The New York Rangers face a big choice this season over whether to sign first-line center Mika Zibanejad to a long-term contract extension. That decision could determine if they get into the bidding for a big-ticket center like the Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel.
Zibanejad, 28, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The New York Post's Mollie Walker reported he wasn't giving away much about his negotiations with management.
Walker speculates Zibanejad could be in line for a seven- or eight-year extension. It's believed his camp's initial asking price was $10-million annually but the Blueshirts could seek between $7 million and $9 million. He'll be 29 when that new contract begins, which could make the Rangers reluctant to invest beyond five years.
The Athletic's Rick Carpiniello wondered what Rangers general manager Chris Drury will do if Zibanejad isn't signed by the March trade deadline. He also noted the off-season rumors linking the Rangers to Eichel but pointed out they can't afford to carry two high-priced centers on their roster.
Cap Friendly indicates the Rangers have just over $53 million in projected salary-cap space invested in 14 players for 2022-23. Signing Zibanejad for between $7 million and $10 million would push their payroll to over $60 million. Factor in the likelihood of 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox getting up to $10- million annually on his new contract next summer, and the Rangers won't have much left to fill out the remainder of their roster.
Things could get interesting if there's no resolution by the trade deadline and the Rangers are out of playoff contention. At that point, Drury could consider shopping Zibanejad and perhaps make a pitch next summer for someone like Eichel.