How would you feel if the Rangers traded 22 year old Filip Chytil? What about if former second overall pick Kaapo Kakko was traded? What if they both get traded? Because that could be very well where we're heading this Summer as the Rangers look to compete for the Cup now, and do so with little Salary Cap room in which to operate.
It's driven by the commitments handed out last year to Igor Shesterkin ($5.7M), Mika Zibanejad ($8.5M) and Adam Fox ($9.5M), which were all significant increases over their previous contracts. In addition Chris Drury gave out $3.6M to Barclay Goodrow, $2.5M to Patrik Nemeth and $1.75M to Ryan Reaves. Those decisions when added to already substantial commitments to Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin - a combined $26.1M - coupled with a bunch of No Move Clauses, mean Drury has very little flexibility this year and next.
The lack of movement in the Salary Cap (projected to raise at the rate of just $1M annually for at least the next two seasons), is certainly a factor, especially in those latter three who were all signed prior to the COVID pandemic, and the ensuing financial difficulties.
Put another way, 42% of the Cap number this year is tied up in the four players with NMCs (Panarin, Zibanejad, Trouba and Kreider). A further 18% is in guys you're not going to trade (Fox and Shesterkin), with another 7% towards players with Limited No Trade Clauses (Goodrow and Nemeth). It's largely of Drury's own making with all but the Trouba and Kreider contracts having been given out since he took over.
While Goodrow and Nemeth's contracts are not necessarily untradeable, it would seem unlikely that Drury is ready to give up on the former yet, and trading the latter will likely require the Rangers to add an asset to complete a deal.
So that leaves him with few choices to address the Rangers top two lines, who will lose half their number this offseason as Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano head to free agency.
While Right Wing suddenly looks week again, it'lll be the second line center position that will be the focus for Drury as he looks to make this a Cup contender over the next two seasons. Having a reliable second line pivot behind Zibanejad will give the Rangers the type of depth they really need to compete each night, especially with Shesterkin in net, and a young defensive corps that has now gone through three rounds of the playoffs.
The hope will be that some combination of Alexis Lafreniere, Sammy Blais as well as Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov - if either or both are still here - will become productive this year, giving the Rangers a short window of affordable wingers as they try to compete, and also get through to 2024-25 where the NMCs for Trouba and Kreider both convert to limited No Trade Clauses.
Which brings us back to Kakko and Chytil. Kakko is owed a new contract this year, and at 21, still has a number of years before he hits UFA status. Still, you'd expect a bridge deal in the real of $2.5M AAV for two seasons to be in the ballpark. As for the 22 year old Chytil, a good year this season could see his value bump up over $4M annually, which would put the Rangers in a tough spot, with ELCs expiring for both K'Andre Miller and Alexis Lafreniere next season.
It adds up to Drury having to worry about cost controls and making some difficult choices. Do you try to take advantage of the line-up as it currently stands and overcommit to the second line center, a key position with most Cup contenders, or do you try to give yourself more flexibility by sticking with Chytil.
Or perhaos the most agonizing choice, dealing Kakko and/or Chytil to try and manufacture some flexibility over the next two years.