7 Thoughts from 7 Days: Non-Eichel center moves for the Rangers
It’s officially September. Time to close up the pools, put the beach stuff away, and get the fire pits and pumpkin scented fire wood ready to go. Hockey season is just around the corner. The Rangers roster is pretty set, and baring a complete melt down, will be significantly better this year than last. But the focus is still Jack Eichel. It’s dominated the offseason. But if the Rangers aren’t going the Eichel route, what are other moves at center they can make?
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1. The first and most likely route the Rangers will take, remember this is in the non-Eichel category, is to just stay the course and don’t make any moves for centers. Assuming Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome continue their production when healthy and Filip Chytil takes another step forward as the 3C, that’s solid depth in the top-nine. Then there are matchup options like Kevin Rooney, Morgan Barron, Barclay Goodrow, and possibly (unlikely) Karl Henriksson as the 4C. That’s very strong depth down the middle and might be enough to get them to a deeper run in the playoffs.
2. The question, though, is does it make them a championship roster? Well based on the average championship roster, they are close.
Usual caveat that this is using WAR, and one chart does not make or break an analysis. It is here to supplement the discussion. The above is that the average championship roster looks like from a WAR perspective. Focus less on the individual players and more on the overall WAR needed from each line. Here’s how the Rangers project:
Note: For some reason Igor Shesterkin wasn’t in the goalie options. Jordan Binnington was the closest comp from a stats perspective I could think of. I’m hoping the WAR results aren’t that far off.
What drags the Rangers down in the overall WAR in the top-six is the relative unknown of half the current combos. Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov are statistical unknowns, and thus subject to a lot of variance. Laf and Kakko especially, since their time in the NHL wasn’t exactly met with huge scoring success. Both are looking to be legitimate top-six/top line talent though.
Breaking this down further, the Rangers are expected to rank 16th among centers in WAR. The WAR model isn’t overly fond of Zibanejad and Strome, which is fair. There are legitimate statistical reasons to be wary of long-term deals for both players. Based on the above numbers, the Rangers don’t have the center depth to be a true competitor. Thus non-Eichel moves at center might be needed for the Rangers.
3. However I do wonder how much the WAR rankings will change with Gerard Gallant. Systems impact these rankings. We’ve covered how much the lack of pressuring the blue line impacted the Rangers, and Gallant will have the Rangers playing far more aggressively. That does matter, and I think it matters far more than some of the stat models suggest.
All this is to say that the Rangers, statistically speaking based solely on WAR, likely don’t have the center (or RW) numbers to be a true Cup competitor next season. However there are a lot of variables heading into next season that the models don’t account for. Rose colored glasses? Probably, but I am optimistic about this Rangers team.
4. So what about non-Eichel choices, if the Rangers do see a need to upgrade at center? There are certainly a few choices, and the one that made waves yesterday was Tomas Hertl in San Jose. Hertl is rumored to want out, and he’s just fantastic. He’d be an upgrade on Strome as the 2C. He’s one of the top forwards in the game, and can play center too. The trade cost is likely to be far less than for Eichel, given Hertl is a pending UFA. Evolving-Hockey has him at a 7 year, $7.86 million contract when he hits free agency. It would be Hertl or Eichel.
5. Another interesting option we’ve covered here is Christian Dvorak. Dvorak comes with more cost certainty with four years and a $4.45 million cap hit. The reasoning for Dvorak is he’s younger than Hertl (25 years old), has a cheaper contract, and a change of scenery should really show what the kid can do. He’s put up decent numbers in an awful situation in Arizona. It’s much more of a gamble than Hertl or Eichel, as you may be getting someone who isn’t even an upgrade on Strome, which should be the overall goal here.
6. Vincent Trochek isn’t really spoken about much, but given the offer sheet drama in Carolina, he’s a name that has popped up. If Montreal doesn’t match the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, then the Canes will be over the cap and will need to do some tinkering. Trochek, a pending UFA, doesn’t really fit the bill that the Rangers need though. He’s not an upgrade on Strome or Chytil. He’d be a fill-in body at best.
7. Of all these options, I’m slowly moving away from Dvorak and more towards Hertl. He might honestly be a better option than Eichel too, given the production, cost (acquisition and contract), and lack of injury risk. But make no mistake, Eichel is far superior if fully healthy.
Food for thought: What if the Rangers acquire both Hertl and Eichel, and then trade Zibanejad and Strome? It’s not happening, as it would be Hertl or Eichel, but man what a whirlwind that would be. Funny enough, it wouldn’t even be the craziest thing to happen with the Rangers this year.