By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

When Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed free-agent contracts with the Minnesota Wild in early July, it seemed to give the Rangers a stronger chance to remain on top of the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

READ MORE: CNN's Chris Cuomo Fired Over Involvement In Brother Andrew Cuomo's Response To Sexual Harassment Scandal

The good news for the Rangers was that the New Jersey Devils were weakened by the loss of Parise, and that neither one of the free agents signed with the Philadelphia Flyers or the Pittsburgh Penguins. Additionally, Tim Thomas decided to take a year off from playing for the Boston Bruins, so it seemed like the competition was not getting any stronger.

That changed dramatically when Nashville star defenseman Shea Weber signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Nashville Predators have a chance to match the contract and keep Weber in Nashville, but that seems unlikely. The Predators would be stretched to the limit financially because Weber is due $27 million over the next 12 months. Nashville general manager David Poile may not have that kind of cash on hand to pay their superstar.

If they don’t, the Predators will have lost Suter and Weber in the same offseason. The little team from the Honky Tonk that had become so competitive will have lost its edge.

However, the Rangers are not worried about the Predators. They are concerned about the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers will be a much more formidable opponent with Weber, who may be the best all-around defenseman in hockey.

Weber is probably best known for his overpowering slap shot, which he puts on display every year at the NHL’s Skills Competition at the All-Star Game. While he usually finishes as the runner-up to Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, Weber takes less time to get his shot away and is more accurate with it. That makes him possibly more effective than the Boston behemoth when it comes to firing away from the point.

Weber is an excellent puck carrier and solid in all defensive aspects of the game. He can immediately step in as a No. 1 defenseman for the Flyers.

READ MORE: Purple & Black Bunting Hung At Bronx Fire Station To Honor Late Probationary Firefighter Vincent Malveaux

This is an area that Philadelphia badly needs to fill. They had one of the best in the league in Chris Pronger, but he was sidelined with a concussion prior to the halfway point of last season –- he only played 37 games –- and the Flyers have no idea if and when he will be back in uniform.

Even if Pronger had not gotten injured, the Flyers would have been looking for someone to fill the role of No. 1 defenseman shortly. Pronger will turn 38 in early October and retirement would have been beckoning.

Weber may be better than Pronger would be at his best. Weber makes the Flyers a much more formidable opponent.

That’s especially bad news for the Rangers, because they dominated Philadelphia last year. The Rangers won all six games against the Flyers, and that means that they would have gotten the best effort from Peter Laviolette’s team anyway. With Weber, that best effort becomes a much bigger problem.

Last year, the Rangers finished with 109 points while the Flyers had 103. If the two teams repeat their performance this year, but the Flyers can split the season series, they would have a six-point edge on the Rangers.

Glen Sather had an interest in bringing Weber to the Rangers through a free-agent offer of their own or through a trade, but Weber is not interested in living in Manhattan.

That made the Flyers the more attractive alternative.

The Rangers are going to receive a significant challenge from the Penguins next year because Sidney Crosby should be healthy for a full season. However, the bigger challenge may come from the Flyers, a team that would like nothing better than to rub the Rangers’ noses in the ground because they still feel the pain of getting swept in the regular season.

MORE NEWS: 1 Killed In Paterson House Fire

Rangers fans, how much of a threat do the Flyers become if they officially lock down Shea Weber? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…