There is one pending UFA center grinning from ear-to-ear after Aleksander Barkov signed his 8 year, $80 million extension with the Panthers. That is Rangers pending UFA center, Mika Zibanejad.
Earlier today, I spoke with a knowledgeable source on what Barkov’s deal means in context of the Rangers negotiations with Zibanejad. The response was not good if you’re GM Chris Drury, especially with Florida being a no income tax state.
Rangers and Mika Zibanejad working on a long term deal
Heading into the season, both sides have not said much about the negotiations but what they have said seems positive.
“I’m focusing on what I do on the ice,” Zibanejad said in response to his contact talks. “I have an agent for a reason as well to deal with this, so it doesn’t have to take my focus and time away from what I have to do on the ice and prepare for the season.”
Mika did allude to the fact that the two sides are talking. “Right now they are taking care of business,” he said. “So I am taking care of my own.”
Back in early August, Chris Drury also weighed in on his top center. “Mika is a huge part of our team. I’m not going to discuss his contract or anyone else’s publicly,” Drury said. “I have a ton of respect for him as a person and a player.”
The two sides are believed to be far apart on money with Zibanejad seeking $10M per season and the Rangers looking for something closer to $8M.
Zibanejad, 28, currently earns $5.35 million. In the last two seasons he has scored 65 goals and 125 points in 113 games. That’s worth big time money, and if he hits the open market next summer he could get 7 years at $10 million per season pretty easily.
Rangers will use Jack Eichel trade as leverage
The Blueshirts are making sure that one way or another an elite center will be a member of the team come next season. Whether that will be Mika Zibanejad or Jack Eichel remains to be seen.
According to the same source, the Rangers will be in on Eichel up until they sign Zibanejad.
That’s why the Rangers interest in Eichel is an unspoken bargaining chip Chris Drury has in his back pocket. The Rangers could acquire the Sabres disgruntled 24 year-old center without cap issues this season. So there would be no rush to trade any top salary to make room for his $10M AAV.
The cap issues will come next season with both Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko coming off entry-level deals too. Keeping both Eichel and Zibanejad on the books would put a strain on their cap situation, and likely open them up to an offer-sheet.
When I asked if it was possible to keep both, there really was no easy way to do so.
Acquiring Eichel before signing Zibanejad is probably not an automatic that Mika will be gone. However, if #93 extends before a trade for Eichel, that should rule the Rangers out.
Today on the SN650 Jeff Marek Show, Elliotte Friedman noted exactly the same scenario. “Look, if Zibanejad is not signed by [the trade deadline] then I’m going to wonder if it’s going to be the Rangers,” he said.
“The Rangers are doing a really good job of creating the impression that they are not in on Eichel,” Friedman said on the mixed reports of their interest. “Just the way a good GM thinks… have to be prepared for a plan B.”
For more on this and other Rangers insights, you can check out my full report from yesterday here.