Sunday, July 3, 2011

With Richards Signed Are Rangers Now Championship Caliber?

The New York Rangers landed the best player available on the free agent market Saturday when Brad Richards agreed to a 9-year, $60 million dollar deal to come to Broadway.  Richards referenced coach John Tortorella and the similarities between what the Rangers are currently do to what went on in Tampa before they won the Stanley Cup.
To be with an Original Six team, which is very special as a hockey player, to play for, and to see an owner who is committed to do whatever it takes to win, and obviously what Glen (Sather) and (John Tortorella) are doing. I see what Torts does, and it works. I know that first-hand. I see how he’s bringing that young team along, and it kind of reminds me of what he did with us (in Tampa). Factor all that in together, at the end of the day, it was the right fit for me.”
Is Richards right in comparing what he is seeing in the building process in New York as compared to what went on in Tampa? Does the addition of Richards make the Rangers contenders for the championship next season?  

While the inclination is to put the answer to those questions on Richards himself and how he meshes with Marian Gaborik, the answer of both of those questions more likely falls onto the shoulders of the Rangers youth that put them in a position to feel they are only one player away from contention. Obviously Richards will have to have another All-Star caliber season where he generates close to 80 points.  In addition to his own offense he will have to get Marian Gaborik back to the form that saw him score 42 goals in his first season with the Blueshirts.  Along with fixing Gaborik, Richards will be expected to help the Rangers mediocre power play become a more consistent threat to score.

Beyond those things however the Rangers key to contention is found in the hands of the young players that helped them make the playoffs last season while Gaborik struggled to be a consistent force and injuries went throughout the lineup.  Are Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan ready to take another step forward in their development offensively in putting up consistent points while staying healthy?  Will Artem Anisimov take another step in his development into a solid second line center?  Can Derek Stepan take his excellent rookie campaign and build more consistency to his play without having the sophomore slump creep in?  Will Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer be able to repeat their 2010-11 performances now that the expectations on them are significantly higher?  Will Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust prove that the offensive improvements for each were not just a one year wonder, but signs of what is to come?

The level of attention that Brad Richards will get will help the majority of these players because it should create more consistency in the Rangers lineup from game-to-game and more favorable matchups for the individual players within a game.  The level of skill Richards brings to New York certainly makes them more dangerous to any opponent in a playoff series, but he alone will not be the determinant on whether his assessment that was in being built in New York is like what went on in Tampa before the championship.  All of the players who had breakout or career years for the Rangers last season have to bring those efforts, if not more, if the team wants to truly be contenders for a championship.