Regarding the Rangers, who thus far have done their splishing and splashing in the shallow end of the free-agent pool:
1. Just a thought:
If Mika Zibanejad were willing to accept a six-year contract extension at between $9 million and $9.5 million, wouldn’t that put an end to the Jack Eichel narrative as relates to the Rangers?
That might be somewhat less than Zibanejad wants, or thinks he deserves, or could get on the open market next July 1, but if he wants to remain in New York instead of diving into the volatile flat-cap free-agency pool, that would probably do it.
And if general manager Chris Drury won’t even go that far, then Zibanejad would have a pretty good idea of where he stands and we’d all have a much better idea about the degree of the Blueshirts’ interest in Eichel.
2. Sorry to go back to this on Day 2 of free agency, on which the Rangers signed Group II Filip Chytil to a two-year deal worth an annual average value of $2.3 million per, but the first question about No. 72 is whether he’ll be playing on that contract in Manhattan or Buffalo?
There is a strong sense that Chytil would necessarily be included in a package going the other way in a hypothetical deal for Eichel, because the Sabres need a center in return and all that. But one individual with some knowledge of the proceedings told The Post on Thursday that the latest entreaty includes Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones, Alexandar Georgiev and a first-rounder, but not Chytil.
It would be a shame for the Rangers to move on from Chytil, the 21-year-old, 21st-overall selection of the 2017 entry draft, without getting more of an indication of the Czech’s upside. He’s big and getting bigger (6-foot-2 and 206 pounds a year ago), and he has plus-skating ability.
Chytil’s skill set, at least at this point, does not include the ability to distribute the puck as a center or, from that perspective, to make his linemates better. He seems to be more suited to NHL life as a power winger, using his size, strength and skating to get to the front of the net from the wall.
Indeed, though he posted strong underlying numbers, playing almost exclusively in the middle of the third line, to support his 22 points (8-14) in 42 games of a season that was interrupted by a broken hand, then COVID-19, Chytil might have been at his best in his rookie 2018-19 season, when he played 50 games on the wing.
Chytil was mostly a top-six winger that season, lining up 18 times beside Ryan Strome, 13 times with Kevin Hayes and 10 games with Zibanejad. But after Hayes was traded at the deadline, Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko joined the club during the 2019-20 offseason and Chytil went back to the middle.
Chytil’s blend of size, skill and skating ability would seem to be a perfect fit for incoming head coach Gerard Gallant’s system, under which the Rangers will be expected to play fast on both sides of the puck. If a player doesn’t track back with as much effort and energy as he leans forward with, that player will be on the bench.
Can Chytil break into the top six on the wing instead of playing on the third line, either at center or on the flank, with Barclay Goodrow? Isn’t wing on the top six a better use of Chytil’s talents than riding on a checking unit?
Of course, if Chytil moves up, someone would move out. That probably would be Kaapo Kakko. Where, then, would he play?
3. Chytil’s signing leaves the Rangers with around $15 million of space with which to work. Restricted free agent Igor Shesterkin is likely to command at least $6 million per, with the goaltender, who is only two seasons away from being eligible to hit the open market holding massive leverage. The Rangers would surely like to keep the deal to around $5.5 million per, but there’s a better chance the number will start with a “6.”
The cap calculation does not account for restricted free agent Libor Hajek, whose spot on the team will all but certainly be usurped by free-agent signees Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi. Unlike last year, Hajek is no longer exempt from waivers. It is extremely unlikely that the 23-year-old would clear, so chances are he will be dealt.
4. Drury did well to get a fourth-rounder from Vegas for Brett Howden in advance of the expansion draft, when rosters were just about locked around the league except for the Golden Knights, who were exempt from the process.
But now Howden — who suffered from being asked to do too much, too soon on the NHL level when he would have been better served playing in Hartford — is gone and Hajek is on his way out.