The Rangers have started discussions on a contract extension with center Mika Zibanejad with a mutual objective of getting an agreement in place, reports Larry Brooks of the New York Post (subscription link). The 28-year-old has played on what has become a very team-friendly deal for New York over the past four seasons and that contract, which carries a $5.35MM AAV, is now in its final year, setting him up to hit unrestricted free agency next summer.
Zibanejad has seen his offensive production increase sharply over the past three seasons. He notched 74 points in 82 games in 2018-19, then managed to beat that total by one in 25 fewer games in 2019-20. While his output dipped last season, he still managed to put up 50 points in 56 contests. While it took him a while to get there, Zibanejad has produced like a legitimate number one center over the past three years.
Accordingly, Brooks pegs his asking price of being upwards of $10MM per season on a long-term pact of either seven or eight years. Interestingly enough, that price tag is what Buffalo’s Jack Eichel costs and New York has been linked to him in trade speculation all summer long and adding his contract would all but eliminate the possibility of being able to afford an extension for Zibanejad.
One comparable that GM Chris Drury will likely want to point to is Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, who inked an eight-year extension with a $7.75MM AAV earlier this summer. He also recently had a two-year spike in offensive production before settling down a bit last season. Something at or slightly above that price point is where they’d likely want to go.
While the idea of signing Zibanejad to a max-term contract may not necessarily be desirable as he’ll be 37 at the end of such a deal, if the inclusion of that extra season helps bring the cap hit down, it may be worth doing. Right now, cap space isn’t an issue but that will change fairly quickly.
Next summer, they have nearly $53MM in commitments to 14 players, per CapFriendly, but that amount would dwindle quickly with a deal for Zibanejad and defenseman Adam Fox who is undoubtedly heading for a substantial raise of his own. Youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov will also be restricted free agents of their own while a year later, 2020 top pick Alexis Lafreniere will need a new deal as well. As their cheap entry-level contracts expire, the price tag of this roster will go up quite quickly.
Even with those extensions, there is still room for one pricey middleman. If they eventually wind up with Eichel, it won’t be Zibanejad sticking around barring one of their other high-paid players being moved elsewhere. But if those talks continue to prove unfruitful, a long-term agreement with Zibanejad – who has made it clear that he wants to stay with the Rangers – may very well be the next best thing. Brooks adds that talks have been productive so far so that process at least appears to be off to a decent start.