The New York Rangers have signed their top center, Mika Zibanejad, to an eight-year, $68 million contract extension.
During the 2016 offseason, the Blueshirts acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Derick Brassard, and it has paid off in a big way for the Rangers. Zibanejad developed into a No. 1 center, while Brassard has become a journeyman, playing for six teams in the last four seasons.
Zibanejad’s Play With the Rangers
Zibanejad steadily improved in his first few seasons with the Rangers, but injuries, including a broken leg, slowed him down. During the 2018-19 season, with the Rangers rebuilding, he stayed healthy and established himself as New York’s top center as he excelled defensively and offensively. He finished with 30 goals, including two shorthanded and 11 on the power play, along with 44 assists while playing in all 82 games.
During the 2019-20 season, he built on his breakout season and played like a star, as he finished the season with 41 goals and 34 assists in just 57 games. At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, he was strong on the puck and was a sniper on the power play. He dominated late in the season, finishing with 24 goals and 16 assists in his last 25 games, including five goals in a victory against the Washington Capitals.
Last season, Zibanejad got off to a slow start after a bout with COVID, but he returned to form late in the season and still finished with 24 goals and 26 assists while playing in all 56 games — he had 21 goals and 20 assists in the final 31 games of the season.
In total, Zibanejad has 136 goals and 147 assists in 323 games with the Rangers over five seasons. He also has a 52.5 Corsi for percentage and has won 49.6 percent of his faceoffs since joining the Blueshirts.
What It Means for the Rangers
The Rangers haven’t had much depth at center over the past few seasons and have relied heavily on Zibanejad, so it became crucial to re-sign him. While the contract will last until he’s 37, the $8.5 million average annual value is team-friendly. Aleksander Barkov, the top center for the Florida Panthers, who is a somewhat similar player (although two years younger and coming off of a better 2020-21 season than Zibanejad), just signed an eight-year, $80 million contract extension.
It’s also beneficial for the Rangers that they got the Zibanejad deal done now rather than waiting until the trade deadline as they did with Chris Kreider during the 2019-20 season. Now they can focus on deciding whether or not to re-sign center Ryan Strome, who has developed into a key player for the Blueshirts. Strome is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. If New York decides to move on from him, there is still a possibility that they can trade for Buffalo Sabres star center Jack Eichel, although Zibanejad’s extension makes that less likely.
Zibanejad’s contract extension also makes him one of the leading candidates to become the Rangers’ next captain, as he has become one of their leaders. New York has yet to have a captain since they traded Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2017-18 season.
“I’m super, super excited to be here for another eight years, and I can’t wait to see you guys at the Garden soon,” Zibanejad said in a message to fans.
It will be a big season for Zibanejad as he will represent Sweden in the Olympics and will look to lead the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Now he can do so without worrying about his contract situation.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.