It was the biggest news of the NHL offseason - The Rangers went out and spent 87 million locking up both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to long term deals this past Summer. The Rangers, who finished 6th last season in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year, immediately declared themselves as contenders to the rest of the NHL. Many experts have them picked at or near the top of the Eastern Conference this coming season, and many would even argue this team could go all the way. What do I think? Well, while the Rangers did add two top quality free agents to bolster an already solid lineup from last season, I think it's also important to recognize what the Rangers lost when talking about what they gained.
Michael Nylander put up a combined 162 points in the last two season playing along side Jaromir Jagr on the Rangers top line. His 83 points last season was the best of his career, and it was well known around the league that the chemistry he developed with Jagr was instrumental in getting Jagr back on top of his game after a couple of sub-par seasons in Washington. Despite Nylander's success and his reasonable contract demands this offseason, (he was rumoured to be asking 5 M/season) Glen Sather chose not to re-sign him. Enter Scott Gomez. Gomez brings some of the same playmaking skills and vision that Nylander exhibited over the past two seasons. In theory, he should be able to replace most of Nylander's production, but I'm not expecting much more than that. In fact, I would be surprised if Gomez surpasses the 83 point mark set by Nylander, since he's only done it once in his career. Gomez is much younger than Nylander, and perhaps his upside is what Glen Sather is banking on. For now, I see the subtraction of Nylander and the addition of Gomez as a wash for the Rangers, at least for the next couple of years.
Let's talk about Chris Drury. This guy is your prototypical "complete" hockey player. He brings it in both ends of the ice. He's a stud in the face off circle, can kill penalties, and is effective on the powerplay. He was also referred to as "Captain Clutch" during his time in Buffalo, due to his ability to show up when the team needed it most. Bottom line: this is a guy every coach wants on his hockey team. In terms of production, Drury had his best season in 06-07, scoring 37 goals and amassing 69 points in 77 games. To make room for Drury, the Rangers chose to trade Matt Cullen and his 41 points to Carolina. Now, I'm the first to admit there is no comparison between what Chris Drury and Matt Cullen bring to the table. While Cullen has shown that he can be a consistent contributor at the NHL level (in 05-06 he had 25 goals and 49 points with Carolina), Drury trumps him is almost every measurable category.
The addition of Drury is really is the only significant improvement I see in this 07-08 Rangers squad. Gomez and Nylander are a wash. There have been minimal changes to other areas of their roster. Karel Rachunek left for New Jersey, and 20 year old Marc Staal will take his place. Henrik Lundqvist is more experienced, but Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan are a year older. Yes, the Rangers do look better on paper, but not so much better that I'm ready to pick them to significantly improve on their two previous seasons. Its also important to remember that Chris Drury is coming off a career year (and a contract year) playing in a very offensive system in Buffalo, and he may not be able to match his 69 points from a season ago.
I'm definitely picking the Rangers to make the playoff this season, and I think they will improve on the 94 point season from a year ago, but I do not think they've made enough improvements to warrant consideration as a team that will challenge Ottawa and Pittsburgh (maybe) for the Eastern Conference.