Rangers’ Trocheck Signing Likely Seals Chytil’s Fate

Whether you like his contract or not, the New York Rangers seem to have improved with the free-agent addition of Vincent Trocheck as their second-line center of the immediate and long-term future.

The recently-turned 29-year-old brings a blend of scoring, snarl, speed, faceoff proficiency, strong defensive play, physicality, possession driving and some playoff experience with him to Broadway, ready to step in as Artemi Panarin’s man in the middle. An upgrade over the departed Ryan Strome and (the Rangers hope) Andrew Copp, Trocheck in theory solidifies a top-six center spot as the Blueshirts look to chase a championship over the next several seasons.

The price to get Trocheck’s signature on a contract with a reasonable average annual value of $5.625 million was the maximum seven-year term. The Rangers might not care for that length so much four or five years from now, but it was the cost of doing business that they’ll willingly pay as they move from their rebuilding project into what they hope is a window of Stanley Cup contention.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
New Rangers second-line center Vincent Trocheck (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s another potential downside to Trocheck’s contract besides it not aging well, however – it effectively seals the fate of Filip Chytil within the organization.

The Rangers were right not to install the 22-year-old Chytil as their second-line pivot of the future this offseason based on his eye-opening 2022 playoff performance. Even with his considerable skills on display as he delivered seven goals and two assists in 20 postseason games while at times dominating with his size, speed and strength, the hallmark of Chytil’s five-season NHL career has been inconsistency. If he’s unable to carry his effort from the playoffs over to the 2022-23 season, should anyone be surprised?

Rangers About to Find Out if Chytil’s “Breakout” Was For Real

Actually, it’s probably inaccurate to call Chytil inconsistent. His regular-season point totals from the last four seasons: 23, 23, 22, 22. It’s the glimpses of potential interspersed with disappearing acts that have earned him that label. “Enigma” might be the better description for him.

Then again, it’s also possible that Chytil’s supposed breakout this spring and summer turns out to be just that – the beginning of a highly-talented young player finally starting to figure out how to thrive in the NHL and produce on a nightly basis. In the event that is in fact the case, what does that mean for the former first-round pick’s future in a Blueshirt?

Unfortunately, nothing all that different from now.

Filip Chytil New York Rangers
Filip Chytil played his best hockey with the Rangers during the 2022 playoffs (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Barring a catastrophic injury to Trocheck or top center Mika Zibanejad, there’s simply no path for Chytil to graduate to one of the top two forward lines through the middle (and losing one of the aforementioned players long-term doesn’t exactly “solve the problem” of opening up a spot for Chytil). Set to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer after his two-year, $4.6 million bridge deal expires, Chytil’s role in New York will be that of third-line center. No more, unless the club commits to again reshaping that role as a winger, as it did for a time last season – a course of action that now seems flawed, given the value Chytil delivered playing center on the highly-effective “Kid Line” during the playoffs.

No, Trocheck’s arrival would seem to place an expiration date on the 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft’s tenure with the Rangers. Chytil’s presence might prove critical next season, as he could again provide dynamic play on a third unit that may ultimately revert to its Kid Line form, giving the Blueshirts the kind of forward depth that allowed them to advance within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final. It amounts to sound roster building by the organization, if viewed only through the lens of short-term results.

Related: Rangers Need Trocheck & Zibanejad to Set the Pace Next Season

Depending on Chytil’s performance next season, the front office might even be able to leverage its final season of control over the player and bring him back for 2023-24, opting for a one-year agreement through arbitration over a long-term contract.

That, of course, only puts off the inevitable. If Chytil is indeed starting a long-awaited trend upward, he’ll also be in the process of pricing himself out of New York. A productive, consistent 2022-23 means he’ll likely render himself too expensive for the salary cap-strapped Rangers to pay as a third-line pivot, be it on a short or extended basis. The organization is expected to prioritize re-signing forward Alexis Lafreniere and defenseman K’Andre Miller over Chytil with what precious cap space they’ll have next summer.

So the Blueshirts could find themselves again having to trade away the contract rights to a home-grown younger player, perhaps one coming into his own, because he proves unaffordable in the hard-capped world of the NHL. Pavel Buchnevich, anyone?

That might end up being a reach as a comparison. Buchnevich wasn’t shipped to the St. Louis Blues last summer because of slow development and being blocked by someone else at right wing, his natural position; it was because the front office had added Barclay Goodrow on a contract that carries a $3.6 million AAV, and team brass didn’t see Buchnevich being affordable with key young players coming up for second contracts within the next few years. For Chytil, he might prove to be doubly difficult to keep: His ceiling with the Rangers would be a bottom-six role, one for which he might cost too much.

Rangers Might Have to Move On From Chytil Regardless of 2022-23 Results

Even if Chytil’s production next season doesn’t merit a big salary increase, he’ll still be due for a raise. Could the Rangers, still holding the leverage in contract negotiations for one more year, get him signed for 2-3 years at close to his current $2.3 million cap hit? That might be a big win, although it seems unlikely. If Chytil busts out, he’ll be too pricey to bring back, though that would lift his trade value. If he shows his 2022 postseason to be a fluke and resumes his up-and-down ways, in theory making him easier to re-sign, the Rangers might be keen to move on anyway and find a cheaper, more dependable 3C option as they seek flexibility under the cap.

Doing so would mean giving away a 20-something power center loaded with raw talents, the kind of decision that can come back to bite a team. If Chytil’s timing has rarely been right for the organization that envisioned him doing exactly what he did in last season’s playoffs, however, the Czech Republic native has hardly helped his own cause with a halting, drawn-out development process that’s left the Rangers unsure about whether he’ll ever become a solid NHL player.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers
Trocheck, not Chytil, is expected to be on the receiving end of star winger Artemi Panarin’s pinpoint passes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

What’s certain is that even with his inspiring playoff effort, Chytil hasn’t done nearly enough in parts of five seasons to earn a promotion to the center spot on the second line for the Rangers – arguably one of the better such jobs in the league because of Panarin’s presence on the unit, and one that now goes to Trocheck. The most probable scenario is that Chytil’s time on Broadway has become limited due to the personnel in front of him and his growing price tag – meaning the Rangers and their fans will be watching him soar or sink somewhere else shortly.