The New York Rangers began extension talks with top center Mika Zibanejad earlier this month, but the two sides have not yet reached a resolution on a new contact. However, don’t expect that to bother Zibanejad this season. The New York Post’s Mollie Walker reports that Zibanejad is unfazed by his impending free agent status. He has been candid with comments stating that he will leave negotiations to his agent and the Rangers’ front office while he remains focused on the upcoming season. “Right now, they’re taking care of business — so I’m taking care of mine,” Zibanejad stated. While many players state us much while actually posturing, Zibanejad really does have nothing to worry about. Sure, the skilled center has stated that he enjoys playing in New York and would like to sign long-term with the Rangers. However, the 28-year-old could also be the top name on the open market if he cannot come to terms with the team on a new deal. Walker reports that Zibanejad’s side is seeking upwards of $10MM per year on a seven- or eight-year term, while the Rangers would prefer to keep that cap number between $7-9MM. While Zibanejad would lose the possibility of that eighth year should he test the market, competition would also certainly drive that AAV up toward his asking price. As a result, Zibanejad has all the leverage in talks with New York, especially if he performs this season, so it makes sense that he can calmly focus solely on his play and let negotiations unfold behind the scenes.
- Across town, the New York Islanders are looking forward to the return of one of their own core players in Anders Lee. Lee missed the final 29 games of the regular season and the entirety of the postseason after undergoing ACL surgery in March, but is now back to full strength. Yet, his comeback is still on hold for the time being. Though Lee has not been limited in training camp, NYI Hockey Now’s Christian Arnold relays word from head coach Barry Trotz that Lee will not be rushed into preseason action. The star forward is expected to be held out of at least the first few Islanders preseason games, if not more. While the team wants Lee to be up to game speed by the start of the regular season, they are being cautious with his workload on a surgically repaired knee. A hard-working veteran, Lee will be ready to go for New York’s season debut regardless of how much work he puts in prior.
- As for Evgeni Malkin, Dan Kingerski of Pittsburgh Hockey Now reports that it is status quo for the star center’s return from off-season knee surgery. While Sidney Crosby is only expected to miss a few games to start the year following his own wrist surgery, the expectation remains that Malkin will miss the first two months of the season. The Penguins surely had hoped that Malkin could fast-forward his return to action, especially since the team’s limited cap space handicapped their ability to find a suitable replacement down the middle. The focus so far in training camp has been on veteran Evan Rodrigues and youngster Radim Zohorna battling for a starting center role, though neither will be able to bring even replacement-level offense to the lineup. Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger, and eventually Crosby will likely be the Penguins top-nine centers until Malkin returns and the lines are re-shuffled.