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Every team, every player, every coach will be under considerable pressure thanks to a 48-game season. But some will feel that pressure more than others, because of job status and expectations and replacing Roberto Luongo.
Here are 10 NHL individuals that simply can’t afford to fail in 2013; please add yours in the comments.
Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks
When the Canucks turned to Schneider for back-to-back playoff starts last season, it signaled that Roberto Luongo’s tenure with the team was likely at an end. So after a four-year apprenticeship and with a 3-year contract, it’s Schneider’s team, and one with a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He has gigantic skates to fill, and the bars for success are clearly set via Luongo’s sometimes brilliant performances. No one is under more pressure than Schneider this season to meet expectations.
Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks
Hey, remember that nuttiness with Quenneville leaving the Blackhawks to coach the Montreal Canadiens last May because Marc Bergevin was their new GM? Well, he stayed with the Hawks, with two years left on his contract … and his rump firmly planted on the hot seat.
He did the classic drastic-measures-before-the-firing move and canned assistant Mike Haviland, so there’s that. GM Stan Bowman should, in theory, be on the same hot seat, because he’s been unable to replenish the supporting cast since the post-Cup exodus. But it’s Q that will pay the price if the Blackhawks stumble.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
The Predators captain signed a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers, with Nashville sticking to its word that it would match it. His agent said Weber didn’t want to “go through a rebuilding process again” with Nashville; it’s on Weber to not only live up to his enormous contract but help maintain the Preds as a contender in the West, avoiding that rebuilding. That means finding quick chemistry with Roman Josi, who will attempt to fill the skates of Ryan Suter.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Howard felt the NHL lockout was “mentally draining,” and he hasn’t even played a game yet behind a defense that’s sans Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. Howard won 35 games last season, the third straight season in which he’s won 35 or more. His 2.12 GAA was the best of his career. But Howard’s an unrestricted free agent after the season – a season in which he’ll have to be stronger than ever to compensate for the Wings’ changes on D.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
With Tim Thomas hunkered in a bunker, it’s Tuukka time.
Rask will be a No. 1 starter for the first time in his NHL career, backstopping a Bruins team that has designs on a second Stanley Cup in three seasons. That’s one motivation; another is the one-year, $3.5-million “audition” contract he signed last season. He could have a stellar season and earn a goldmine next summer; but what if he’s not able to replicate Thomas’s numbers between the pipes?
Derek Roy, Dallas Stars
Roy was acquired by the Stars in a deal that sent Steve Ott to the Buffalo Sabres. He’s in the last year of a deal that was set to earn him $5.5 million this season. Hopefully a change in scenery sparks his game, because his points-per-game average (0.55) plummeted to a seven-season low last year. The Stars need him up the middle, and he needs a strong season in a contract year, with talks with Dallas probably off until after the season.
Mike Ribeiro, Washington Capitals
From a Star to a former Star. Now that his Mr. Mom work is done, Ribeiro can focus on filling several critical needs for the Capitals. He needs to be the second line center they’ve coveted. He needs to help fill the offensive gap left by Alex Semin’s departure. He needs to have the kind of season that’ll enable him to make bank next summer as a UFA. He’s not the most critical player on the Capitals – hello, Misters Oveckin and Backstrom – but he’ll feel the pressure on a team that’s yet to get past the conference semifinals after the lockout. (You know, the 2005 one.)
Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets
There are a variety of pressures on Kane, who will be in the first year of a 6-year contract with the Jets. The first is to continue to build on the promise of his 30-goal campaign last season. The second is to help the Jets stay in the playoff hunt, where their home ice advantage could be a formidable weapon in a truncated season. But the most important one is to quiet his critics, who have taken scrutiny of his perceived attitude to absurd levels, laying down the groundwork for his eventual departure from Winnipeg.
Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche
Sacco’s coached this group for three years, and missed the postseason for the last two. His job looked like it was in jeopardy last season, but the Avalanche hung in the playoff hunt long enough (thanks, Gabe Landeskog) to earn him another season. It’s hard to imagine him surviving a bad start or another missed playoff season. But it’s still a young roster, and stability could still be what it needs.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers
Our Favorite Cosmonaut probably has one more crack at it before Ed Snider is forced to admit that perhaps this wasn’t the solution between the pipes for the Flyers. Either he becomes the consistent starter the team needs, or he gets a compliance buyout this summer before his $8 million salary next season kicks in. And then the same carousel that’s been spinning since Ron Hextall’s days will spin again.