Expectations concerning what the New York Rangers can do next season are rising daily and that is to be expected when you have the type of offseason the organization did. The franchise was able to bring in the top line center they were missing with Brad Richards, bring and retain gritty forwards in Mike Rupp and Ruslan Fedotenko and sign all of their key restricted free agents to multi-year deals. Between the assumed rebound for players like Marian Gaborik and even Michael Del Zotto, the hoped for progression of the young players on the roster, and the infusion of talent from Richards the talk of how the Rangers will go in the standings has started.
Kevin Allen of USA Today agrees that the Rangers should rise in the standings, but the question is just how far can they rise because of other teams that were already ahead of them.
The improved New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres should be moving up in the Eastern Conference standings, although it's difficult to project who is falling. The Washington Capitals? Penguins? Don't see it, but some do.
That is the big question on whether all the pieces will fall in place for New York in order to overtake some of the better teams in the conference who while maybe not as improved this offseason were starting from a better position. Realistically I would say that the Rangers are looking at a battle for 4-6 in the conference. Boston, Washington and Pittsburgh likely head into the season as favorites in their divisions and the Rangers will be battling with Buffalo and Tampa to be in that next group.
The addition of Vokoun to Washington only strengthens a team that always seems to perform in the regular season if not the playoffs. A healthy Crosby and Malkin after what Dan Bylsma got out of the team without them should certainly make them the favorites in the Atlantic, though the Rangers do have a chance to unseat them. Boston, even coming off winning the Stanley Cup, might be the most vulnerable of the three to having their preseason favorite status taken away because of the combination of improvements Buffalo has made to the roster and the two goaltenders involved. It is impossible to expect that Tim Thomas is going to repeat the performance of last year, while Ryan Miller should be better, especially with the defensive additions they made this offseason and that alone could be enough to see them take the Northeast.
The Rangers have significantly improved in some areas this offseason, but there are still question marks about how the lineup and roster will fill out along with whether the chemistry between Gaborik and Richards will be as many are hoping, as well as if all those who had career years last season can repeat. With those questions it is tough to see them going higher than a 4 seed in the East, but given the lack of improvements by others, tough to see them falling below 6.