Before the 2013 season began, words like "stacked", "loaded" and even "unstoppable" were used to describe the NY Rangers' roster.
Nine games into the season, it's safe to say none of those words are anywhere near accurate.
Nevertheless, the Rangers are still a very talented team. There are a number of factors working against them at the moment, but they do possess a fair amount of skill. But where exactly does this team rank in terms of talent league-wide? Have they been completely overrated in the preseason? Or is it just a matter of a lack of preparation?
To further investigate, we'll take a look at the Rangers' offense, defense and goaltending and then compare them to the other teams in the league to figure out just how talented this team is.
The Rangers' troubles scoring goals over the course of John Tortorella's tenure have been well documented.
When he arrived at the club, players like Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev were leading the attack.
Unsurprisingly, all of those players left the team before Torts' first full season as Rangers coach, as he and Glen Sather worked to bring in players more offensively blessed. Guys like Marian Gaborik, Ales Kotalik and Vinny Prospal were brought to the club in 2009-10.
But again, not enough goals were produced.
So what the club did from then on was add at least one offensive piece in the offseason to try and bolster their attack, which was already littered with several young, two-way, homegrown forwards. The team tried to breed these young players with the Rangers mindset while utilizing free agency to add skill to their team.
Today we see a top line of Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. In support are the young talent that was cultivated by the Rangers system—guys like Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Further down the line are a mix of gritty veterans looking to contribute as energy players and penalty killers.
It's a pretty good balance. There have been struggles early on here, but in a few weeks this team should be operating near peak performance.
But is this the most talented group of forwards in the NHL?
There are teams out there with bigger names on their top two lines. Obviously Pittsburgh—it has arguably the best two players in the world on its team.
There's also Chicago—Kane, Toews, Hossa—and San Jose—Marleau, Thornton, Couture, Pavelski. All three of these teams may not be as deep as the Rangers, but their top-end talent is superior to the Rangers.
Both can attribute most of their success in the postseason to their depth. I don't think the Bruins have changed their lines in three years and they continue to roll all four lines on a nightly basis.
As for the Kings, they've been loaded through the third line for a few years now, but the emergence of guys like Dwight King and Jordan Nolan on their fourth unit has further solidified this team's depth.
Then there's St. Louis, who might be the league's deepest team at the forward position. There really is no weakness here for the Blues. They have fringe top-end talent in Oshie, Berglund and Tarasenko, and also have valuable vets like Langenbrunner manning the bottom two lines.
Basically the Rangers have a slightly better-than-average offensive unit, but it certainly isn't tops in the league. The Rangers had a choice this postseason: Preserve team depth or purge it in an effort to collect more top-end talent. Since both were unfeasible, the Rangers went ahead and snatched the top-end talent with the belief that the depth was replaceable.
Did they make the right call? We'll have to wait and see.
When the Rangers arrived for training camp before the 2011-12 season, it was revealed that Marc Staal was battling post concussion syndrome and would be sidelined indefinitely.
The big question then was how would the team perform without their All-Star defenseman.
Dan Girardi and Mike Sauer had established themselves as dependable NHL stalwarts, but Michael Del Zotto was coming off a season which saw him demoted to Connecticut of the AHL. Ryan McDonagh, although promising, only had 40 games of experience under his belt, and Steve Eminger had become a career journeyman.
What complicated things even more was Mike Sauer's concussion—which he is still recovering from—early in the season. By then the Rangers has expressed interest in Swedish defenseman Anton Stralman, whom they would later sign.
Despite nearly every force working against them, the Rangers became one of the stingiest teams in the league. Girardi went on to have an All-Star season of his own while also making a serious run at the Norris Trophy, and Del Zotto and McDonagh solidified themselves as a couple of the best young defensemen in the league.
Also, Stralman's strong play should not go without mention.
It wasn't a fluke, either. The team's defensive play remained consistent throughout the entire season and playoffs. They finished third in the league in goals against, and despite Marc Staal's return on January 2nd for the Winter Classic, he really didn't contribute anything until late in the playoffs.
Compared to the rest of the league, it's safe to say the Rangers have just about as good a top-five as anyone in the league—that sixth defenseman is still the team's only problem back there.
The Penguins still feature Letang, Orpik and Martin, but the latter two have seen better days. The Bruins have a solid core back there too, and even more so now with the emergence of the young Dougie Hamilton to go with the rather large group that includes Chara, Sidenberg and Boychuck.
Out in the West there are several teams with top defensive units. Chicago's is very solid; the addition of Johnny Oduya last season and Michal Rozsival this past offseason only further solidifies their superstar group featuring Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
The Blues, again, are very solid, but outside of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk I find them to be a bit thin.
There's also the Kings and Canucks. The Kings are a bit top heavy with Doughty, but are fairly solid throughout. Vancouver, on the other hand, boasts an impressive group of defensemen who are effective at both ends of the ice. Their core is similar to the Rangers, except just a lot older.
When talking about out-and-out depth, I think the Blackhawks probably have the best defense in the league, but the Rangers are right behind them. They've got everything: size, speed, skill, and maybe most importantly, youth. The oldest player on their backline is only 29.
Furthermore, any one of the Rangers top-five can play in any situation—even strength, power play, penalty kill, it doesn't matter.
The potential is there for the Rangers. They may not have the best of the best right now, but with this team's potential, it's tough to not think next season this team could be the class of the NHL in terms of defense.
It's safe to say that goaltending is not a question mark for this hockey club.
What more is there really to say about Henrik Lundqvist? Last season's Vezina Trophy winner for league's best goalie has solidified himself as world's best netminder.
Rangers fans have been claiming this for years, but the appropriate, formal honors have always seemed to slip out of The King's grasp. But after seven seasons in the league, and multiple nominations for the prestigious award, Lundqvist finally got what he deserved 2011-12.
But not only do the Rangers have the best goalie in the world, they have one of the league's best backups.
Marty Biron may be 35 years old, but he's still proving he has a lot to offer, and not only in the locker-room, but also between the pipes.
Last season he posted a 12-6-2 record while also adding two shutouts.The truth is Biron could easily start on a few of the teams in the league, and after Saturday night's impressive performance against the Tamp Bay Lightening, the Rangers can count on Biron to continue performing as a starting goaltender even if he is second in line at this club.
In the modern game, it has become rare for teams to employ two starting goaltenders, mostly because it's wasting assets or because, like skaters, goalies want to play. Nobody wants to sit and watch every night.
But there are a few in the league today. St. Louis has Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot and in Vancouver there's the odd couple: Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo.
The two in St. Louis had a remarkable season last year. They easily brought home the Jennings Trophy for lowest goals against average at the end of the regular season. On any given night it didn't matter for the Blues; they could always count on their goaltender to come up big.
The Canucks employ what probably is the best goaltending tandem in the league. Both guys can easily perform as a 70-game starter on any team in the league. Luongo, although under a large amount of scrutiny since the 2010-11 playoffs, is still a top goaltender in the league. And Schneider is well on his way to being the same.
It'll be interesting to see just how long these two remain on the Canucks together, as it is widely believed Luongo is being shopped while Schneider has been labeled as the goaltender of the future in Vancouver.
I don't know that Lundqvist and Biron together are a better tandem then that of Vancouver's, but they definitely are superior to Halak and Elliot. Lundqvist is by far the best of the six, but Biron is probably the worst.
One of the advantages the Rangers do have here is that there is a clear-cut starter and backup; there isn't in either Vancouver or St. Louis. This is bound to cause trouble, as it already has for the Canucks.
In New York there's never a question of who's going to get the nod in a big game; it's always going to be Hank. It's also difficult for a goaltender to build momentum over a season if he's getting switched out every couple of games.
So in that sense, the Rangers have an advantage, but overall they're not the most talented tandem in the league, Schneider and Luongo take that prize.