On this day in Rangers history, they robbed the Senators for Mika Zibanejad

It goes without say that the biggest heist of Jeff Gorton’s tenure as Rangers General Manager was acquiring Mika Zibanejad for a song in 2016. Oddly enough, at the time of the trade not everyone was head over heels in Rangerstown.

Rangers acquire Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard

When the Rangers acquired the former 1st round pick, 6th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft from the Ottawa Senators, the hope was he’d realize his full potential. In exchange, Gorton sent to Ottawa the very popular Derick Brassard who scored quite a few goals during the Rangers deep playoff runs in both 2014 and 2015.

A sizable faction of Rangers fans were concerned that Gorton was going to upset the locker room balance. He was also breaking up the chemistry between Brassard and another immensely popular Blueshirt in Mats Zuccarello.

The question many asked, and rightfully so was why Ottawa would give up on Zibanejad? The answer was two-fold between money and disappointment in his development, but primarily it was financial.

Zibanejad at the time had one year left and rumors were out there that he was looking for $6 million per year on his next deal. The Sens opted for Brassard’s $5M contract but didn’t want to pay his bonus, so they waited until the Rangers paid it and gave Gorton an upgraded 2nd round pick for doing so. The Rangers then used that pick to acquire Brendan Smith from Detroit.

Zibanejad has emerged as an elite center (AP Photo)

Mika Zibanejad has now emerged into an elite center

The 27 year-old didn’t become elite overnight. Matter of fact it was a long road and an epiphany that he needed to change his off ice habits. After being embarrassingly knocked out by his former team the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the 2016-17 playoffs, Zibanejad changed his offseason workout regimen as well.

His next season was better but a broken leg derailed a lot of his hard work and the Rangers missed the playoffs. However, last season he showed the promise Jeff Gorton traded for and scored 30 goals. Zibanejad also notched 74 points in 82 games.

As Mika enters his prime years there is no telling just what his ceiling is. This season shortened by both concussions and COVID-19 he scored 41 goals in just 57 games. He finished with the highest goals per game of any player in the NHL, including the great Alex Ovechkin.

At the rate Zibanejad was scoring, in a full 82 game season he was flirting with the 60 goal mark at 58.9. Mika would have also topped the 100 point mark with 108 on the season. That would’ve been the highest for a Blueshirts’ center since Mark Messier notched 107 points in 1991-92. He also would have been just one point shy of tying the all-time single season record for points by a NYR center since Jean Ratelle scored 109 in 1971-72.

Amazing when you look back. So on this day in Rangers history, New York was on the right side of one the greatest heists in the game.

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Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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