Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the New York Rangers. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
As they've done in years past, the Rangers dipped their line into the free agent waters and pulled out the biggest fish in hopes of turning into a true contender in the East.
The Blueshirts had the trump card in the Richards pursuit with head coach John Tortorella, who got the most out of the former Conn Smythe winner while the two were together in Tampa Bay.
Will the addition of Richards be enough to push the team to the next level?
Here's what's in store for the Rangers in 2011-12.
Prospect Report: The biggest chip in the Rangers' pocket is probably Boston College winger Chris Kreider. The 20-year-old was a big part of the U.S. junior team that sent Canada home with a silver medal in 2010 and will eventually factor into the team's talented two-way crop of forwards.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, Swedish forward Carl Hagelin could be poised to make some noise this season. The University of Michigan product put up 49 points in 44 games during his final NCAA season and then jumped right into the Calder Cup playoffs with the AHL's Connecticut Whale and contributed a goal and an assist in five games.
The future got a huge boost from Calgary when they dealt for unsigned 2009 first-rounder Tim Erixon, who could make the bigs as early as this season. Beyond that, there's first-rounders Dylan McIlrath and T.J. Miller to go along with some nice depth the team has acquired with savvy drafting over the past few years.
Breakout Player to Watch: NHL teams have largely been shying away from drafting Russian prospects over the past few years due to a lack of transfer agreement and the lure of the KHL. But the teams that have taken chances on young Russian talent have seen results at a lot of organizational levels.
Enter Artem Anisimov. The 23-year-old saw a 16-point jump in his point totals in a slump-free sophomore season. With his early-career jitters behind him, he could be ready to be a very useful and productive part of the Rangers top six, especially with the jettisoning of Chris Drury and Vaclav Prospal. If 2010-11 rookie Derek Stepan is unable to keep rolling, Anisimov could be the guy that dominates the stat sheets.
Marquee Match-Up: Remember Me? - Nov. 26, Flyers vs. Rangers
This season, Jaromir Jagr returns to the NHL after three years of self-imposed Russian exile. The 39-year-old showed he had elite game in last year's World Championship, but will it translate over a full NHL season? He certainly thinks so (as do the Flyers), but the Rangers would welcome the opportunity to prove their former teammate wrong.
These two teams are also scheduled to meet on Jan. on what is widely speculated to be the 2012 Winter Classic, though no formal announcement to the outdoor nature of the game has yet been confirmed by the league.
Other Dates to Watch: Oct. 7 and 8 - The Rangers play the Kings and the Ducks on back to back nights in Stockholm. Oct. 27 vs. Toronto - Three weeks into the season, the Rangers finally play at Madison Square Garden. Nov. 25 at Washington - The Rangers return to the scene of their 2011 playoff demise for a date with the Capitals. Dec. 13 vs. Dallas - Brad Richards lines up against his former Stars mates for the first time since migrating to the Big Apple.
Reason to Get Excited: The Rangers' arsenal largely misfired last season. Brandon Dubinsky led the team in scoring with a modest 24 goals and 54 points. There's no reason to think they'll suffer the same fate behind Richards, who is traditionally good for around 70 points on his own.
If Richards can awaken the slumbering sticks of players like Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski, or prove to be a point of reference for young stars like Dubinsky and new captain Ryan Callahan, the Rangers could quickly become a force in the Eastern Conference.
Home Hardware: It seems like there's an untold competition going on every year between the Staal brothers as to who steps up and steals the spotlight. Playing a supporting role to big brother Eric at last season's All-Star festivities was fun, but this year it'll be all business for Marc Staal.
Staal notched a career-best 29 points in 2010-11, but what he does on the score sheet is just gravy for the Rangers. Staal is constantly relied on by the Rangers to shut down the opposition's top threats and minimize Henrik Lundqvist's workload. With his point totals up, it's only a matter of time before his shut-down capabilities are mentioned with the league's elite and Staal's name enters the Norris Trophy discussion.
Between the pipes, don't count out perennial Vezina candidate Lundqvist. Last season was another stellar one for the Swedish netminder as he finished with a 36-27 record and a 2.28 goals-against average. If he posts numbers like that this season, he will as always be right in the thick of the race.
On The Hot Seat: Michael Del Zotto looked like the next great offensive blue line weapon for the Rangers two seasons ago. Then he hit a sophomore slump of epic proportions that saw him finish the season in the AHL.
Only three years removed from being a first-round selection and just one year removed from the NHL's All-Rookie Team, Del Zotto goes into camp fighting not just for a job, but for a future. The Rangers aren't afraid to cut loose young talent that they feel isn't materializing. Just ask Matt Gilroy, Evgeny Grachev and Bobby Sanguinetti. If Del Zotto wants to avoid adding his name to that list, he'd be well-served to have a training camp to remember.
With Erixon and Ryan McDonagh already on the rise, the former Ontario Hockey Leaguer may be facing long odds.
Team chemistry can be a very delicate balance and under the bright lights of Broadway, the pressure on Richards and, possibly the entire Rangers team, has not been this high in years.
Can Avery behave himself for another full season and put the team first, or is it only a matter of time before he acts out again and burns his final bridge to the NHL?
Richards got a front row seat to the dog and pony show that was Avery's exit from Dallas, so if Avery is that toxic, certainly Richards would be one of the NHLers with first-hand knowledge.
But the expectation surrounding Avery has always been to expect the unexpected.
If the Rangers fire on all cylinders, they could dominate in the East and even win the Atlantic Division.
But what if Avery goes off again?