Hit on Filip Chytil’s raises tough questions for Rangers
There are multiple layers to the Sam Lafferty hit that knocked Filip Chytil out of the game just over two minutes into the second period of the Rangers’ 7-1 victory over the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday.
Let’s address them.
• The blow delivered by the 27-year-old forward was late and to the head. It was deserving of a penalty despite ESPN analyst Brian Boucher’s seal of approval. Beyond that, the hit is deserving of supplemental discipline. Of course, for a penalty to have been called and for a suspension to be issued, the NHL would have to be in the business of protecting their players’ health. That’s never been all that much of a priority, at least when it comes to hits to the head and concussion awareness. Update: No supplemental discipline. Who is surprised?
• Nevertheless, Chytil should have been more aware of the vulnerable spot in which he’d left himself against the rear boards while watching his centering pass to Kaapo Kakko from below the goal line. The league is less physical than ever and so players may be less cognizant of the danger that is always lurking, but Chytil’s vulnerability to big hits has been a running narrative for years as applied to No. 72, who should have kept an eye out and his stick up for the encroaching Lafferty.
• There was no direct response to Lafferty. There was no retaliation even once the game turned into a blowout. Lafferty took 10 more shifts after KO’ing Chytil and the Blueshirts let him go. I don’t know that this indicates a particular character flaw within the team but I’d like to have seen someone challenge Lafferty. It didn’t have to be Jacob Trouba, it didn’t have to be Barclay Goodrow, but someone might have stepped up. Of course, these are the Rangers. Let me explain…
• The lack of retaliation has nothing to do with the absence of Ryan Reaves, who allowed P.K. Subban to go scot-free after ruining Sammy Blais’ knee, season (and perhaps, career) on that hit at the Garden a year ago Nov. 14. Reaves did nothing even though it had been Subban who had taken out Reaves with a similar hit during a preseason game. The absence of a response does not bounce back on the trade that sent Reaves to Minnesota but instead falls in line with decades of institutional franchise memory.
• The Blueshirts had an off day Monday in advance of putting their seven-game winning streak on the line in Pittsburgh Tuesday in their first meeting against the Penguins since last year’s seven-game, first-round playoff series. Hence, no update on Chytil’s status, but it would not be a surprise if the center is sidelined with a concussion, even if the generic, “day-to-day, upper body,” report is issued. The Rangers have two games before the Christmas recess: Tuesday and then Thursday at home against the Islanders.
• Is it fair to characterize Chytil as fragile or brittle? That’s a tough tag to apply to any player, but the center has been sidelined twice previously this year for a sum of eight games, including a six-game stint in street clothes following a suspected concussion he incurred after taking a Cole Sillinger elbow to the head — perhaps inadvertent, perhaps not — in late October. Chytil was sidelined five different times last season for a total of 12 games. Two years ago there was a 14-game absence due to a broken hand. Bad luck? The cost of business? Or some lack of awareness in leaving himself vulnerable? Perhaps a bit of all of the above.
• I brought up the multiple injury-related absences in speaking to Chytil after the Rangers’ victory over the Maple Leafs on Dec. 15. “It is frustrating to miss time,” he said. “When I’m out even for a couple games it gets me out of my rhythm. Of course, I want to be out there. I just stay positive.”
• Chytil is second on the Rangers with 1.17 five-on-five goals per 60:00 (behind Julien Gauthier’s (!!!) 1.18), but the 21st overall selection of the 2017 draft’s greatest improvement is in his playmaking. Chytil leads the club with 1.36 primary assists per 60:00 while on his way to obliterating his prior personal best of 0.94/60 in 2020-21. In three of his previous four full seasons, Chytil has ranged between 0.39 and 0.53 first assists/60.
• The Rangers and GM Chris Drury are going to face a decision about Chytil, a pending restricted free agent who will command a significant bump over the $2.3 million AAV he has earned on his expiring two-year deal. Are the Blueshirts going to be willing to elevate Chytil into a secure second-line role when that would mean using Vincent Trocheck as a third-liner with six years remaining on a contract that carries a $5.625 million cap hit and includes a full no-move clause through 2024-25? Because that is a prime part of the equation.
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