Why Zibanejad Absolutely Must Sign Long-Term

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor & Cofounder at ClearedForContact.com
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, the Oxford comma, and the value of white space.
Phil Kocher
@ me

During an interview following the NHL Entry Draft, New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton was asked about Mika Zibanejad, and what status updates he could provide regarding whether contract talks had begun on extending the 24-year old Restricted Free Agent (RFA). His answer was vague, but also scarily “wide open”.

“We’re open to anything as far as Mika. We want to make a good deal.” Gorton said (via the Daily News).

“It could be short-term, it could be long-term. We’re wide open.”

That may seem like pragmatism at work from a sensible GM, but recent history, specifically with respect to a center who the Rangers just shipped to Arizona, says otherwise. For anyone who followed the process closely, alarms should be ringing left and right warning of the strikingly similar parallels that are drawn between the events. As Mark Twain once said, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.

It wasn’t long ago that the Rangers opted to offer Derek Stepan, at the age of 23, coming into his second NHL contract, a two-year bridge deal with a $3.075M Annual Average Value (AAV) instead of a mirror contract to the one now team captain Ryan McDonagh signed, at the age of 24, with a $4.7M AAV over six years. Yes, at the time the Rangers couldn’t have afforded to do so without cutting something of significance from their roster to make room enough to fit matching long-term deals for the Wisconsin Alumni, but the path that that decision forced Stepan down was ultimately responsible for his predictable departure from the Blueshirts. All because of the Rangers’ lack of long-term thinking. The cost of doing business the way they did is now paid out in full having to watch Stepan live out the second half of the six-year deal he eventually signed—instead, at the age of 25—with the Coyotes.

Fast-forward to today and the Blueshirts are broaching a comparable contract scenario with 24-year old Mika Zibanejad—one the Rangers would be wise to heed to history on so as not to make the same mistake twice.

Believe in Mika

The productive Swede is inarguably one of the most important players to the Rangers immediate future, and as the roster is currently constructed, will begin the 2017-18 NHL season as the Rangers de facto first-line center. Thankfully, it’s a role he was drafted to eventually take on by design, and his steadily increasing production provides the historical record to justify his finally being given the opportunity to prove he can handle the task.

A quick look at his boxcar stats over the last season paint a strong, progressive outlook for his immediate future as the Rangers’ top-line center:

With his points per game played (P/GP) pace gradually improving year-over-year, combined with being arbitration eligible and having only two years of RFA status left, is there really a choice in the matter to lock him in long-term? Despite the injury-derailed season he had this past year, he’s proven his value as a player worth investing in.

Signing Zibanejad to another bridge contract—a term commonly used to describe short-term deals for young players—would be bad business for the Rangers, who should have learned a valuable lesson in why those deals are of diminishing value in today’s NHL. Not only because they assuredly increase the cost of future contracts (especially those that purchase Unrestricted Free Agent [UFA]-eligible years), but specifically in Zibanejad’s case, because he already signed a bridge deal with the Senators coming out of his Entry-Level Contract (ELC) back in 2015. Asking him to sign another only accomplishes in kicking the can down the road and promises to make the Rangers pay for it financially when they finally show a willingness to go long-term, this time at the age of 25 or 26 where they’d need to buy even more UFA-eligible years as a result. A year or two of a relatively cost-controlled AAV just isn’t worth the long-term implications that signing Zibanejad to that kind of contract would ultimately cost the Blueshirts. It’s not just the year-to-year savings, either. It’s the life of the contract and the age in which the player will be upon its expiration.

This is as sure a reality as there can be, and it’s one the Rangers (hopefully) were taught not to relive with Derek Stepan, whom this very thing occurred with for many of the same reasons.

Making Cents of the Dollars

Gauging what a long-term contract might look like for Zibanejad isn’t terribly difficult. A quick look at some similar contracts signed by comparable players at or around the same age help to shine a light on what his AAV should look like. That list includes Bryan Little, Tyler Ennis, Brayden Schenn, Nazem Kadri, Jaden Schwartz, and of course, Derek Stepan—all of whom signed their extensions at effectively the same career point at the age of 24 or 25.

All six players compare favorably in terms of P/GP average over the last three seasons prior to their signing their extensions. If we take the average of their combined cost, we arrive at $5.129M—a very healthy estimate for where Zibanejad’s AAV should land, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars.

As to term, they have no real reason to go with fewer than five, or greater than six. This range would take Zibanejad from the age of 24 to either the age of 29 or 30 while buying all of his prime years in which he projects to be his most productive as an NHL forward. It would also leave enough runway later in his career to earn him a second kick at UFA where he could theoretically sign a fourth and final contract to ride into retirement on.

Regardless of whether the Rangers go with a five- or six-year deal, however, they simply must opt for a long-term solution. Anything less would assuredly not be worth the headache of re-living the nightmare that the Derek Stepan negotiations became, especially given how easy of a decision this should be with a quick glance at the Rangers available cap space. With Kevin Klein’s retirement announcement on Friday, the Rangers now have a little more than $8.4M with which to re-sign Zibanejad and potentially add an additional forward in order to field a complete team for training camp and preseason this September. In no world is this a difficult decision to make, so it’s incumbent upon Jeff Gorton not to make it one.


All contract and salary information courtesy of CapFriendly.com

63 comments

  1. Pingback: Let's Go Dumpster Diving! - Cleared for Contact

  2. Pingback: Rangers Re-Sign F Mika Zibanejad to 5-Year/$26.75M Extension; $5.35M AAV - Cleared for Contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discussion
  1. Phil in Absentia
    2010-13 was his ELC. 0.55 (45 in 82), 0.62 (51 in 82), 0.92 (44 in 48) P/GP in those years.
    They bridged him for 2013-14 to 2014-15 in which he went 0.70 (57 in 82) and 0.81 (55 in 68). Then had to go long-term at $6.5M specifically because of that bridge. Even if you throw out the third lockout shortened season from his ELC, the progression is real.
    0.55, 0.62, 0.70, 0.81.
    Zibanejad has shown similar year-to-year progression and has improved his P/GP pace in every season he’s been in the league.
    So, what would you rather do here? Sign him to or push for a two-year award in arbitration so your next negotiation buys just one year of RFA and ALL UFA years otherwise, at full market value, just like Stepan, or recognize that a 24-year old stands to be far more productive from 24-28 by giving him at least a four-year extension now at a much more affordable number?
    In short, $5.25M (let's say) for the next four, or $4M and change for the next two followed by a six- or seven-year deal worth $6.5-7M with a full No Move Clause from 26-32/33?

    I'd rather do 1 or 2 and go from there.
    josh
    Other than 1 season, he's closer to a 42pt per season kinda guy.
    But throw him that NTC for losing draws, not being good on the PP, suspect defensive game, below avg penalty killer, etc.

    Do you just not like the player? It seems you are kind of reaching to make the player look bad. I don't know where you have read on here that anyone has suggested anywhere near the money you say has been discussed.
    If you just don't like the guy. I think it would be a little more constructive, to say so, instead of exaggerating his play and the numbers being discussed here.
    But as i think I said earlier. If all he turns out to be is a 2nd line center.... 5 mill is a good deal.
    josh
    Stepan significantly regressed in his offensive play after his third contract. The play was a bigger issue than the cap hit.
    He put up almost a ppg (lockout season) before signing his bridge deal. Next contract year put up 57 in 68.
    Then... he became the first line center. 53 pts, 55pts.
    Would Stepan still be here, as the first line center, making 5-5.5m per?

    2010-13 was his ELC. 0.55 (45 in 82), 0.62 (51 in 82), 0.92 (44 in 48) P/GP in those years.
    They bridged him for 2013-14 to 2014-15 in which he went 0.70 (57 in 82) and 0.81 (55 in 68). Then had to go long-term at $6.5M specifically because of that bridge. Even if you throw out the third lockout shortened season from his ELC, the progression is real.
    0.55, 0.62, 0.70, 0.81.
    Zibanejad has shown similar year-to-year progression and has improved his P/GP pace in every season he’s been in the league.
    So, what would you rather do here? Sign him to or push for a two-year award in arbitration so your next negotiation buys just one year of RFA and ALL UFA years otherwise, at full market value, just like Stepan, or recognize that a 24-year old stands to be far more productive from 24-28 by giving him at least a four-year extension now at a much more affordable number?
    In short, $5.25M (let's say) for the next four, or $4M and change for the next two followed by a six- or seven-year deal worth $6.5-7M with a full No Move Clause from 26-32/33?
    I may need a seeing eye dog (and missed this) but here's uncle Larry's take

    Headline: Why Rangers shortchanged Zibanejad in arbitration ask
    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.
    All would be more or less statistical comparables to Zibanejad, who has recorded 188 points (78-110) in 337 games over five NHL seasons, including last year’s injury-interrupted 37-point output (14-23) in 56
    Gorton is expected to meet with Zibanejad and his agent, Monir Kalgoum, prior to the hearing in an attempt to hammer out a multi-year deal for the club’s projected first-line center that presumably would come in at the $5.25-$5.5 million neighborhood.
    http://nypost.com/2017/07/24/why-rangers-shortchanged-zibanejad-in-arbitration-ask/

    Brooks goes on to say the last 15 of 15 cases were settled within a few hours of going to arbitration and he expects the same this time. As did the Red Wings and Tatar.
    And if Brook's $$ range is what it ends up being, I see no problem with it, even at 5.5. But please ... no NMC.
    BTW he added
    The Rangers will have a 48-hour buyout window following settlement of the Zibanejad case that will resolve Marc Staal’s immediate fate.
    Phil in Absentia
    I think Stepan would have been the same player he became, except he'd cost nearly $2M less and might even still be here today had they not played hardball and bridged him.

    Stepan significantly regressed in his offensive play after his third contract. The play was a bigger issue than the cap hit.
    He put up almost a ppg (lockout season) before signing his bridge deal. Next contract year put up 57 in 68.
    Then... he became the first line center. 53 pts, 55pts.
    Would Stepan still be here, as the first line center, making 5-5.5m per?
    josh
    So you think Stepan would have been a better player if we didnt bridge him?
    It's not a 1-size fits all. If you are talking about a 2nd line, replaceable center that played half a season here... yeah, you look to bridge.

    I think Stepan would have been the same player he became, except he'd cost nearly $2M less and might even still be here today had they not played hardball and bridged him.
    Phil in Absentia
    Because Josh appears to be arguing that long-term deals aren't good by citing long-term deals of recent players, like Stepan, who the Rangers could have had on an identical contract to McDonagh, but who instead they bridged to hell ending up having to pay full market price, plus full NMC, just to keep him here.
    Which is exactly my argument for signing these guys early. Not waiting for them to "prove it". You have to work from some level of faith/expectation. I'd rather sign Brady Skjei now, for example, for the next eight years at like $4.5M than wait for him to "prove it" and have to give him $6.5M for eight years two years from now when he'll be carried later into his thirties.

    So you think Stepan would have been a better player if we didnt bridge him?
    It's not a 1-size fits all. If you are talking about a 2nd line, replaceable center that played half a season here... yeah, you look to bridge.
    I have no idea who is talking about $6 or $6.5M, but he's not close to that, IMO. But let's cut through the static. I argue in the article in the OP that his value is right around $5.1M per. You're probably closer to what, $4.5M? I don't want to put words or figures in your mouth, so you tell me.
    As to your one-to-two year deal, see above posts. You doing so just means you're reliving Derek Stepan, who the org made the same call on. It cost them to the tune of $6.5M and a full No-Move Clause they had to deal him to get out ahead of instead of recognizing the potential he was showing by giving him a mirror contract to McDonagh.
    If you always wait to buy a proven product, you're going to be paying through the nose every time, because it means you'll be waiting for most players to find a level of consistency they tend to hit around the age of 25-27, right before, or right at Unrestricted Free Agency.
    Phil in Absentia
    Considering we're talking about giving him $5M per season, there's nothing for me to get in order. And if we go off more conservative estimates, it means you think he's worth as low as, what, $2.75M?

    There's literally 1 post mentioning 5m. most is banter about why they should pay him well over that, and for a very long time. Throughout the forum there are people talking about 6, 6.5m...
    yes, thats 2m more than what we should be paying him. Based on your suggestion of 4.7, youre much closer to my number... so i dont understand where you get these "facts" from.
    I'd rather see a 1/2 year deal, let him earn his salary, then pay accordingly. We CANT pay for what we want, in the form of a guy thats not that... again.
    Throwing this money at an unproven 2nd line center (that will be thrust into a much more challenging role this winter) is a short-sighted, panic move. We've continued to see every player get an additional 1m on top of what they should get... and it only compounds the issue when that player goes to re-sign
    Because Josh appears to be arguing that long-term deals aren't good by citing long-term deals of recent players, like Stepan, who the Rangers could have had on an identical contract to McDonagh, but who instead they bridged to hell ending up having to pay full market price, plus full NMC, just to keep him here.
    Which is exactly my argument for signing these guys early. Not waiting for them to "prove it". You have to work from some level of faith/expectation. I'd rather sign Brady Skjei now, for example, for the next eight years at like $4.5M than wait for him to "prove it" and have to give him $6.5M for eight years two years from now when he'll be carried later into his thirties.
    josh
    Whens the last time a player the Rangers signed long-term finished out their contract with them?

    A) Why does it matter if they finish the contract here or get traded?
    B) Ryan McDonagh
    josh
    Whens the last time a player the Rangers signed long-term finished out their contract with them?

    When's the last time the Rangers signed one through his prime years instead of bridging him to the point of having to buy multiple years well into his thirties?
    josh
    It's not like we are talking about a game breaker.
    Paying 2m more than you should, doesn't make him better. And it hurts the team.
    We didn't trade away 2 better centers so this guy can make too much...

    josh
    "the fact"
    jesus fuck phil. Get your shit together.

    Considering we're talking about giving him $5M per season, there's nothing for me to get in order. And if we go off more conservative estimates, it means you think he's worth as low as, what, $2.75M?
    It's not like we are talking about a game breaker.
    Paying 2m more than you should, doesn't make him better. And it hurts the team.
    We didn't trade away 2 better centers so this guy can make too much...