With the New York Rangers officially committing to a lengthy rebuild with the decision to ship former captain Ryan McDonagh (as well as J.T. Miller), the time has come to start looking into the future. While rumors of Ilya Kovalchuk wanting to play in New York, and the returns of Rick Nash and Michael Grabner via free agency may provide sparks of optimism for next season, the Blueshirts’ chances of competing next year seem minuscule. As it currently stands, this is a roster with anywhere from 12 to 16 NHL-caliber players on it. That roster includes defense corps with a single top four defenseman, with the rest of the team’s healthy bodies ranging from players who would be in dogfights for regular minutes on any playoff-bound team to players who are probably better off riding buses around the New England region for the better part of the hockey season.
When examining the foundation that the Rangers are looking to build around, the pieces that stand out the most are Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. The team’s two first round picks from the 2017 NHL Draft have spent the better part of this season in Hartford adjusting to the North American style of hockey. Chytil has spent the entire season in the AHL, aside from a two game sojourn in New York to open the season and a trip to the World Junior Championships. Andersson has split the season between Hartford and Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, coming across the pond after captaining the Tre Konor to a silver medal at the World Juniors.
Coming out of the draft back in June, Andersson was touted as most NHL-ready prospect sans the top two selections of the Entry Draft. Chytil was expected to need a season or two in his native Czech Republic before coming to North America, but he turned heads in training camp and earned a spot on New York’s opening night roster. Suffice to say, the two players have the reputation of NHL-ready prospects. Their point production in the minor leagues is another reason for optimism.
Using Rob Vollman’s NHLe factors, we can get an idea of how the duo’s point production would translate into the NHL. With 27 points in 37 AHL games, Chytil would be looking at roughly .343 points per game on Broadway, or 28 points per 82 games. Between Andersson’s 14 points in 22 SHL games and 12 points in 16 AHL games, he’d be expected to tally about 30 points per 82 games. While these numbers may not be eye-popping, the Rangers are currently trotting the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Paul Carey, and Cody McLeod onto the ice on a regular basis. If the only goal is to let the organization’s young players get a taste of what next season could be, than calling the duo up would be a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, putting the best product on the ice today isn’t in the team’s best interest for tomorrow. Even if the Rangers were in the playoff race and looking for a shot in the arm for the stretch run, it would require burning the first year off of the duo’s entry-level contracts. ELC’s are arguably the most valuable commodity in the NHL, and using the first year of one in a lost season appears to be a non-starter for Jeff Gorton:
“We are not going to burn the first year off any contracts,” general manager Jeff Gorton told The Post following practice Friday.
An entry-level contract slides when a player plays fewer than 10 NHL games. In effect, a slide delays arbitration rights and free agent eligibility by a year. The 19-year-old Andersson and 18-year-old Chytil are each on three-year deals in their respective first seasons in North America.
Gorton said that he will monitor the AHL standings while deciding whether to promote either or both of the centers. The Wolf Pack are in a four-way battle with Bridgeport, Charlotte and Providence for the final two divisional playoff spots.
“They’re both playing very well and we’re very happy with their progress, but it will be a day-by-day decision depending on the situation with Hartford, too,” said the GM, whose Blueshirts face the Senators in Ottawa Saturday afternoon before a Sunday matinee at the Garden against the Flyers. “We want to give Hartford a chance to make it.”
Based on those comments, it doesn’t seem like New York’s general manager is willing to budge on the issue. Chytil can play another seven games before his ELC begins, while Andersson can skate in nine NHL contests without starting the clock. With that being said, there is one factor that Jeff Gorton should consider before making any sort of final decision on the matter.
As previously discussed, entry-level contracts are one of, if not the single most valuable commodity in the NHL. However, they only run for a maximum of three seasons before expiring. Had the Rangers handled the trade deadline in a different manner, competing for a Stanley Cup within the next three seasons would have easily been possible. Opting to swap McDonagh for an assortment of mystery boxes threw that possibility out the window.
As such, the value that can usually be extracted out of ELC’s isn’t going to be useful to New York for the length of Chytil and Andersson’s contracts. The Rangers’ propensity to hand out bridge contracts could make everything a moot point by the time decisions needs to be made, but the team can put itself in a better to negotiate with Chytil and Andersson down the road by starting the clock on their ELC’s this season.
Similar situations have cropped up around the league in recent years. The Boston Bruins allowed David Pastrnak to skate in 46 NHL games the season immediately following his draft, and he responded with 27 points. Boston fell short of the playoffs that season and would have been first round fodder had they qualified, but starting the clock on Pastrnak’s ELC has benefited them in the long run. He followed up his 14-15 campaign with 26 points in 51 games in 15-16, before exploding for a 70 point performance last season and cashing in with a six year, $6.67 million per season contract extension. Had Boston kept him in the AHL during his rookie season and not burned his ELC early, they’d be getting ready to pay him a much higher amount after coming off what’s on pace to be yet another 70 point season in 17-18.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to arrive at a similar crossroads with William Nylander. While he may not be at the level of Pastrnak, Toronto’s decision to recall him towards the end of the 15-16 season rather than letting his ELC slide another year will end up saving them money in the long run, assuming the two sides hammer out a “fair” deal this offseason.
If the Rangers believe Chytil and Andersson are capable of becoming impact players, (and given where they selected them, they better think that) recalling them for the team’s final month would be a shrewd financial move. To say nothing of giving the duo some NHL experience to build upon heading into training camp next fall, as well as putting a semi-watchable product on the ice, letting the two prospects finish the season on Broadway could be the best outcome for all parties involved.