New York Rangers: What to do with center Mika Zibanejad?

New York Rangers’ Mike Zibanejead is entering the final year of his contract with the Blueshirts. His future with the club may be in doubt depending on what the two sides are willing to give up to stay together.

Breaking up is hard to do.

In the case of Mika Zibanejaed and the New York Rangers, the two sides have a small amount of time to figure out what is in the best interest of both camps. Will the New York Rangers sign the pending UFA or ask him to waive his NMC and trade him prior to the NHL trade deadline?

A Little History

Zibanejad, then just 22 years old, was traded by the Ottawa Senators along with a 2018 second-round pick to the Rangers for Derrick Brassard and a 2018 seventh-round pick on July 18, 2016.

The young Swede had just recorded two consecutive 20 goals seasons for the Senators and now was headed to the Big Apple.

It was a trade the Rangers won from the onset. Over the next five seasons, Zibanjead flourished into a leader on the ice. He has played in 323 games in a Rangers sweater compiling 283 points, 136 G, 147 A, emerging into a New York Superstar.

For his career his stats display the improvement coachs’ and organizations strive to attain.  He has played in 604 games for both the Senators and the Rangers and in that time he has scored 200 goals and 4334 points. His best season was in 2018-2019 where he netted 30 goals with 74 points.

Zibanejad is a leader off the ice as well as mentoring the younger players in the locker room, on the road, and in practices.

Yet the question of what he is worth to this team, in a time of flat salary caps and trade rumors, has become a focal point during his offseason.

Contracts, Money, and Loyalty

The Rangers have been in the middle of the Jack Eichel sweepstakes for a few months now. Though no deal has been completed to trade for Eichel, the club has to be looking at what they would need financially to afford Eichel’s high AAV, $10 million for the next four seasons, and what to offer Zibanejad as he approaches a big contract year.

The Rangers have some big contracts to pay over the next several seasons.

Added to the equation is the fact that the club will have six players who will be restricted free agents, Adam Fox, Sam Blais, Vitali Kravtsov, Kappo Kakko, Julien Gauthier, and Alexandar Georgiev.

Zibanejad could ask for what would be considered a “hometown discount”, maybe in the neighborhood of $7 million per year for seven years?  Chris Kreider just signed a seven-year, $45 million contract that has an AAV of  $6.5 million. Zibanejad would want more than that, but how much is too much for the Rangers to payout?

If negotiations start out high and Zibanejad is looking at the $9-10 million per year kind of money, which he probably will, the Rangers won’t have that much time to make a decision should they ask him to waive his NMC.

The Jack Eichel drama has more of an influence on what will happen with Mika Zibanejad this season. If Eichel changes his address to Broadway he and his $10 million would almost certainly force Zibaenjead out the door.

Unless the Rangers think they can work out to have two $10 million dollar contracts without jeopardizing their future.

Touch Decisions

President and GM Chris Drury has to juggle a lot of pucks at one time with every conversation he has with his team and the Buffalo Sabres.

The pieces Drury trade the other way should a deal be completed has to involve talent and salary cap implications.  The best way to balance out some of the salary cap issues would be to move a player or players that would free up some space at the same time.

Ryan Strome’s name has been mentioned recently.  It makes sense as he also is a UFA after this season.

All of this has been ongoing without really knowing (we assume) what Zibanejad is looking for on his next contract.

Building a competitive team has plenty of components.  The hardest one to predict is where the GM believes his team will be two or three years from today. Transactions made now will influence how the team looks later on, but one thing is certain.

The future of the organization may be riding on a center hitting the prime of his career in Zibanejad and a gamble on a center who still needs surgery with a lot of potential in Jack Eichel.

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