Foregoing arbitration, the Rangers agreed to terms with Mika Zibanejad Monday on a new contract; five years at an AAV of $5.3 million per season. Whew.
Next up for the Blueshirts, solving the search for a 4th center. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the team’s centers were Derek Stepan, Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, and Oscar Lindberg. Stepan was traded to Arizona, and Lindberg was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft [an event so important it gets capital letters]. David Desharnais was signed as a modestly-priced free agent center, leaving the Rangers seemingly one center short.
Zibanejad’s contract seems to indicate that he will be the 1C [they’re paying him 1st line center bucks], and Hayes seemingly moves up to the 2nd line. But then the mystery/fun begins. Is Desharnais the 3rd line center? Will J.T. Miller get moved to center? Will Boo Nieves start the year on the team, as 4th-line center? What about rookie Lias Andersson? Too soon to think he could start the season on the big team? Or, with some cap space, will the Blueshirts pull off another trade before the season begins?
A trade for a center would probably require Nick Holden going in the other direction, or a buyout of Marc Staal. The team appears to have one too many defensemen [Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, Brandon Smith, Staal, Holden, Anthony deAngelo, Alexei Bereglazov], so a defenseman-for-a-center trade is a possibility. But injuries happen, so having an 8th defenseman right now is not a bad thing.
I think a Staal buyout is unlikely, and a trade for a center [i.e. Toronto’s Tyler Bozak] would have to have the perfect terms for the Rangers to pull off. I think Nieves starts the season as 4C, and Miller gets moved over or a trade gets pulled if the team struggles offensively in the opening month.
While the Rangers have a good problem, defensively [I feel a lot better about our defense than I did in May], their problem putting four quality forward lines out there on October 5th need to be solved.