It hasn’t even been a week since the Rangers opened the 2017-18 season, but the Filip Chytil on Broadway experiment appears to be over. After emerging from training camp as the team’s second line center, Chytil averaged less than six and a half minutes of ice time in the team’s first two games and sitting as a healthy scratch during Sunday night’s victory against Montreal, Alain Vigneault seemingly decided that Chytil isn’t ready for the grind of an 82 game regular season as an 18 year old.
After claiming Adam Cracknell off waivers from the Dallas Stars, the Rangers face an even greater problem than they did throughout the off-season. Over the summer, there was hope that a second move to fill Derek Stepan’s shoes would be made, and if not, either Lias Andersson or Chytil would emerge as a passable top nine player to mitigate the damage Jeff Gorton did by shipping out his first line center for 75 cents on the dollar.
The season is less than a week old, and we can confirm that neither of those things appear to be happening. Andersson is in Sweden, Chytil has been demoted to Hartford as he adjusts to the North American game, and New York’s center depth is set to consist of Kevin Hayes playing over his head in the top six, and some combination of J.T. Miller, David Desharnais, and Cracknell filling out the bottom six. In other words, something that looks closer to a lottery team’s center depth rather than a Stanley Cup contender.
To solve that problem, the Rangers would be wise to look to the NHL’s newest franchise. After landing KHL superstar Vadim Shipachyov over the summer, the Vegas Golden Knights have buried the KHL’s third leading scorer from last season in the AHL. While it was initially seen as a paper transaction to buy Vegas time to move some of the bad defenseman they took in the expansion draft, that’s turned out not to be the case.
The Golden Knights are 3-0 to begin the season (the first expansion franchise to ever start 3-0) and with nothing suggesting that a recall to Vegas is imminent, Shipachyov reportedly wants out. While the reports say he would prefer to return to Russia for a chance to represent his country in Pyeongchang for the Olympics, he is also open to skating for another NHL franchise.
It’s hard to imagine that a player who’s scored over a point per game over the last three seasons in the second best hockey league in the world isn’t an NHL caliber player, and at the very least isn’t even good enough to hack it on a first year expansion team, but general managers get paid to make those decisions. I get paid to check grocery prices, answer phone calls, and and take up trays from cash registers every night, so what do I know.
Anyway, Shipachyov’s KHL numbers indicate he should be an effective scorer in the NHL. While his $4.5 million cap hit might seem high to take a flyer on a player, the Rangers lack of a second dynamic center make it a risk worth taking. Seeing as how Vegas seems content to let him sit in the AHL, it shouldn’t take much to bring Shipachyov to the city that never sleeps.
The main issue in a hypothetical Shipachyov trade is New York’s lack of salary cap room. Due to the savings incurred from swapping Chytil’s $925,000 cap hit for Cracknell’s $675,000 figure, the Rangers will have approximately $1.8 million in cap space. Sending Steven Kampfer to Hartford would increase that figure to roughly $2.45 million.
At this point the team would technically be capable of acquiring Shipachyov, but it would require Vegas retaining 50% of his salary, as well as leaving New York with a shade over $200,000 in cap space, which isn’t tenable for the length of the season.
Finding a suitor for Nick Holden would go a long way towards freeing up cap space, but Vegas got into this mess due to having too many defenseman, so they wouldn’t be willing to take on another one. Assuming Gorton would rather deal directly with Vegas and avoid any third parties, the most sensible piece to send to the Sin City would be Michael Grabner.
Sending Kampfer down and swapping Grabner for Shipachyov with Vegas retaining half of his salary results in an almost identical cap hit (the Rangers would actually save $50,000, but it’s a negligible amount of space). Of course, the Rangers would have to add more assets to entice McPhee into a deal, so something like a mid-round pick and a decent prospect like Ryan Gropp or John Gilmour could do the trick.
With no other options until the trade deadline, Jeff Gorton should be banging down the Golden Knights’ door and discuss a deal to bring the Cherepovets native (he’s from the same city as Pavel Buchnevich. Bonus!) to New York. Prices for rental centers are always obnoxiously high as the deadline approaches, so the Rangers should look to solve their issue at center sooner rather than later.
Landing Vadim Shipachyov would do just that.