The New York Rangers extended one of their most important players in Mika Zibanejad on Saturday. Zibanejad agreed to an eight-year extension worth $68 million at an AAV of $8.5 million per year. He’s the Rangers’ best center by long and far and will be essential in trying to elevate the team into postseason contention. This extension also has a significant impact on the team’s involvement with Sabres star Jack Eichel.
Zibanejad’s History With The Rangers
Mika Zibanejad joined the Rangers in 2016 as part of a trade that sent Derek Brassard to the Ottawa Senators. In every full season since being acquired, Zibanejad has been top two on the team in total points. Zibanejad was already a quality top-six center when joined the Rangers, but elevated into all-out superstardom in 2018. In that season he shattered his career highs in all offensive categories in a 30 goal season. He then went on to score 41 goals in 57 games before the pandemic ended the 2019-20 regular season. His pace slowed a bit in this previous season, but still scored an impressive 50 points in the 57 game regular season.
Does This Take the Rangers Out of the Eichel Race?
Prior to this extension, the Rangers seemed like one of the prime candidates to land Eichel via trade. But with Zibanejad’s yearly $8.5 million cap hit to account for now, it seems less likely that they’ll land Eichel. Eichel has a yearly $10 million cap hit, and trading for him would force the Rangers to shed some salary to make it work. Even if they did acquire him, just about half of their total cap space would be going to Kreider, Panarin, Zibanejad, Trouba and Eichel. And that’s still with Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox also needing an extension in the near future. Nothing about trading for Jack Eichel seems practical with Zibanejad’s contract to account for. While it’s certainly not impossible, it seems as though the Rangers will be looking elsewhere to fill out their need for center depth.
If immediate success is what the Rangers are looking for, then extending Zibanejad is a great first step. He’s become one of the best centers in the league and, along with Artemi Panarin, helps carry the Rangers’ offensive attack. The $8.5 million AAV is a good value for the Rangers, relatively speaking, as he would’ve demanded much more on the open market. The cost of that value is the eight-year term, which keeps him under contract until his age 37 season. But that will be a price worth paying for a player who will help make this team a yearly contender.
In regards to Jack Eichel, having him and Zibanejad together was never probable for more than one year. If the Rangers had acquired Eichel, it likely meant Zibanejad departing on the open market. Sticking with Zibanejad long-term is the better move as it leaves more cap space to keep other important assets on the team. The center depth will remain an issue for the Rangers, but more affordable options than Jack Eichel will likely emerge for them as the season rolls on.
Featured image courtesy of CP Photo
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