The minimalist would tell you the difference between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 New York Rangers was six points.

The idealist would tell you that an enormous change was the reason the Rangers qualified for the playoffs.

In truth, both the minimalist and idealist are correct. The Rangers improved from 87 points to 93 points because of a collective transformation in mind-set.

With one major free agent acquisition, is it time for the Rangers to take a step up in weight class and contend for the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and, possibly, the Stanley Cup?

 

Forwards

From the top down, the Rangers made it clear on breakup day what their need was without saying his name: Brad Richards.

Then the organization went out and landed the premier player on the free agent market.

Richards, who led Dallas with 77 points last season, was described by head coach John Tortorella in a conference call as “an elite center-ice man” and “a guy [who can] run the power play.”

The Rangers finished 2010-11 ranked 16th in the NHL in goals per game (2.73) and 18th in power play efficiency (16.9 percent).

Defensemen

Two of the three units are set, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns.

Cornerstone blueliner Marc Staal did not participate in scrimmages or in the three preseason games in North America due to post-concussion symptoms, while Michael Sauer battled right knee tendinitis.

Tortorella gushed last season about the performances of the top two pairings. Staal and Dan Girardi were matched against the league’s premier lines and more than held their own. Girardi’s 236 blocked shots led the NHL.

Goal tenders

An unquestioned strength. Henrik Lundqvist led the NHL with 11 shutouts, while his 2.28 goals against average and .923 save percentage ranked sixth in both categories.

Martin Biron was signed in the summer of 2010, as a veteran backup to lighten Lundqvist’s workload.

Prediction: Unless things go drastically wrong, it appears that the Rangers are a playoff team and should improve on the 93 points they earned last year. A 100-point season is not out of the realm of possibility for this club.

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