In an off-season that has seen the Rangers improve significantly for both the immediate future and the long term, it has to be remembered that the Rangers were not the only Eastern team to improve significantly. Rick Carpiniello prompted me to think about the competitiveness of the East with one of his most recent posts.
Carp makes a valid point, one that we have reiterated at Blue Seat Blogs before, that while the Rangers should be better there are absolutely no guarantees where they finish this coming season. While Buffalo grossly overpaid for many of their new recruits the fact remains they have improved. The Capitals remain strong and should be even better with Tomas Vokoun (earning pittance) in net while the Pens should remain near the top and are probably the class of the Eastern field if Crosby and Malkin make it back by game one.
So what and who else? Carolina is a club with plenty of fire power and with Cam Ward in net they will always be competitive, although their immediate future may depend on how Kaberle settles in. All of a sudden the Southeast division looks pretty strong when you consider Tampa, the Caps and Carolina are all icing pretty strong squads.
We could go through every division with a fine toothcomb (and may well do, later in the summer) but the point I’m trying to consider here is whether the general media perception of the Western conference being significantly deeper is accurate anymore. I don’t think it is. The West probably is a little deeper in the short term especially if you think the 12th ranked club (the Wild) and the 13th ranked club last year (Columbus) should also be improved but a lot of Eastern clubs have become much better too.
Looking at the East again, if the Caps, Pens, Flyers, defending champion Bruins, Tampa and even the Rangers and Sabres don’t make some noise in the playoffs they’ll all be disappointed. That’s half of the conference without even considering the merits of the Canadiens and others. Indeed, four or five of those clubs may even change management if they don’t have significant success this coming season such is the growing expectancy among Eastern teams.
No longer do the Rangers (or Sabres etc…) need to look longingly at a bunch of Western teams and think the grass is greener in the West. The Rangers showed they could beat the Canucks last season and have improved since. What conference do you think is better now and which do you think is better long term? The answers to those questions may be different.