New York Rangers should extend Erik Gustafsson now
When general manager Chris Drury signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal at an AAV of $825k, the purpose was to bolster the defensive depth of the New York Rangers. Gustafsson was meant to fight for the 6th or 7th slot on the depth chart and serve as a steady player in that role. Fast forward 14 games into the season, and he has been one of the team’s top players on the blue line. He may just be forcing Drury’s hand into giving him an extension. At this rate, Drury should jump on it.
Coming into the year, Gustafsson had an advantage over other players fighting for the position. He had previously played for Peter Laviolette and was familiar with his systems. “It’s a little advantage for me,” Gustafsson explained in training camp. “Coming into this year I feel more confidence and I feel that it shows my game.”
Rangers should extend Erik Gustafsson
This season, Gustafsson has recorded 10 points, which is 2nd on the team amongst defenseman and 6th overall. He is averaging 18:50 time on ice per game, and has stepped up in a large way in the absence of Adam Fox. Many thought the team would crumble without their Norris-winning defenseman. However, the Rangers have gone 3-0-1 since the injury to Fox, and Erik Gustafsson is certainly a reason why. He has fit in nicely in Fox’s spot alongside Ryan Lindgren. In addition, he has moved up to quarterback the first power play unit. He has two powerplay assists on the year.
“I think he’s played well since he’s been here,” Laviolette explained. “I think his training camp was really good. I thought the start of the season was really strong for him. It seems no matter who he plays with, they can drive the play in the right direction.”
The question now for Drury is, should he lock up Gustafsson now? The 31-year-old defenseman is on pace to have a career year. During the 2018-2019 season, he put up 60 points, a career high, in 79 games for the Chicago Blackhawks. This was the only time in his career that he has come close to playing all 82 regular season games. With 14 games under his belt as a Ranger, Gustafsson is on pace for 58 points.
After bouncing around with six different teams in four years, he may have finally found a home in New York. If he keeps this level of play up, Gustafsson may be in for a huge pay day. This is a big reason as to why Drury may want to get the extension done now, before his value skyrockets. So far, Gustafsson is tied in points with defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Roman Josi, Dougie Hamilton, and Josh Morrissey, all of whom are on multi-million dollar contracts.
Gustafsson continues to receive high praise from the Rangers coaching staff. “Of course, I have history and knowledge, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s able to step in and play that way. He did it for me last year on a different team, and he’s doing the exact same thing right now,” was the message from Laviolette.
With the salary cap projected to be in the $87-88 million range next season, there will definitely be room to bring Gustafsson back. However, the longer Drury waits, the more expensive the contract will be. Especially if he continues his fine play, Gustafsson will certainly be due for a raise. Signing bonuses included, Gustafsson has never made more than $3 million in a single season. As previously mentioned, he is playing at or above the levels of some highly compensated NHL defenseman.
For this season, Erik Gustafsson at $825k is an absolute steal. It was an incredible signing by Drury. He may even be the best offseason acquisition for the Rangers this season. He has done an incredible job through 14 games and, even more so, stepping up for Adam Fox. He is proving himself very worthy of a raise, and it would be great to see him return as a Blueshirt.