As the offseason progresses, the Rangers and Jeff Gorton are on the record that they are going to use their assets to accelerate the rebuild. While we are unsure what exactly that means, we do know that they are sticking to their words with the acquisition of Adam Fox. With that move, they sold off two picks for a defenseman that was more than likely to sign with them next summer (2020). They accelerating that aspect, and if that is any indication of the future, more is to come.
Aside from the obvious issues on the blue line, one of the major areas that needs to be addressed if the Rangers are to make the playoffs next year — and let’s be real, that is the overall goal of the front office — is the 2C spot. With Mika Zibanejad fully entrenched as the 1C, and some combination of Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, Ryan Strome, and Boo Nieves likely to fill out the 3C and 4C roles, 2C is the clear hole.
Center depth is critical for any contending team. The Blueshirts’ 2017-2018 season, when they misfired on Andersson being NHL ready for a 3C role, was derailed before it even started. It’s amazing what David Desharnais as your 3C does for your playoff chances. The same concept applies here. The Blueshirts need to address that depth to truly contend.
The best in-house option is Chytil, who had a decent-but-not-great-or-bad rookie season. He excelled at getting shots from in front while also playing relatively stable defensive hockey. With the flashes of brilliance we saw, perhaps the right wingers (Vitali Kravtsov, Kappo Kaako, perhaps?) can accelerate his growth and potential.
Chytil is an option, but the Blueshirts will need a backup option. The UFA options are a little scarce. There are only four UFA centers that scored 50 points last season: Matt Duchene, Kevin Hayes, Brock Nelson, and Joe Thornton. Duchene is obviously the most enticing, but will be the most expensive. Hayes likely isn’t happening, or at least that’s what I’m thinking. Thornton is 39 years old. That leaves…Brock Nelson. Is it worth committing six years and $36 million to Brock Nelson?
The trade market is likely the best bet here. The Penguins need cap space, and while there’s always a chance Evgeni Malkin winds up on the block, the realistic realm has the Blueshirts targeting someone like Nick Bjugstad and his $4.1 million cap hit for two more years. I only mention Bjugstad as a type of player, and not specifically Bjugstad himself. The Blueshirts will be targeting middle-salary players on cash-strapped reams. Perhaps a player that underperformed last season as well. (I don’t like Bjugstad as an option.)
Of course the Blueshirts could target stupid teams like Edmonton. Maybe the Oilers relieve their cap issues by sending Ryan Nugent-Hopkins packing for…Neal Pionk? I’d say it’s unrealistic, but, you know, Hall for Larsson.
Columbus is an interesting trading partner here. They have two draft picks this year, three major UFAs in Artemi Panarin, Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel, one big time RFA in Zach Werenski, and not much cap space to get all of them back next year. If keeping Duchene is what they truly want, then they may need to clear cap space in the form of Alex Wennberg (24 years old, $3.9 million cap hit for four more years) or Boone Jenner (25, $3.75 million for three more years), although the latter is highly unlikely. Wennberg would be a tremendous gamble though.
Ditto Toronto on the interesting trade partner front. They are desperately cash strapped, needing to sign Mitch Marner with minimal cap space. Nazem Kadri and his $4.5 million salary seems like a luxury as their 3C behind Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Kyle Dubas isn’t dumb, so that’s a risk for the Rangers, although I do like Kadri as a legitimate option.
Depending on how the Rangers view some of their prospects, a trade for a legitimate center might be their best bet to fill their 2C hole. Committing big time money to someone like Brock Nelson instead of better options like Erik Karlsson or Panarin or Duchene seems ill advised, and the Blueshirts have prospects and picks to burn to make it happen. Only Gorton knows what his plans are, though.