DETROIT — Though it may seem like it, not everyone on the Rangers is for sale.
As the Feb. 24 trade deadline quickly approaches and the Blueshirts once again look toward the future, there are some building blocks in place. And if there is a cornerstone in this rebuild, it is Mika Zibanejad.
“I can’t say enough great things about him,” coach David Quinn said after his team won the first of this back-to-back, home-and-home, with the Red Wings, a 4-2 victory at the Garden on Friday night that preceded the rematch in Motown on Saturday night.
“Not only what you see on the ice, but what you see away from the rink,” Quinn said, “he’s everything you want in a player.”
Zibanejad had a goal and two assists against the league-worst Wings on Friday, giving him a round 200 points in his first 246 career games as a Ranger. There must be quiet moments when general manager Jeff Gorton still snickers about the coup he pulled on his Ottawa counterpart, Pierre Dorion, in the summer of 2016.
That’s when Gorton sent the Senators a 29-year-old Derick Brassard, with three years left on his deal at $5 million per, and got back, in part, a 23-year-old Zibanejad, who had one year left at $2.625 million before reaching restricted free agency. It could be looked at as the first sign the Rangers were trying to get younger and step away from adding veterans and chasing that elusive Stanley Cup. But viewed just as a straight hockey trade, the Rangers still won.
Brassard, for all his big moments in the Blueshirt, couldn’t get it going in his hometown of Ottawa, then bounced indignantly from Pittsburgh to Florida to Colorado, where he ended this past season before signing a one-year deal with the Islanders. In contrast, Zibanejad has emerged as a legit top-line center, signing a five-year, $26.75 million deal before the 2017-18 season. The $5.35 million annual salary-cap hit might be the best bargain in the league, and as long as the 26-year-old stays relatively healthy over the next year or so — with a history of concussions, one hopes so — he will be due a huge payday before hitting free agency in the summer of 2022.
By then, the cap might have gone up substantially from the current $81.5 million, with an influx of new broadcast money coming in. And by then, the Rangers are hoping to be in a lot different position than they are now, where Zibanejad is one of the strongest voices in the locker room of the youngest team in the league.
Still a soft-spoken Swede, Zibanejad made it clear to his team that they needn’t be frustrated in the first intermission Friday when they were dominating the Red Wings, outshooting them 15-7, but still tied 0-0.
“We talked about it quite a bit after the first, just keep going and keep doing the same things,” Zibanejad said. “It’s very easy after a first period like that to get frustrated and maybe start looking for one more extra pass. I thought we did a good job continuing what we did in the first, and got rewarded.”
Even earlier this season, these Rangers might have gotten frustrated. But they kept their focus, and Zibanejad made a terrific play up the right wing to find a streaking Pavel Buchnevich for a tap-in and a 1-0 lead midway through the second.
It’s that type of skill, and that type of calm mentality, that makes the Rangers so enamored with Zibanejad. He could very well be the next captain — they have had four alternate captains for the past two seasons — but either way, he is a big building block for the future.
He’s exactly the type of player that most teams want around this time of year, but he remains one of the few pieces on the Rangers ship that is nailed down going into the deadline.
“He’s coachable, he’s a great teammate, he plays 200 feet,” Quinn said. “I could go for a long time about Mika. We’re lucky to have him.”
For more on the Rangers, listen to the latest episode of the “Up In The Blue Seats” podcast:
Source: Read Full Article