The Rangers were one of the top teams throughout the 2011-12 regular season and finished atop the Eastern Conference standings.
But that success didn't quite carry over to the playoffs. New York advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, but after taking all seven games to dispose of both the eighth and seventh seeds in the first two rounds, they ran out of gas against the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers' response: adding even more firepower through the biggest off-season trade, acquiring superstar Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets without giving any irreplaceable pieces back.
The Atlantic is perhaps the toughest division in the NHL, but the Rangers only got better this past summer so it's hard not to consider them a favourite once again heading into the new year.
Top prospect Chris Kreider impressed in his first taste of NHL action - in the playoffs no less. Kreider tallied five goals and seven points during New York's postseason run while logging 13-plus minutes per game.
The Rangers are very high on Kreider – so much that they refused to include him in any deal for Nash - and are counting on big things from the 21-year-old in his first full season. He is penciled in as a top six forward heading into 2012-13.
After Kreider, there'll be a few years waiting for the team's other top prospects. But names like J.T. Miller, Brady Skjei, and Christian Thomas could eventually make an impact in the league. Miller has been getting games in at the AHL level this season and was among the USA's top players at the World Juniors, tying for the team lead in scoring with nine points in seven games.
Last year's top team in the East added a five-time all-star and Rocket Richard winner in Nash for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, defenceman Tim Erixon, and a future first-round pick. Dubinsky, Anisimov, and Erixon are all solid players, but none have had the impact of a player like Nash. On paper, the Rangers are even better this year than they were last year when they topped the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers, especially with the summer edition of Nash, are the team to beat in the East, and every opponent knows it. To go along with very high expectations, New York will also enter the season with the proverbial target on their backs; they can expect to see opponents' best on most nights, trying to knock the Rangers off their perch.
A look at where Rangers players went during the lockout:
Michael Del Zotto (Rapperswil-Jona, Swiss Elite), Matt Gilroy (Connecticut, AHL), Carl Hagelin (Sodertalje, Swedish League), Chris Kreider (Connecticut, AHL), Ryan McDonagh (Barys Astana, KHL), Rick Nash (Davos, Swiss Elite), Derek Stepan (Kalpa, Finnish Elite)