Mika Zibanejad taking a hometown discount could be key to potential Rangers dynasty

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May 5, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers leaves the ice following the last home game of the season against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Mika Zibanejad is due for a big pay raise. It’s one he’s earned and deserves. As important as Artemi Panarin is to the future success of the Rangers, Zibanejad could be even more so for different reasons.

The Blueshirts are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and they boast some of the best young talent in the game. Exactly how Chris Drury manages the cap will be just as vital as the talent on the roster itself. Which could be the difference between multiple Stanley Cups or being also rans. That’s why Mika’s next contract is so paramount.

Follow the model set by the Lightning

You don’t have to look far as to why centers are critical to winning championships. The Tampa Bay Lightning are built from the middle on out with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli. That’s why there’s a desire within the Rangers organization to add another top pivot like Jack Eichel.

Stamkos earns $8.5 million per season, on an 8 year deal he signed in 2016 when he was 27 years-old. It was a hometown discount considering the AAV was slightly less than Sidney’s Crosby’s deal that was signed in 2013. They also got Nikita Kucherov to take a discount in 2019 when he inked an 8 year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million and that was after a 128 point season. Remember, that’s the same summer the Rangers signed Artemi Panarin for 7 years at $11.6 million.

They did the same thing with Victor Hedman when his deal was up. Another 8 year deal with a sweetheart $7.875 million price tag. Andrei Vasilevskiy was no different when he inked his 8 year contract last season for $9.5 million after winning a Cup.

It’s signings like these that have helped the Lightning. Keeping superstars for a little bit less than what they can get on the open market. It’s allowed them to trade for necessary pieces like Ryan McDonagh and David Savard as they are one win away from another Championship.

Mika Zibanejad hometown discount is crucial

what will mika zibanejad's next contract be
Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers top center Mika Zibanejad has only next year left on his contract. He currently earns $5.35 million and is due for an increase. In the last two seasons he has scored 65 goals and 125 points in 113 games. That’s worth big time money, and if he hits the open market next summer he should get 7 years at $10 million per season. That’s regardless of the current flat cap situation expected to stay at $81.5 million for the next few seasons.

Chris Drury needs to start following the Lightning model and give the 28 year-old pivot an 8 year deal despite the fact that it will take him to 37 years of age. Matter of fact, that’s exactly what he should do with Adam Fox, and Alexis Lafrenière when the time comes. If Kaapo Kakko has a breakout season in 2021-22, he should give him 8 years too.

Mika Zibanejad has openly said he loves playing for the Rangers. There’s mutual interest as has been reported from multiple outlets. If Drury can get Zibanejad to sign a contract for 8 years at around $8 million per season, it would be a huge win for the team’s future.

Aside from being the only team that can give him an 8 year term, the Rangers have the ability to front load the deal. In other words, a majority of the contract could be paid out within the first five years in bonus money. That’s exactly what they did with Panarin’s contract as he’s already been paid almost half his deal in signing bonuses.

The Rangers had to lure Panarin here and faced stiff competition in the form of the Blue Jackets and Islanders. Ultimately, Panarin turned down more money to sign on Broadway because the Jackets were going the full 8 years, which was the only advantage they had because they held his rights. Still, he carries a hefty price tag that is fortunately worth every penny.

That’s why it’s imperative for Chris Drury to follow what the Lightning have done. He needs to start planning to give 8 year deals to key Rangers to lessen the AAV. It could ultimately be the difference between being a perennial playoff team or a multiple Cup winner like Tampa.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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