The New York Rangers knew what center Mika Zibanejad wanted. Heading into an arbitration hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the 24-year-old was asking for one year at $5.35 million. But the Rangers didn’t want to do that.
No, to get that annual value on that deal, the Rangers wanted Zibanejad locked down for a bit. So before their hearing, the two sides came to an agreement: Zibanejad gets his $5.35 million annually against the cap, and the Rangers get him for the next five years. Huzzah!
Acquired from the Ottawa Senators last year in a deal for Derrick Brassard, Zibanejad had 14 goals and 23 assists in 2016-17 in 56 games. That 0.66 points per game average was the highest in his career. As Brassard did, he meshed well with Mats Zuccarello, scoring 11 EV points with him in over 360 minutes together.
It’s hard to imagine the Rangers were going to win their hearing with him, having submitted a $4.1 million offer. As Larry Brooks notes, this contract is more than fair for a player of Zibanejad’s talents and age:
Mika Zibanejad’s ask for $5.35 million would be pretty well within the parameters of precedent if that number was attached to a four- or five-year deal. Detroit’s Tomas Tatar signed for $5.3 million per for four years while surrendering three seasons of unrestricted free agency. Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson gave up six seasons of unrestricted free agency in signing a seven-year deal worth $5M per while teammate Ondrej Palat surrendered four seasons of unrestricted free agency with his recent five-year contract for $5.3M per. And a year ago, Brayden Schenn signed a four-year deal worth $5.125M per in yielding two seasons of unrestricted free agency.
There was no need to drag this out, no need for any nastiness in an arbitration hearing that Rangers fans were concerned about.
So Zibanejad will make more against the cap than Brassard ($5 million) next season. Those short-term cap savings from last summer have disappeared, replaced by a fairly hefty raise for the young Swede. But that was expected if, in fact, Zibanejad was what the Rangers thought he was: a top line center, with the contract to match.
Kudos to the Rangers on this one. Brassard was a know commodity. Zibanejad had the greater upside.
It was one season, and it was 56 games, but they saw enough of him to know that a five-year commitment at this salary was the best move here. Or, at the very least, they know that any talented center they pair with Zuccarello can post numbers, and Zuc there for at least the next two seasons.
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