Can the Rangers have both Mika Zibanejad and Jack Eichel on the same team?

Ever since the Rangers were rumored to be interested in Jack Eichel, many raised the question if they could also afford to keep Mika Zibanejad. This is a fair and valid point.

Eichel makes $10 million a season for the next five years. Zibanejad is about to cash in on a possible $10 million deal of his own soon. Can the Rangers afford to have possibly the best one-two center punch this side of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

That’s what I’ll will attempt to answer.

The New York Rangers current cap situation

Chris Drury currently has $21.875 million in cap space to work with. He must sign RFA’s Igor Shesterkin, Libor Hajek, and Filip Chytil to new deals. Only Shesterkin has arbitration eligibility.

Using CapFriendly’s Armchair GM tool, the projected cap space which includes Morgan Barron and Nils Lundkvist comes in at $20,025,198 million. What should be noted is they have $9.25M in bonuses, and $3.1M of that will eat into that number.

At this time, the NYR appear to have just under $17 million in space with three RFA’s to sign.

Can the Rangers afford to take on Jack Eichel?

can the Rangers afford both Jack Eichel and Mika Zibanejad
Jan 18, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers left wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) plays the puck against Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s assume Shesterkin gets $5 million on his next deal, Chytil gets around $2.5 million, and Hajek’s next deal comes in at $1.5. That would leave the Rangers just over $8 million to play with. Of course, acquiring Jack Eichel means moving pieces out, either for him or because he’s acquired.

For argument’s sake (and cap purposes), let’s trade Ryan Strome, Chytil, Zac Jones, and Alex Georgiev to Buffalo for Eichel.

Where does that leave the Rangers? For this season, in great shape with $11 million ($7M accounting for performance bonuses) in cap space to further improve the lineup.

Rangers with Eichel
2021-22 Rangers with Eichel via CapFriendly

Not bad, but things get real tricky in 2022-2023.

The Rangers may give Adam Fox a long-term deal with an AAV of $9M. Zibanejad is expected to get a deal around $10M himself. That is in essence adding $14 million to the Blueshirts cap and they still have Kakko, Kravtsov, and Blais to sign.

Basically, they will be over the cap and scrambling to make moves, or possibly asking players like Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba to waive their clauses. The likelihood of that happening seems unrealistic, and I doubt either would waive.

A Rangers team with both Eichel and Zibanejad is possible

So can the Rangers go the route of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs with a core of top heavy contracts? The answer is yes, but that will likely mean more moves like we just saw with Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues for an unequal return.

The Rangers also have the luxury of bridge dealing their RFA’s until they hit 27. So giving Adam Fox a $9 million dollar contract is not a must. If Chris Drury opts to go that route, he could save enough to handle Eichel and Zibanejad’s contracts to go with Panarin’s $11.6 million.

Drury could bide his time until both Kreider and Trouba’s full no-move clauses become modified in 2024. Then he could request their trade lists and get over $14M back in cap space. That will allow him to pay players like Fox, Kakko, and Lafrenière while reaping the benefits of both Eichel and Zibanejad’s scoring prowess.

A Rangers team with both those two centers isn’t just a fantasy, it’s plausible.

That’s if the Sabres actually trade Eichel. Buffalo appears to be hellbent to keep him off Broadway if they do.

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