast.
But if you look closely at his performance last season, there is reason for hope. In April, Richards had 16 points in 14 games, including six goals. That's the type of performance the Rangers thought they were getting.
Of course, in the next 10 games—all playoff games—he had just one point.
Which Richards will show up? If it's the one from April, the Rangers will be really happy. If it's the one from the postseason, then the Rangers could have a long season.
As it always is, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Richards will not produce more than a point-per-game, but he will also not put up a point once every 10 games. His production will mimic a typical third-line center, which is just fine for the Rangers, since Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan (when he re-signs) are ahead of him on the depth chart anyway.
Ryan McDonagh: Living Up to the Money
Ryan McDonagh got paid this offseason, to the tune of $28.2 million over six years. Not too shabby.
Of course, with all that money comes a lot of pressure. For the length of the contract, McDonagh has to be a shutdown defender. There's no way around it.
We all believe that he can be that. He's a workhorse, and he has untapped offensive potential that should be unleashed under Alain Vigneault.
But will the pressure get to him? Will he progress or will he plateau? It's hard to say. He's a hard worker and he has an incredible skill set. He should be great.
Still, with any big contract, there's always a sliver of doubt. It says here that McDonagh will put away any doubt pretty soon—but it will be nice to see it first.