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The New York Rangers’ rebuild has landed them plenty of talented young players, including Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and Vitali Kravtsov. They’re moving in the right direction and looking to transition from rebuilding to contending this season. One factor in their favor is that the Blueshirts have signed some key players to team-friendly deals. Here’s a look at the Rangers’ best value contracts for the 2021-22 season (not including players on entry-level contracts.)
The Rangers signed Mika Zibanejad to a five-year, $26.75 million contract following the 2016-17 season. The move came after he missed extended time during the 2016-17 season with a broken leg, and since then, he has developed into New York’s top center and best goal-scorer.
Zibanejad had a very strong 2018-19 season, finishing with 30 goals and 44 assists while playing in all 82 games. He also proved to be a valuable penalty killer whom the Rangers could rely on for his defensive play as well as his offensive production. During the 2019-20 season, he played like a star and finished with 41 goals and 34 assists in just 57 games. During his last 25 games of the season, he had 24 goals and 16 assists, including five goals in a dominant performance against the Washington Capitals.
Last season Zibanejad got off to a very slow start after a bout with coronavirus, but he ended the season playing very well. He had a hat trick and three assists in consecutive games against the Philadelphia Flyers, and he also had a hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres. He ended the season with 24 goals and 26 assists while playing in all 56 of the Rangers’ games.
The Rangers should expect another big season from Zibanejad as he is still just 28 years old. This is the final year of his current contract, and it has proven to be one of the best bargains in the NHL over the past few seasons.
The Rangers acquired Ryan Lindgren in the 2018 trade that sent Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins. He earned a shot with the Blueshirts early in the 2019-20 season and proved to be a very valuable player during his rookie season. He formed chemistry with his defense partner, Adam Fox, and by the end of the season, they were New York’s top defense pair. Lindgren played with physicality, blocked shots and excelled on the penalty kill.
During his rookie season, Lindgren finished with one goal, 13 assists and was plus-16 in 60 games. He picked up right where he left off and was once again one of the Rangers’ top defensemen last season. He provided them with grit while making smart decisions with the puck and clean passes out of the defensive zone. He finished the season with one goal, 15 assists and was plus-20 in 51 games. He averaged exactly 20 minutes of ice time per game and was trusted in important situations late in close games.
This offseason, Lindgren signed a three-year $9 million contract extension with the Rangers. If he continues to play at the same level that he has during his first two seasons, that would be a great contract for the Blueshirts. Additionally, his defense-first mentality and physicality make him an excellent defense partner for Fox, who has developed into a superstar.
The Rangers acquired Ryan Strome in exchange for Ryan Spooner during the 2018-19 season, and he played well following the trade, finishing with 18 goals and 15 assists in 63 games with the Blueshirts. He played with grit and did a nice job on both the power play and penalty kill.
During the 2019-20 season, Strome centered a line with star winger Artemi Panarin, and he produced a career-high 59 points, including 18 goals, in 70 games. Following the season, New York re-signed him to a two-year, $9 million contract.
Last season Strome continued to play well, and he continued to produce offensively, even when Panarin was out of the lineup. Strome played in all 56 games in 2020-21, finishing with 14 goals and 35 assists. He had 18 points on the power play and two while shorthanded. He had four goals and five assists during a nine-game stretch with Panarin out of the lineup.
Strome is still just 28 years old and will be an important free agent if the Rangers don’t trade or re-sign him before the end of the 2021-22 season.
After spending the first few seasons of his career with the rival New Jersey Devils, Kevin Rooney signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract with the Rangers ahead of the 2020-21 season. He was known for his ability to kill penalties and play with grit during his stint with the Devils, and that’s exactly what he brought to the Blueshirts last season.
Rooney suffered an injury in his first game with the Rangers but returned after a week and played well defensively. As expected, he excelled on the penalty kill, and he was able to chip in offensively too. He finished the season with eight goals and six assists in 54 games. Two of his goals came with the Blueshirts shorthanded.
The Rangers added more toughness to their lineup this offseason, but Rooney should still be a valuable bottom-six forward. He can play center or on the wing, and he should remain one of New York’s key penalty killers.
While Lindgren will be a restricted free agent when his three-year contract ends, Zibanejad, Strome and Rooney will all be unrestricted free agents after this season. Zibanejad has developed into a star with the Blueshirts, and re-signing him has to be a priority. However, if they think that won’t be possible, the Rangers could end up trading him during the season rather than risk losing him for nothing during free agency.
Strome has also played well for the Rangers, and while it’s likely that they will trade him if they re-sign Zibanejad, they could end up re-signing Strome if Zibanejad leaves. The Blueshirts don’t have much depth at center, and they will have to make tough decisions regarding Zibanejad and Strome. However, the Rangers will rely heavily on both of them next season as they look to make the postseason and conclude their rebuild.
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.