As the calendar turns from August to September, off-ice workouts become training camp practices, and the talk switches from trade rumors and free-agent signings to preseason games and roster cuts.
With the offseason moves having been made, the majority of the New York Rangers' opening night roster is set. Optimism is high in New York, with the addition of Brad Richards to a young team that won 44 games in 2010-11.
Without a doubt, the Rangers have improved from last season. However, do they have enough to win the Atlantic Division and be a top three team in the Eastern Conference?
The Rangers' toughest competition within their division will come from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite missing superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for an extended period of time last season, the Penguins recorded the most points in a season since the lockout. While Crosby could still miss the beginning of this season from lingering effects of a concussion, the Penguins still have a good enough supporting cast to win the Atlantic Division.
In addition to the Penguins, the Rangers will face stiff competition from the defending Atlantic Division Champions, the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite an offseason upheaval that included captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers brought in ex-Ranger Jaromir Jagr, and they feel they have solved their goaltending problem with Ilya Bryzgalov.
How many points will the Rangers get this season?
Outside of the division, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins have most of their roster returning, and will be a contender with Tim Thomas in goal and Zdeno Chara on the blue line. Also, despite a tough year for Alexander Ovechkin and an eight-game losing streak, the Washington Capitals finished first in the Eastern Conference for the second-consecutive season. With the addition of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, the Capitals are hoping their great regular-season play will extend to the postseason in 2011-12.
While the Rangers have pieces in place to make a playoff run, by no means should the organization plan the parade route down the Canyon of Heroes. Even when John Tortorella was asked after the end of last season if he felt the team should be considered a cup contender, he noted that the Rangers are an eighth-place team who was bounced from the first round in five games.
This offseason, the Rangers made the moves necessary to give themselves a chance to compete in a series against teams like the Bruins, Capitals and Penguins. Now, they have to make the paper moves work on the ice.
Fortunately, we won't have to wait much longer to see them on the ice.