Rangers’ Brendan Lemieux, Ryan Strome facing arbitration hearings
Regarding the Rangers, who are just over a week away from scheduled arbitration hearings with Brendan Lemieux and Ryan Strome:
1. Little in the negotiating dynamic with either forward has changed since the pair was qualified. This means it is more likely than not that the team will have its first hearing since 2009, when the Blueshirts walked away from Nikolay Zherdev’s slightly crazy award.
Zherdev, acquired from Columbus over the summer of 2008 in exchange for Fedor Tyutin, had completed his one and only season as a Ranger with 23 goals, second by one to club leader Markus Naslund, and 58 points, tied with Scott Gomez for the team lead. That was the season that started with Tom Renney as coach and finished with John Tortorella behind the bench.
The Blueshirts, who had qualified the winger, then 24 years old, with a required $3.25 million, entered an arbitration bid of $3M. Zherdev, whose work ethic came and went as if by whim, asked for $4.75M. Elliott Shiftman, the arbiter, essentially split the difference (as arbiters are wont to do) and came in with an award of $3.9M. General manager Glen Sather punted. Zherdev became a footnote referenced each time a Ranger drew near to an arbitration hearing.
2. Walkaways in 2020 can only be exercised on players awarded in excess of $4,538,958, so that won’t be a concern for Lemieux, who is coming off a one-year contract worth $925,000 after recording 18 points (6-12) in 59 games.
The 24-year-old winger is one of the select Rangers to play with a hardscrabble mentality, but his statistics (beyond the esoteric figure of penalties drawn/taken) don’t necessarily translate well to arbitration, which is a color-by-numbers exercise.
If Lemieux hadn’t filed, he would have been at the team’s mercy. So he essentially had no choice. The problem is, the Rangers are all but certain to request a two-year award for No. 48, which will limit his earning power for 2021-22.
It might be in Lemieux’s best interest to negotiate a one-year deal with GM Jeff Gorton ahead of the hearing, in order to build his numbers for the next negotiation. But though Mats Zuccarello actually signed three consecutive one-year deals out of entry-level, playing on one-year contracts can become tiresome and burdensome.
I would envision Lemieux receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.75M to $2M on a two-year arbitration award, off a career in which he has 36 points (19-17) in 131 contests. Jordan Greenway, Minnesota’s 23-year-old winger who played for David Quinn at Boston University and about whom the Blueshirts have inquired more than once, recently signed a two-year deal with the Wild at $2.1M per season with a career total of 53 points (20-33) in 154 games.
Let’s say Lemieux, whose hearing is set for Nov. 6, comes in at around $2M. That would give the Rangers between $6.5M and $7.5M of cap space for Strome, whose hearing is scheduled for a day earlier, depending upon the final roster composition.
3. Strome, coming off a career season at age 26 in which he recorded 59 points (18-41) in easing Artemi Panarin’s transition to Broadway, is going to have an extremely strong case in arbitration. Start at somewhere around $4.6M and go from there. It’s the “from there” that is somewhat concerning to the Blueshirts, who do not envision No. 16 as the long-term answer in the second-line center’s slot. Indeed, there is every chance they will give Filip Chytil first crack at that assignment this season. In that case, Strome would be an insurance policy; an expensive one, too.
Depending upon his comparables, Strome could nudge into the $5.2M to $5.5M range. Since Dec. 31, 2018, Strome has 86 points (34-52) in 115 games. Over that same stretch, Strome is 32nd among NHL centers in scoring and 44th in five-on-five points by pivots, per Naturalstattrick.com. He is going to get paid.
And yes, the Rangers would be able to walk away from Strome, but for this year only, he would have the right to return to the team on its arbitration bid. So if the Blueshirts come in, say, at $4.4M, Strome comes in at $5.4M, and the arbitrator grants an award of $5.1M, the team could walk away and the player could walk back for the $4.4M.
If indeed the difference between the Rangers’ bid and the award is that substantial, the walkaway/walkback is the likely scenario. Of course, if Strome could find a team willing to beat the Blueshirts’ offer within four days after being notified of the walkaway, he could sign with that club as a free agent.
4. I am forever taken by surprise that management has never made it a priority to add a Finnish player to the roster to aid in Kaapo Kakko’s transition to North America, and yes, I am aware that Tarmo Reunanen could challenge for a spot on left defense.
5. K’Andre Miller is working out at the Prentiss Hockey Performance facility in Stamford, Conn., where he spent nearly all summer following the Rangers’ pre-tournament camp at the end of July. Chris Kreider, Morgan Barron, Adam Fox and Lemieux have been skating intermittently at the Blueshirts’ training facility under Phase II protocols.
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