NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Nobody enjoys salary arbitration.
Yet that’s where the Rangers and restricted free agent Mika Zibanejad appeared headed before eventually finding common ground late Tuesday morning.
New York announced it reached agreement on a five-year, $26.75 million contract with the veteran center, thus ending the potential for nastiness that tends to come with an arbitration hearing, which in Zibanejad’s case had been scheduled for later Tuesday.
The 24-year-old Swede will receive $5.35 million in average annual value. Zibanejad had earlier requested a $5.35 million salary for the 2017-18 season, while the Rangers countered with $4.1 million.
However, it was in both player and team’s best interest to get a long-term deal done and it made sense for the Rangers to perhaps pay a bit more than they wanted to yearly to make sure Zibanejad’s cap hit would be less cumbersome later.
Likely the team’s No. 1 center heading into training camp, Zibanejad had 14 goals and 23 assists, along with a plus-nine rating and 16 penalty minutes, in 56 games last season.
“Seeing Derek (Stepan) being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role, and as a player, you always want more responsibility,” Zibanejad said on a conference call with reporters. “It’s something I’m working really hard to making sure I’m taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”
He set career highs in several categories, including assists per game (0.41), points per game (0.66), and faceoff win percentage (52.0; 494-for-950), and he tied his career-high for power play goals with four.
The Rangers went 33-17-6 with Zibanejad in the lineup during the regular season.
Zibanejad added nine points in 12 playoffs games.
Selected by the Ottawa Senators with sixth pick in the 2011 draft, Zibanejad was traded to New York on July 18, 2016. He has 188 points, including 110 assists, in 337 regular season games for the Rangers and Senators.
“You always want to improve, you always want to evolve,” he said. “There’s always been moments where you feel like you can take your game to the next level, and that’s what I’m working on during the summer, trying to do all the things I can do to prepare myself for this opportunity.