Rangers objective should be to keep Mika Zibanejad if they acquire Jack Eichel

The never ending Jack Eichel trade rumors regarding the New York Rangers is hitting an odd stretch. MSG Analyst, Steve Valiquette keeps tweeting that his “spider senses” are tingling about the Sabres center and the Blueshirts. Larry Brooks reports Chris Drury is telling agents they were never serious about acquiring Eichel, and today Rick Carpiniello dropped this confusing tweet.

“Just tossing this out there as I head for some vacation time,” he began, “DO NOT be surprised if Mika Zibanejad is in the deal that ultimately brings Jack Eichel to NYR.”

It’s enough to make anyone crazy.

Mika Zibanejad and Jack Eichel are not oil and vinegar

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?

The answer is yes, but it would obviously take some playing around with cap and other contracts to make it work.

Let’s also be clear about this, Mika Zibanejad has a full no-move clause that he will not waive to go to Buffalo. Nor would the Sabres take on a player that will walk next summer in a trade for their franchise player.

Could a third team get involved to facilitate a move that includes Mika? Yes, but than why make this trade at all? The whole point I was led to believe earlier in the year is that the Rangers want a killer one-two punch down the middle.

The New York Rangers current cap situation

Chris Drury currently has $14,487,698 in cap space to work with per CapFriendly. He must sign Igor Shesterkin to a new deal that many expect will be close to $6M.

That would leave the Rangers with around $8 million in space, which is likely around $7 million after you allocate for performance bonuses. Eichel makes $10 million, which is why the logical thought process is that Mika Zibanejad can’t be here if they acquire him.

Can the Rangers afford to take on Jack Eichel?

eichel trade rumors
Jan 1, 2018; Queens, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) skates with the puck against New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the third period in the 2018 Winter Classic hockey game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For argument’s sake (and cap purposes), let’s trade Ryan Strome, Filip Chytil, Zac Jones, and Alex Georgiev to Buffalo or elsewhere in order to fit Eichel.

If those players are moved, they account for over $10 million on the cap. Which means the Rangers will likely have a few million in space remaining.

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. Also Kaapo Kakko and Sammy Blais are RFA’s, so how would this work?

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 to begin with.

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.

Trading for Eichel only to lose Zibanejad is a lateral move. It makes no sense. The objective should be to have them both.

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