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Rangers Have ‘Plan B’ If Zibanejad Contract Negotiations Go South

The New York Rangers might be in an enviable position both in terms of negotiating with Mika Zibanejad and finding his replacement.

While some might suggest that a deal signed on Friday between the Florida Panthers and Aleksander Barkov is bad news for New York Rangers’ GM Chris Drury, Drury might not be as tightly wound as some might think. First, the idea that Mika Zibanejad’s potential new contract is directly comparable to Barkov’s deal isn’t entirely accurate. The Panthers signed a younger, better player, even if the $80 million extension is a whopper.

Related: Sabres and Interested Teams Agree to Eichel Trade Condition

The Rangers also have an ace up their sleeve they can play the Panthers didn’t have. Florida absolutely didn’t want to lose Barkov, regardless of the cost. That was obvious and GM Bill Zito paid to keep his star. Drury might have a backup plan in the event that Zibanejad sees Barkov’s new deal and gets some outrageous ideas.

Drury has already weighed in on how negotiations are going with his top center. He’s remaining tight-lipped about the entire process, only saying, “Mika is a huge part of our team. I’m not going to discuss his contract or anyone else’s publicly.” There could be a reason the Rangers aren’t publicly open to talking about where things are at with the player. They may be in on someone else.

Zibanejad Is Good, But How Good?

At 28 years old, Zibanejad has a lot left to offer. An eight-year deal would put him at the age of 36, making it his last big NHL contract. He undoubtedly wants to cash in. He should because he’s been vastly underpaid for a few seasons now.

He currently earns $5.35 million and he’s offered a lot to the Rangers organization. He’s scored 65 goals and 125 points in 113 games and if he hits the free-agent market, a battle over landing him will equate to a seven-year offer at around $9.5-$10 million per season.

But, until the Barkov deal, that was potentially just speculation. No, Zibanejad hasn’t been as productive a player as Barkov over his NHL career. But, in the last few seasons, he’s come on strong, posting similar, albeit, still slightly lower totals. Can Zibanjead get $10 million from the Rangers? Perhaps not, but he can push for it. If he tries, the Rangers will have to push back.

Rangers Have an Ace Up Their Sleeve

Elliotte Friedman noted while a guest on The Jeff Marek Show, “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 when talking about who might be interested in Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres. The kicker here is, the Rangers don’t want anyone to know they’re expressing interest, but it’s believed they might be one of the teams looking more closely at Eichel’s medicals and coming around on the idea of him getting the surgery he wants.

MIka Zibanejad Chris Drury Rangers
MIka Zibanejad Chris Drury Rangers

Drury has some room to maneuver here because his team doesn’t have cap issues this season if they trade for Eichel, at least not in the immediate future. They also are in the enviable position of taking advantage of the games-played trade conditions being talked about with Eichel. If they trade for Eichel this season, they don’t need to move money. They can also wait to sell on or move Zibanejad until they have a much better idea of how Eichel is recuperating.

It won’t be until next season when the Rangers will eventually have to negotiate new, expensive contracts with players like Adam Fox (D) and Kaapo Kakko (F). They have the luxury of waiting and playing things out that most teams don’t have. As they assess the situation, they won’t take a massive dip in the standings if they give up a couple of prospects and some draft selections.

This gives Drury a few options. First, get as close to working out a deal for Eichel as possible and be prepared to pull the trigger if Zibanejad doesn’t look like he’s going to sign. Second, make the trade for Eichel, see how he bounces back from his injury and then choose one of the former Sabre or Zibanejad if Eichel looks healthy. Third, make Zibanejad keenly aware that you’re looking to trade for Eichel which tells the center that you’re willing to move on if he doesn’t keep his contract ask within reason.

If Eichel doesn’t heal up, the Rangers will have the trade conditions to fall back on and they can sign Zibanejad. If Eichel heals up they can move on and Let Zibanejad go the highest bidder.

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