The New York Rangers were smart to choose Zibanejad over Eichel

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres goes up against Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2019 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Sabres 6-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres goes up against Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 24, 2019 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Sabres 6-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

On Sunday, October 10th, 2021, the New York Rangers inked Mika Zibanejad, their number one center, to an 8-year contract extension worth $68 million. Zibanejad got off to a slow start a year ago due to COVID,  but eventually picked it up and finished with 50 points in 56 games played.

The extension of Mika Zibanejad has now silenced all of the insanity that followed the Jack Eichel saga over the summer. The Blueshirts were supposed to acquire Eichel during the draft. Until they didn’t. Then, they were supposed to acquire him during free agency. Until they didn’t.

Just before the Zibanejad extension, according to the rumor mill, the Rangers were in the running again for Eichel. Until they weren’t, again.

The faceoff between the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel is nothing short of an embarrassment. Not only did the Sabres organization completely mistreat their star player after suffering a significant injury, but they also want a king’s ransom in return. This for a player who may not even play the majority of the season? Not worth it.

The New York Rangers dodged a bullet extending by Mika Zibanejad and not going for Jack Eichel. Considering what they would have to give up to acquire the former number two overall pick, followed by the injury woes and drama they would have to endure, the Blueshirts indeed dodged a bullet.

Production with health

Statistically, Jack Eichel is a better player than Mika Zibanejad.

There is no doubt about that. During his rookie season in the 2015-16 season, Eichel made the All-Rookie Team, finished fourth in the Calder Trophy voting, and posted 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points on the year. Very impressive for a 19-year-old.

Eichel’s most productive season by far was 2018-19. Eichel had 82 points in only 77 games played with 28 goals scored and 54 assists. He did this on a Sabres team that finished sixth in the Atlantic Division with 76 points in the standings. The kid carried a pitiful franchise all by himself.

However, Jack Eichel has only played more than 70 games twice during an 82 game season. And during the COVID shortened 56-game season last year, he only played 21 games because of the herniated disk in his neck. That was a huge blow for Eichel and his career.

Meanwhile, Mika Zibanejad has been productive and consistently healthy year in and year out. Since the Rangers acquired him back in 2016, Zibanejad has only played less than 70 games once during an 82 game season. He has had some injuries, but bounced back from all of them.

In the 2019-2020 season, before COVID set the world back, Mika Zibanejad was on a record setting pace in terms of production.

He had 74 points with 41 goals and 34 assists in only 56 games played. Yes, in only 56 games played. One of those games included a memorable five-goal performance against the Washington Capitals. If COVID never happened, who knows what accolades Zibanejad could’ve taken home that year.

Even when he was hit with COVID , an illness that put a dent into his season, Zibanejad still produced at an almost point per game player. That is production under enormous circumstances that many players around the league couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to do.

Yes, Eichel has better numbers than Mika. But when you look at the health of both players and compare the differences in stats, the decision of who to have on your hockey team is pretty clear.

Cap Hit

Mika Zibanejad’s contract is one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game. Meanwhile, the Sabres contract with Jack Eichel is starting to look like an albatross. Zibnejad’s extension will kick in and he will have a cap hit of $8.5 million. That’s for a number one center. This is substantial value for a player that produces at a point per game pace.

With Eichel, it gets trickier. He has a cap hit of $10 million. While $8.5 million and $10 million may not seem like a big difference, it is for the New York Rangers.

Second-line center Ryan Strome is an unrestricted free agent next year and Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais and Adam Fox will be restricted free agents . Having Eichel on the team would handcuff the Rangers financially.

With Mika’s contract giving the Rangers that extra $1.5 million boost could be the difference in bringing back the young core instead of making some really difficult decisions.

The Verdict

The New York Rangers made the right decision keeping Mika Zibanejad and not trading for Jack Eichel. No matter how the Eichel saga plays out, this decision will only help them in the long run.

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