Sunday, August 14, 2011

New York Rangers Level of Improvement This Summer Has Become Overstated

The New York Rangers made the headline acquisition this summer by bringing in Brad Richards to fill their void for a top line center and add another elite offensive player to their roster.  Whenever you add a talent like Richards, many are going to consider the team amongst the most improved in the league because of how rare that kind of addition is to be made.  The question today is whether the level of perceived improvement for the Rangers has gotten out of hand.
Recently ESPN's Sports Nation conducted a poll this week asking which team was the most improved this summer.  The teams listed as choices were the following: Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers.
The poll came out with the Buffalo Sabres winning (29%) and the Rangers coming in with a strong runner up showing (22%).  That is an excellent showing for the Blueshirts, but should they really be that high? 
There is no denying that the signing of the biggest free agent on the market this summer makes any team better.  The hope and expectations on Richards are huge right now not only to use his ability individually, but also to help turnaround both Marian Gaborik and the Rangers power play.  Obviously if all of those things do happen the team will be significantly better for it, but that is a lot to put on one player’s shoulders.  Beyond Richards the only new player the team has added to the roster, at least with NHL experience, is Mike Rupp.  Rupp is a solid player who will add toughness to the roster and take some of the fighting requirements off Brandon Prust, but certainly not the type of move that makes a team amongst the most improved.
While the retention of Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Sauer and Boyle were big moves for the Rangers in maintaining what they have built last season, but they should not be considered in whether the team has improved this summer.  Acquiring Tim Erixon should certainly be considered, but I doubt that was a big part of the voting in this poll.  The only way to actually justify the Rangers in the runner spot in a poll like this is if the voters are accounting for the improvements of young players for the upcoming season, but even then players like Stepan, McDonagh, and Sauer could go the other way as Del Zotto did in his second season.
Polls for the most part are based on the information people have about what teams did and that will mostly come down to the biggest names they hear about.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it certainly can skew the results and there becomes a circle of hype you cannot seem to escape.
The Rangers are going to be better than they were last season, but there are still plenty of question marks to be answered with the most notable being about if those who had subpar 2010-11 seasons will rebound and if those who had career years can repeat them again.  Getting the best player on the market is certainly a step towards improvement, but that move alone does not mean you are one of the most improved in the league or a contender for a title.