Regarding the Rangers, two months out from training camp.
1. It does not matter that Matthew Tkachuk is available out of Calgary. The Rangers cannot get the 24-year-old, coming off a 42-62-104 season. It would not matter if Connor McDavid were available out of Edmonton. The Blueshirts would not be able to get him, either.
They have neither the cap space nor the means to create it. Wishing it so doesn’t make it achievable.
But maybe, you say, maybe there is a chance that Jacob Trouba would waive his no-move clause. Maybe that’s how the Blueshirts could clear $8 million.
Maybe, you suggest, maybe Artemi Panarin would be willing to waive his no-move clause in the wake of his disappointing playoffs. Maybe that’s how the club could clear $11.64 million.
Yes, and maybe I will sprout a foot this summer and join Jalen Brunson on the Knicks in October.
Here is the incontrovertible fact. The Blueshirts have seven players carrying cap hits of at least $5 million per. Five of them have no-move clauses through at least 2023-24. They would be Trouba (2023-24), Chris Kreider (2023-24), Vincent Trocheck (2024-25), Panarin (2025-26) and Mika Zibanejad (2029-30).
The other two are Igor Shesterkin and Adam Fox.
2. That is why it is incumbent on general manager Chris Drury to husband as much space as possible through the season and allow it to compound so his team will be in position to bid on high-end rentals proximate to the deadline.
Potential rentals for consideration: 1. Patrick Kane, Chicago; 2. Patrick Kane, Chicago; 3. Patrick Kane, Chicago.
You get the point.
PS: It matters that Tkachuk is available if he is traded to a contender in the East, that’s for sure, but are there any that will be able to absorb his cap hit?
3. Past tense, The Rangers needed to get bigger.
Present tense. They still do.
Which is why 20-year-old Will Cuylle, 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, has an excellent chance to crack the opening night roster. That, and his talent. That, and the fact he can play up and down the lineup.
Right wing with Kreider and Zibanejad?
I’d like to get a look at that trio in camp.
One of the reasons? He’s a shooter. And head coach Gerard Gallant consistently talked about the value of having deadline acquisition, high-volume shooter Frank Vatrano on the right side of the BFFs.
Cuylle’s summer, by the way: Rangers development camp last week. Team Canada’s World Junior camp beginning Aug. 1. The World Juniors from Aug. 9 through Aug. 20. Rangers rookie camp around Sept. 15. Rangers camp about a week later.
4. Not at all sure that Gallant is going to see it this way, but I’d be fine with reuniting Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko to start the season as the third line.
The kids are comfortable and confident with each other. They bring out each individual’s best. It is important that each gets off to a strong start.
I wouldn’t get hung up on the “top six” label as it either would or would not apply.
So if Lafreniere does not flip to right wing (and I’m not sure why that became such an enduring issue last season), the Blueshirts’ right side lineup of Kakko, Sammy Blais, Julien (Still Here) Gauthier and Vitali Kravtsov combined for 10 NHL goals in 106 games last season and have produced an aggregate 50 career goals in 406 games.
5. Remember this about the flat-cap squeeze — negotiated as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement extension in concert with an escrow cap — with which essentially every contender is attempting to navigate.
The upper limit had increased an average of 3.61 percent over the four seasons that preceded the pandemic (Panarin, Trouba and Kreider were signed prior to the March 2020 pause).
Had the NHL simply sustained this modest annual escalation, this year’s cap would be set at $90.64 million with an increase to $93.91 million for 2023-24. Instead, it is $82.5 million this season and will be $83.5 million for 2023-24.
6. Another dose of reality: The Rangers will subtract $8.965 million from the cap after the season on expiring contracts of Ryan Reaves, Blais, Dryden Hunt and Jaro Halak plus dead weight buyout charges.
But they will owe second contracts to Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller, Chytil and Kravtsov and will have to replace those departing free agents.
It may be folly to look ahead a full 12 months, but regardless of their value to the unit, it is going to be mighty difficult for the Rangers to keep Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Lindgren beyond this season.
7. The Rangers are hunting for a Cup but are being hunted for a playoff spot after a summer in which they objectively have not improved. They are relying on projected upside from their yoots to take the next step.
Meanwhile, Ottawa looks to have improved, Columbus added a game-changer, Detroit has added important pieces and so have the Devils.
But in this catch-us-if-you-can scenario, the Rangers finished 29 points ahead of the Jackets, 36 points ahead of the Red Wings, 37 points in front of the Senators and 47 points ahead of the Devils.
That represents a significant chunk of ground to make up against the team with a decisive edge in nets over every club in the conference other than Tampa Bay and perhaps the Islanders.