Rangers And Zibanejad Announce Arbitration Asks

Mika Zibanejad is scheduled for salary arbitration with the New York Rangers on July 25 – and time is fleeting for them to get a contract done before then. Elliotte Friedman reported their asking prices this morning –  with Zibanejad has asking for $5.35 million and the team offering $4.1 million.

Since his two year, $5.25 million contract ($2.625 million cap hit) expired at the conclusion of this season, the Rangers have to establish whether they are seeking a short-term bridge deal or a long-term extension with Zibanejad.

It’s been speculated that his next contract’s average annual value would fall between $4.5 million and $5.5 million, which could resemble the five year, $25 million contract that Derick Brassard signed with the Rangers in 2014 – before being traded to the Senators for Zibanejad.

The expectation is that the 24-year-old balanced center can grow into the role on the first-line to replace Derek Stepan, who was traded to the Arizona Coyotes to start this offseason.

Zibanejad has displayed his capabilities throughout his career, including in his first season in New York – despite it being shortened due to a fractured fibula. Even through the challenges of adjusting to a new team and losing part of his season due to injury, he still managed to accumulate 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 56 regular season games. He further impressed in his first playoff appearance with the Blueshirts, scoring 9 points (two goals, seven assists) in 12 games.

As much as the Rangers may prefer a lower-risk, short-term bridge deal it would likely cost them in the future. If the Rangers did sign Zibanejad to a contract with an average annual value of $4.1 million, it would likely be a short-term deal that only extends for one or two seasons. These types of contracts are often created for the player to prove their worth to the team (which is why they are referred to as “show me” deals).

Although Zibanejad has only played one season in New York, he displayed his abilities and potential. Plus, he’s demonstrated his skill throughout his career in Ottawa. At this point, a “show me” contract seems unnecessary and costly – since it would force them to overpay him past his prime, which was a concern with the Stepan contract and a major factor in why they moved him this offseason.

However, bridge-deal does not always result in this outcome, as (then 24-year-old) Nazem Kadri signed a one year, $4.1 million contract before agreeing on a 6-year, $27 million extension ($4.5 million cap hit) the following season. Since this is not always the case, and has not been in Rangers recent history, it is not a risk worth taking.

Trading Stepan meant that Zibanejad is going to assume the role as the team’s first-line center. Such an integral part of this team is not traded without a long-term plan in place, and that plan clearly involves Zibanejad. Expanding his role, especially when it is time for a contract extension, could make the player demand a more significant contract – hence his asking price of $5.35 million.

If the Rangers can lower his asking price, but offer a substantial term, his next contract could resemble Kadri’s current six-year deal. If a long-term extension calls for a higher AAV, other comparables could include Brayden Schenn, who signed a four-year contract that carries a $5.125 million cap hit when he was 24; Reilly Smith who signed a five year, $25 million extension when he was 25; and Brassard’s five-year, $25 million contract that he signed with the Rangers when he was 26.

Zibanejad and the Rangers only submit these offers as openings to their negotiations, so there is leeway for both to come to a resolution – ideally before the arbitration process formally begins. As it stands, there is a significant disparity in their offers, but not enough for it to be concerning. Zibanejad’s asking price is actually closer to what has been anticipated for his contract extension, therefore a long-term extension that runs through his prime at a reasonable cost should be expected.