Potential outcomes as New York Rangers and Mika Zibanejad have their day in court
The title is a joke, the two sides are not going to “court” per say. Nobody is seeking damages or a conviction, but the aftermath of a team and it’s player actually making it in front of an arbitrator and having that arbitrator decide the player’s contract doesn’t always leave the nicest of tastes in the player and team’s mouth walking away.
This is why most teams agree to terms with players prior to an arbitration hearing, the team’s ask and the player’s ask are usually a bit a part for good reason and the player risks playing a year on an awarded contract for less than they could agree to if they signed a multiple year deal with that team.
This doesn’t bode well for players simply because each year a player reports to training camp, they unfortunately run the risk of a career altering or worst- ending injury so years on a deal are important to players, especially nearing their prime. There is a big difference mentally entering a season knowing no matter what happens, you’re good financially because you have a 4 year, $20 million deal.
Money isn’t as much a concern as much as it is for a player on a one year deal, who gosh forbid if something were to happen to them, the money they earn that year could very well be the money they’ll earn for the remainder of their career if something were to happen.
What We Know
Here’s what we know so far. Mika Zibanejad is a 24 year old center for the New York Rangers who was drafted 6th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. His Entry-Level Contract went from 2011-12 through the end of the 2014-’15 season (as the 2011-12 season was an ELC slide year). He then signed a 2 year extension with the Ottawa Senators for $2.625m AAV.
Zibanejad is a Restricted Free Agent who’s arbitration eligible with 5 years complete of NHL service. Any player whose contract has expired can declare himself an unrestricted free agent if he is at least 27 years old or has at least seven years of service as an NHL player. So for Zibanejad to become an Unrestricted Free Agent, he’ll need to play another two NHL seasons, however a team can only take a player to arbitration ONCE in his career.
The New York Rangers submitted a low-end ask if $4.1 million to the arbitrator and Zibanejad’s side submitted submitted an ask for $5.35m which is well within the comparables to other players of his caliber IF there are years attached to that deal.
Detroit signed Tomas Tatar to a four year $5.3 million deal where Tatar sacrificed three years of unrestricted free agency. Tatar is a winger who consistently puts up 20+ goal, 20+ assist seasons. Tampa Bay rewarded Tyler Johnson by signing him to a seven year deal with a $5m AAV, but that contract cost Johnson as he surrendered six seasons of UFA eligibility. While Tyler Johnson is a 2nd line center in Tampa Bay, he’s so because of a guy named Steve Stamkos as their 1st line center but Johnson is a player who’s shown and is expected to put up 25 goals and 30+ assists when healthy.
Where It Ends Up
All in all, a team will gladly pay a player that $5 million range so as long the team can get in return years of that players unrestricted free agency in return when as a UFA, the player gets the leverage in negotiations as all 31 NHL teams can now bid.
Mika Zibanejad is a bit of an outlier as far as evaluation is concerned. He’s 24 years old, has played 5 NHL seasons and has scored more than 20 goals only twice. However, as a #6 overall pick and as our eyes have witnessed, Zibanejad possess’ the ability and potential to become a 30 goal, 40 assist, 70 point Center and his side believes that and the New York Rangers also see that potential, but the window for him to reach that potential is beginning to close and he just as easily could not progress and stay as a 20 goal, 30 assist, 45-50 point guy. It’s very difficult for a team to justify paying $5-$5.5 million a year for 5-7 years for the low end production especially considering the team just walked away from a consistent 20 goal, 40 assist two-way center entering his prime who was making $6.5 million.
There are three scenario’s that will unfold today.
It’s very rare that a team and a player actually make it into the room with the arbitrator, but if this is the case today then you can expect the arbitrator to “split the baby” and award a 1 year deal between $4.5m-$4.75m. This award would benefit the Rangers in the short term as it would save them roughly $1 million in cap space for the 2017-18 season and furthermore it would land Zibanejad as a Restricted Free Agent again next summer when Rick Nash’s money comes off the books, but players like JT Miller and Kevin Hayes will also be RFA’s. It is in not Zibanejad’s best financial interest to allow this situation to get to the arbitrator so the clock becomes Jeff Gorton’s best friend and leverage through the day.
Potential downside arises from the two sides being unable to agree to a deal however as we previously mentioned, so while it may be Gorton’s best short term scenario, it may not be the best long term scenario for the organization.
Arbitrator Rules but the Rangers walk away
Once an arbitrator’s award is handed down, a decision must be made within 48 hours of the hearing. When the decision is announced, the team has the right to decline, or “walk away” from the award. If the team exercises this right, the player can declare himself an unrestricted free agent.
This scenario won’t unfold. However, the two side’s can easily go to arbitration and begin work on an extension past next season immediately.
Pro’s – every goal Zibanejad scores, he’ll be looking up at the GM’s box and we could see a new goal celebration.
Cons- Every hit, or slide into the boards will make Zibanejad and his agent cringe even worse.
The sides agree
This scenario is the one i predict to be most likely. The two sides have until they go into the room with the arbitrator to agree to a contract. Jeff Gorton will want two things. The first, not to overpay and the second, to eat up UFA years of Zibanejad. There could be a roughly $250k/year value placed on each UFA year Zibanejad is willing to give up. I believe Gorton will start the bidding at $4.75m on a two year deal that would bring Zibanejad right to his expected UFA year. This being the number that the arbitrator will most likely rule on, and if Gorton has to sign him to another 1 year deal next summer, it shouldn’t be for more than $5m so that feels like Gorton’s entry bid. If Zibanejad wants to get into the $5 million range, that’s where Gorton is going to start asking for years off of his UFA. We could see 3 years at $5m, 4 years at $5.25m, 5 years at $5.5m.
All in all, Gorton does not have a losing scenario today. He either gets Zibanejad on a “tryout” type 1 year season where he’s going to have to prove on the scoreboard that he’s worth 1st line center money in which case the Rangers may get that 1st line center they’re looking for or he locks in a vital piece of his team’s core for the next 3-5 years at a reasonable rate.
As we previously reported and discussed on the Full Tilt Radio Podcast, Zibanejad has high expectations for himself salary wise. He absolutely played a game of chicken with Jeff Gorton on this with the hope that it would not get to today. Jeff Gorton knew all along that the leverage pendulum would swing in his favor today and as we saw in the Kevin Shattenkirk negotiations, Gorton has shown to be a stern and disciplined negotiator.
Prediction: Mika Zibanejad and the New York Ranger agree to a 5 year, $5 million deal – yes, i contradict what i said previously but Gorton has impressed me with his discipline and I feel he’s going to walk away with what he wants today.
The New York Rangers enter today with $8.4 million in salary cap space, including 11 Forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goalies giving them a 20 man roster that doesn’t include Zibanejad. Once Zibanejad is signed that brings them to 21/23 roster players and 12/13,14 forwards. They should be sitting between $2.9m-$3.9m in cap space. Roughly $1.5m of that will need to be earmarked for ELC players like Lias Andersson to fill out the roster.
This will leave the Rangers to decide whether or not they can take on Tyler Bozak’s cap hit of $4.2m by flipping Holden’s $1.65m and getting somewhat creative. However this would leave Gorton very minimal flexibility through the season so the decision he faces is “Does adding Tyler Bozak make my team as complete as I see myself making it this year?”