The Rangers’ $3.6 million arbitration bid on Ryan Strome suggests that the team would have no issue with the 27-year-old centerman taking his talents elsewhere if Thursday’s scheduled hearing does indeed take place and the Blueshirts walk away from an award they believe is too rich for their blood.
Strome, coming off a 59-point (18-41) season in which he combined to make sweet music with Artemi Panarin on his left, put in an unrestrained bid of $5.7 million for the 2020-21 season, following which he would be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. No. 16 is swinging for the fences on this one, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t.
For NHL salary arbitration does not operate under the high/low format of MLB, where the arbiter is bound to select one offer or another. That system generally forces the parties to the middle. In hockey, arbiters can pick a number, any number, between the offers and usually come close to splitting the difference.
So for this one, in which both bids seem extreme, the award is likely to come in at the $4.5-to-$5.1 million range. If the award is in excess of $4,538,958, the Rangers could walk away from Strome, who was the team’s third-leading scorer behind Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.
No. 16 would then have four days to shop the free-agent market with the fail-safe ability to accept the Blueshirts’ $3.6 million bid if unable to secure a better deal. Cap space is at a premium around the NHL, but it still seems probable that some team would be willing to pay in the $4 million-bargain range for a second-line center who was 25th in the league in points-per-game (0.84) for a pivot.
If this scenario plays out and Strome were to bolt, the Blueshirts would presumably move onto Plan B or C that would entail signing one of the unsigned centers on the market. Candidates would include Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Derick Brassard and Carl Soderberg.
But it is also quite possible that management and Strome’s representatives from Newport Sports will attempt to negotiate until the hearing is set to begin. The Post has learned that the parties have had discussions about a two-year deal, though the numbers are unknown.
The club’s willingness to offer two years seems contradictory to the low arbitration bid, for one implies the Rangers want him and the other, not so much. It’s as if they are pushing Strome out the door with one hand while using the other to try and reel him in. Again, though, the dollar amount attached to the two-year offer is unknown.
So of course is the impact the pandemic will have on the next offseason, when Strome would be on the market off a one-year deal. Perhaps it would be wise for him to take somewhat less than he feels he has earned on a two-year contract rather than risk becoming the 2021 version of Granlund, Haula or Michael Hoffman, to cite prime properties under pre-pandemic conditions who have yet to be signed as free agents.
With or without Strome, the Blueshirts would be wise to see whether Filip Chytil can handle the responsibility of playing with Panarin. We are, after all, talking about the long run here. But the ongoing presence of Strome both creates a safety net for the team and coach David Quinn while maintaining the option of a reprise of the Panarin-Strome partnership.
Panarin has had success with centers Artem Anisimov, Alexander Wenneberg and Pierre-Luc Dubois, so the Russian Rockette can obviously adapt. But we don’t know how it would go with Granlund or Haula, we don’t know if Brassard could handle second-line minutes, we don’t know whether Chytil is ready for the responsibility. We do know that Panarin can produce with Strome. That’s why the low bid number is somewhat strange.
The Blueshirts have just under $9.092 million of space heading into Thursday’s scheduled hearing with Strome and Friday’s with Brendan Lemieux. That accounts for 10 forwards (including Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden, not including Phil DiGiuseppe), six defensemen and two goaltenders.
Maybe the sides will settle between now and Thursday. Maybe the award will be under the walkaway threshold. Maybe the Rangers won’t walk away, regardless. Maybe they will and Strome will flee. Or maybe he’ll find the NHL world outside New York is not greener.
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