The 2021-22 Florida Panthers ended their season in a disappointing fashion: a 4-game sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, tallying a total of 3 goals in that 2nd round series.
In those 4 games, the Panthers’ leading scorer was Jonathan Huberdeau, who recorded 2 assists. No other player had more than one point.
Fast forward to the 2023 postseason, and Florida has punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final following an offseason of tremendous change.
The summer of 2022 included adding a new coach in Paul Maurice as well as one of the biggest trades in NHL history, sending Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames as part of a deal for tenacious (and clutch) forward Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk has been dominant, posting 21 points this postseason as well as scoring 3 of the 4 game-winning goals in Florida’s Eastern Conference Final series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
How does this apply to the New York Rangers?
Well, a coaching change is already in the works, though there is no indication as to who may be the one to take over behind the bench on Broadway.
But as Florida so clearly established, a big move is necessary to take a team who succeeds in the regular season and evolve into a club that can attain playoff success.
That and a goaltender capable of stealing wins for his respective hockey team. The New York Rangers could check off that box as well.
Igor Shesterkin, the one alluded to previously, posted a .955 save percentage in 7 games this postseason.
That is tied for the highest save percentage among all goalies (minimum 7 starts). Adin Hill, who is currently backstopping Vegas to their second Cup Final appearance since their inaugural season in 2017-18, is the other.
If Florida’s successful run this postseason is to be the barometer for this Rangers club, that big move may have to come at the cost of one of New York’s core pieces.
Though the Rangers’ big move would likely look a little different than Florida’s. New York currently has $37.64 million in average annual value (AAV) tied up in 4 players: Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, and Jacob Trouba (per CapFriendly)
With that much money allocated to 4 players, the club will be tight against the cap. They currently have $11.7 million in cap space to re-sign restricted free agents (RFA’s) Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller, as well as fill up 4 other roster spots.
It will be pinching pennies for General Manager Chris Drury. So how would a big move to shake up the roster even be feasible?
The good news is, I nor anyone else discussing this topic are the ones who have to answer that question.
But a suggestion never hurt anyone, right? So would it be in the cards for Drury and his cohorts to move one of Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, or Kaapo Kakko?
Chytil received a contract extension prior to the beginning of the postseason at $4.437 million AAV for the next four seasons, so the likelihood of him getting moved is not as high compared to Lafreniere and Kakko.
Or is it? A Chytil trade would remove his cap hit and could leave some room for an addition at the right-wing spot, which the Rangers are currently lacking.
Now it is important to note that I am not calling for a Chytil trade. He is an extremely valuable forward and provides a lot of speed, something the club is currently lacking.
Would his departure mean the center depth of the team would take a hit? That would be the logical assumption. It feels as though each possible answer only yields more questions.
He has also been one of the best playoff performers over the last 2 seasons, posting 8 goals and 5 assists in 27 playoff games.
Chytil is second on the team in points per 60 minutes (2.02) and goals per 60 minutes (1.10) as well in that time (minimum 10 games).
But if he and his salary, along with another cap casualty (looking at you, Barclay Goodrow) are packaged together, could Chris Drury look to pry Clayton Keller from Arizona? Or perhaps Drake Batherson from Ottawa?
Of course, Chytil and Goodrow would not be the only assets going in such a deal. But both Keller and Batherson are valuable pieces that could be big contributors.
Keller hit career highs in goals (37), assists (49), and points (86) this past season with the lowly Arizona Coyotes, while Batherson also hit career highs in all three major scoring categories (22 goals, 40 assists for 62 points).
Keller’s cap hit is $7.15 AAV for the 2023-24 season and the 4 seasons to follow. Batherson makes just $4.975 AAV for the next 4 seasons (signed through 2026-27).
Neither Keller nor Batherson are quite Matt Tkachuk in terms of overall value and I am indeed just throwing darts at a dartboard to see what sticks.
However, this practice needs to be the type of attitude Drury must have once he completes the search for the recently vacated head coaching position.
Following the Cats’ disappointing season in 2021-22, they made an uncomfortable decision to shake things up… and it paid dividends. It is time for Drury to do the same.