Mika Zibanejad gave the Rangers a discount; but it won’t be enough to keep everyone around

A closer look at what Zibanejad's contract does for the Rangers future.

By Forever Blueshirts
zibanejad contract
Mar 7, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) moves the puck alongside left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the New York Rangers came to terms with Mika Zibanejad on a new extension. It will keep the 28 year-old on Broadway through the 2029-30 season.

President and GM, Chris Drury wisely used his assortment of advantages to get the AAV down to $8.5 million. He did that by going 8 years, which no other team on the day of Free Agent Frenzy could do. Drury also cracked open the Rangers vault to make it a bonus laden deal, which makes it difficult to buyout. And he gave Mika the obligatory no-trade protection every player gets.

Drury likely didn’t want to drag this on throughout the season. So he played an unspoken bargaining chip. While the two sides had been negotiating this summer, all the heavy chatter about the Rangers being back in on Jack Eichel likely helped usher this along before the season started.

New York Rangers salary cap situation

The Rangers will enter the 2022-23 season with 16 players under contract for a grand total of $62,291,469. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that the cap ceiling will go up by $1M to $82.5M, which gives the Blueshirts $20,208,531 to work with.

Listed under contract are the following players:

Forwards – Panarin $11.6M, Zibanejad $8.5M, Kreider $6.5M, Goodrow $3.6M, Chytil $2.3M, Reaves $1.75M, Lafrenière $925k, Barron $925K, Hunt $762K

Defense – Trouba $8M, Lindgren $3M, Nemeth $2.5M, Miller $925K, Lundkvist $925K, Tinordi $900K

Goalie – Shesterkin $5.66M

Here are the key free agents:

Forwards – Strome (UFA), Rooney (UFA), Kakko (RFA), Kravtsov (RFA), Blais (RFA), Gauthier (RFA)

Defense – Fox (RFA), Hajek (RFA)

Goalie – Georgiev (RFA)

All cap info via CapFriendly

Zibanejad’s discount was for the kids

rangers salary cap situation
Mar 7, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) and center Mika Zibanejad (93) talk in the penalty box against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers $20 million in cap space (possibly $21M) will be cut to $11 million once Adam Fox signs his extension for the estimated $9 million. That signing will set the defense for the 2022-23 season with Libor Hajek likely playing elsewhere.

The real concern will be at forward, where by a sheer numbers game, not all will be coming back. One of the RFAs listed above will likely be traded away well before the summer.

Drury’s biggest and immediate concern will be Kakko. The current system actually will make you root against young players doing too well. If the 20 year-old, #2 overall pick in 2019 explodes for 30+goals and 60+ points this season, he could start demanding a deal in the $5 to $6M range. Worst yet, another team may decide to offer sheet him and force the Rangers hand.

Other GM’s can forecast that Lafrenière and Miller will be RFA’s the following season. So why not squeeze the Rangers by offering Kakko $7M or $8M next summer? Matching that type of offer leaves the team with just a few million left to sign other RFAs like Kravtsov and Blais.

For this who don’t think an offer sheet is realistic, it just happened with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Habs opted to not match.

Even if you throw out the offer sheet possibility, it will still take anywhere from $3M to $5M to re-sign Kakko. That will allow the Rangers to ink both Kravtsov and Blais and leave room for some future business, but not much.

Ryan Strome and Alexandar Georgiev likely to be traded

Prior to the Zibanejad’s extension, I spoke with a source on October 7th, who told me that the Rangers were only in on Eichel until Mika’s deal was done.

Upon the announcement of the deal, I checked back with my source to see if the less than expected AVV from $10M to just $8.5M would keep them in the running for Eichel. It was made clear to me that with both Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko coming off their ELCs the Rangers are out.

Additionally, it was explained that it should also mean the end of Ryan Strome’s tenure with the Rangers as well as backup Alexandar Georgiev. Those two players total $6.925M against the cap. That will be used to in the future on other RFA’s and to fill out the roster, including a new back up goalie in 2022-23.

The Rangers are hoping that Chytil can take over as the 2C, and Morgan Barron can emerge to claim a spot next season. Gerard Gallant can also use Goodrow to the center the third line if Barron is better suited for fourth line duties.

As for having enough money to re-sign Lafreniere, Miller, and Chytil in the summer of 2023 it could be tight. The cap ceiling should hopefully rise to around $85M by that time, but Drury will regain $3.4M in dead cap space as well. That’s when Dan Girardi, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Tony D’Angelo buyouts come off the books.

So when you take a step back and look at Zibanejad’s contract from 30,000 feet, it becomes clear that the small discount was to help sign the kids in the future.

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