- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Rick Nash should be all smiles this season with a chance to play alongside Brad Richards.
After a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last season and the addition of star winger Rick Nash, the Rangers are among the handful of teams considered to be Stanley Cup contenders. Is this their year?
1. New kid on the block
Why did the Rangers push so hard to trade for Rick Nash at the trade deadline last February? They felt they had a small window to make a run at the Stanley Cup, making the gamble worth the risk. It didn't come to fruition then, but they landed the 28-year-old winger months later in a blockbuster trade during the offseason. Nash, who has tallied at least 30 goals in five consecutive seasons, is thought to be the piece that puts the Rangers over the edge. Nash played overseas in Switzerland to ensure he could hit the ground running in his Rangers debut, but the bright lights of Broadway are a far cry from his previous home in Columbus. He's fared well when shouldering the spotlight in the Olympics, but how will he handle the transition on the NHL stage?
2. Conditioning concerns
Since arriving in New York, coach John Tortorella has taken great pains to shape and mold his team to be one of the toughest and best-conditioned -- both physically and mentally. He achieved that by putting his players through an intense and grueling training camp, but will not have that benefit with a shortened camp schedule before the regular season begins. Although players have to be secretly relieved that his infamous skating test will be scrapped, will the team suffer without having the usual type of preparation?
3. Decisions on D
The Rangers boast some of the sturdiest defensive talent in Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, although there remains some question marks for their blue line. Michael Sauer has not played since suffering a concussion in December 2011 and is not expected to return at all for the 2013 season. Michael Del Zotto led all Rangers defensemen in scoring last year, but remains an unsigned restricted free agent with no arbitration rights and little leverage. Look for the Rangers too add some depth on D at some point early in the season.
4. Gaborik's return
For the Rangers, one silver lining from the lockout is they will have a healthy Marian Gaborik, who underwent shoulder surgery in June. The 30-year-old winger, who led the Rangers last season with 41 goals and 35 assists, used the time off during the work stoppage to rehab the injury and was medically cleared to play in early December. Tortorella said he will be ready to play the first day of training camp and has been "fine for awhile." Gaborik may have the benefit of playing on a top line with both Nash and veteran center Brad Richards, thus lessening the intense pressure to produce.
5. The curious case of Wade Redden
Defenseman Wade Redden may be the most obvious choice for an amnesty buyout under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Rangers will most likely exercise that option to rid themselves of his $6.5 million cap hit. However, the situation is not that simple. Redden was a bust for the team and, in a way, a victim of his monstrosity of a six-year, $39 million deal. He's been a good soldier and a great leader while stashed away in the American Hockey League, but the Rangers are unlikely to let him play for the Connecticut Whale for the remainder of this season for fear of him getting injured before they can buy him out this summer (each team is granted two amnesty buyouts before the beginning of the 2013-14 season, but they can't be used until after the 2013 season ends). Redden will likely take the buyout and collect the money he is rightfully owed, but that may severely hinder his chances of playing in the NHL ever again; he was injured for a good chunk of last season and would not be playing this season, either. If he does want a crack at latching on with another team as a depth defenseman, he may consider voiding his contract and beginning anew.
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After a trip to the Eastern Conference finals last season and the addition of star winger Rick Nash, the Rangers are among the handful of teams considered to be Stanley Cup contenders.