Here he is, Rangers fans. Your unquestioned top center for now & the future. Arguably the most important forward on the roster considering the lack of C depth has been inked for the rest of his 20’s at a pretty friendly price tag. The 24 year-old Zibanejad is no Crosby, Toews, Kopitar or Bergeron – all four of which have led the last 9 Cup champs. I know that. But superstars like that don’t grow on trees. So measuring this signing against champion centers isn’t fair. Recognizing & being excited about the fact that Gorton bought low on a young player who’s improved every year in the league is the more realistic reaction.
Here’s what I wrote on Zib a couple weeks ago as part of a Blueshirts “state of the union“:
I really think Zib’s gonna be great. The Rangers haven’t had a center break 60 points since Brad Richard’s Broadway debut & DJ ZBad will be the next. He started hot last year before a broken leg & it took a while for him to get his wheels back. He then closed the regular season with 13 points in 17 games & led NY with 9 points in 12 playoff contests. There will soon be no question whether or not the Blueshirts have a true #1 C. Zib can do it all. If Gorton can lock him up long-term for something like $5.5M per, it’ll end up a bargain.
I promise, $5.35M over 5 years will be a bargain. Look at it this way – Zibanejad’s floor is Derek Stepan. He’s a smart two-way center who, with the boost in quality TOI that’s coming his way, is a slam dunk for 60 points annually. He’s also bigger than Step and, before coming to Broadway last season, actually used that size well (100+ hits in 3 full Sens campaigns). Infinitely better at the dot. Harder shot. If Stepan was able to help lead this team on a couple of deep playoff runs, there’s no reason to question whether or not his bigger, younger, more talented Swedish replacement is capable of doing the same. If you wanna complain about who’s behind him up the middle – well you got a case there.
Don’t rush to CapFriendly.com and assume the $3M of cap space means the Rangers have money to spend to help their center depth though. The total spent doesn’t account for all the extra F/D they’ll need to carry. So even if they go with kids on entry-level contracts as their spares, the legitimate cap space is actually under a mil. Obviously they can trade salary away to accommodate a deal, but Gorton doesn’t have as much cash burning a hole in his pocket as you might think. Pump the brakes on Bozak, etc. Just be happy for a stellar off-season & the potential their slew of youth has to break out. It’s not the perfect roster. A lot will need to click for these Blueshirts to compete in a stacked East – but there’s plenty of reason to believe. Every year there’s a Nashville who people didn’t see coming.
Write off the Zibanejad-led Rangers at your own risk. I won’t.