Zac Jones is turning heads at UMass: Why the Rangers should delay his ELC

Zac Jones is turning heads at the Frozen Four this year, and is quickly becoming a third round steal for the Rangers. He’s been all over the ice, creating from nothing and is proving himself to be one of the best players on UMass. There are thoughts the Rangers should sign him to his entry level contract, but it makes more sense for the Rangers to delay his signing.

Plays like the above are why Jones is rocketing up the prospect rankings. He almost won the game for UMass before they eventually won in OT. Every review I’ve seen so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Given his progress, it makes sense for the Rangers to make a push to sign him. However there are some significant benefits to waiting for the end of his Junior season.

Cap Management and Timing

The big thing with Jones is that once he signs his ELC, he will have to turn pro. The NCAA rules prohibit a player under contract to return to college. Since that would immediately start his clock, the Rangers would be wise to separate out ELC contracts a bit.

If Jones turns pro next season, then his ELC would end with Braden Schneider and Hunter Skinner, and only one year after Matthew Robertson’s. While it’s unlikely all four will be with the Rangers in three years, and wow that’s a lot of defense prospect depth, it’s a cap situation the Rangers would prefer to avoid.

Kicking Jones’ contract down the line one more year would do wonders for the Rangers’ long term planning. Plus it also helps that Jones has indicated he wants to return for his Junior season.

Jacob Trouba’s Contract

The other piece here is Jacob Trouba’s $8 million cap hit. Trouba’s contract expires after the end of the 2025-2026 season. That would be two years after Jones’ ELC would expire if he signs immediately, or one year after if he signs after next season.

Limiting overlap with Trouba’s contract is a critical factor in long term cap management. As it stands today, the Rangers will be looking at five years of overlap with Ryan Lindgren’s contract, another four with Adam Fox’s contract, and three with K’Andre Miller’s next deal. While Lindgren’s is less of a concern, Fox’s next deal could be enormous. Miller’s is still a TBD, as it’s too soon to tell.

The less overlap the better, especially as these deals start to have bigger cap hits. The Rangers are in a good cap spot today, but the waters will get muddy as the kids need new deals. It’s not just on defense either, as Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytil will need new deals in the next three years.

Kicking a Zac Jones entry level contract down the road could be good cap management by the Rangers. There is certainly an urge to get Jones under contract ASAP. But sometimes they need to resist and properly structure their long term plans. This is one of those cases.

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  • I think you shop Trouba at the trade deadline. If he gets moved, that frees up a RHD and Cap space. Opens the door for some of the many near-NHL ready defensemen we have.

    Zac Jones should return for his junior year either way

  • Yeah, the kid looks just about ready to turn PRO … but another year of added strength won’t hurt at all and fits into the scheme of the rebuild — but boy did he look good last night. Next year it’s Robertson’s and Lundkvist’s turn, even though they’ll both be rookies I think they might make an excellent 3rd pairing to go along with our Top 4.

    I wonder though if they win the NCAA championship. would he change his mind about staying another year — guess he could look to a “repeat” performance.

  • Technical point: According to cap friendly, Robertson is slide eligible and so his ELC will expire the same year as those of Schneider and Skinner (and likely Lundqvist as well).

    • If this is true (I suspect it is) then we need to use one of these players in a trade. We cannot have 4 young defensemen all come up for contracts at the same time. Still thinking we include one of them in a major acquisition.

      • … and how much do you think the 3rd pairing d’ are going to get in a new contract? This is a non-issue, we have so many good young prospects that will be blocked from the top 6 and top 4 d’ for a while that they won’t command big salaries, at least not early on until spots open up.

    • Yes yes, I missed that. Probably makes things worse believe it or not. That’s four kids that would expire in the same year.

      • It’s a bit of a non-issue Dave, aside from Shesty, Fox and Miller none of these kids are going to break the bank in the foreseeable future.

  • Why would ZJ ever sign with the Rangers when he would forever behind Fox on the PP. And if Nils signs, he might be behind him too on the PP. For that matter, why would Nils sign and have to wait behind Fox for PP time. Sign elsewhere and become THE man on the PP.

    • Actually you might want to pair those two on the 1st PP unit, eventually — breaking the new age mold of using 4 forwards and 1 d’man — they could literally be that good … and as a consequence the 2nd Unit should be better. Now if we just had a coach that demanded a shorter shift from the 1st PP unit. 😉

  • Can’t wait to have Trouba’s dead cap space after we buy him out…if he would consider waiving his no move clause…which he would never…no one in the league would ever consider that contract for what he offers.

    Brendan Dillion makes 3.9mm and does the same if not more than trouba.

    Ryan Pulock makes 5.00mm

    To put it into context…Trouba makes more than Hedman.

    The Rangers give this guy that contract with a no move clause like they just obtained Larry Robinson…I am sure the vast majority on here do not even know who that is.

    • Rangers have been on a good trend. Overpaying their defensmen and then either buying them out or trading them for nothing. Girardi and Shattenkirk bought out. Mac, Staal, Skjei, Del Zotto, Pionk, Graves traded for peanuts. Now we have Trouba though. I am sure other GMs have us on the speed dial

    • They can trade him after the 2023-24 season, perhaps even retaining 25% of his salary for his last 2 years … so no biggie.

      • Ir is biggie. To give a big contract and then could not find to find a role for the payer and then pray that it will end in 2-3 years is not just “biggie” it is “hugie”. One would have thought that they had learned from prior mistakes. Nope. They fit the perfect definition of madness

  • Last night was the first time I really got to see him play I’ve seen some highlights over the last couple of months but man his coach said he’s another Adam fox is Adam Fox but he’s faster the kid really does have great hands and some shot maybe you’ll have a little growth spurt I’d love to see him a little bigger but if he just keeps getting better I’ll take better of a bigger and if they can put off him signing his ELC that would be great

    • His growing is pretty much done (he’s over 20) … he just needs to get stronger. His hockey IQ makes up for any “short”-comings.

  • There is no issues of having multiple offensive defensmen. Certainly worked last year

    Mot sure if anyone would remember who was the top scorers for 1993-1994, the Cup year. With all offensive talent of Messier, Graves, Gartner, Kavalev, Amonte and others. And of course Brian Leetch. The top scorer was Sergey Zubov with 89 points in 77 games. Brian Leetch was third with 10 or so points less. The point being is you utilize the talent and create the winning system. If you have dynamic defenseman such as Fox, Lundkvist, Jones you do not have to play Stromes and your second unit has much more power than managed by Trouba.

    Speaking of Zubov. I remember the same argument made in 94-95, Rangers wanted to be “hard to play against”. So they traded Zubov and Nedved to Pens for Robataile and Samuelson. I would consider this the dumbest trade during the time I have been following the Rangers. Rangers never won again and Zubov won the Cup with Dallas and got into the Hall of Fame. Be carefull with trading the young talent

    • Yeah, I would have no desire to move either Jones or Lundkvist until we actually get to see them play in the NHL a couple of years. People are always in such a rush, a number of these kids don’t even look like they have to shave daily.

      • Both of them should be excellent players. Jones replaced Mokar and should be compared to him favorably. Nils reminds me of early days Lidstrom. That of course almost impossible bar to reach for anyone. But he looks as the most talented offensive defensman including Fox at this stage

  • It’s complicated with Jones as he has all the leverage.

    Wait until next year and he can walk with his degree and enter the job market as a UFA. To even get him to defer his ELC until next season(and sign a ATO with Hartford) will require a bigger signing bonus(along with performance bonuses) than a pick like him would normally get.

    • I don’t see a huge issue if they just sign him this year. A lot of fans here seem to think every prospect is going to break the bank, but when you’re not put in a Top 6 F or Top 4 D role consistently during your ELC then your leverage for that 2nd contract is affected negatively.

      • As we saw this year, the performance bonuses can be problematic when you have this many players on ELCs.

  • If the powers that be feel that he is that good they should do what they can to get him under contract/control regardless of anything else.
    No need to play chess all the time, checkers is fun too.

  • If we lose the next couple of games, then Gorton will understand the trade deadline more. Don’t see DiGiuseppe, Rooney or Smith here next year. Hajek, Gauthier & Georgiev – who knows? Remember Georgiev 2.4 million cap hit. Blackwell will be traded only if an offer they can’t refuse. We are not a contender without another great center and that could cost us Chytil. Messier should be hired to help teach these guys how to win face-offs, because we will never be that Stanley Cup team without it (and also more toughness). So biggest concerns – stud center, face-off guy (even 4th liner), toughness and possibly a new coach.

  • I think the Rangers strong pipeline of young defensemen and wingers provides the opportunity for them to avoid big contracts with the older players and trade them before free agency. For example, Jones and Robertson give them the option to trade Lindgren for draft capital and backfill with young talent. That can perpetuate a long run of a talented young and cheap cup contender.

  • The biggest take is that believe it or not the Rangers have way too many top prospects and with the flat csp, no way to engineer a trade to help thin it out. Right now we have 14 forwards who deserve ice time, not inclufing the taxi squad or what’s down in Hartford. Defenseman? Forget about it! Agsin way too msny evrn if Hajek goes in the expansion draft.

  • With a surplus of d men and top six wingers, the answer is really not that complicated. Management has to identify those players who have high ceilings but also bring it on a game to game basis. Having skills but disappearing for a week or two at a time is not the recipe for success. Consistent effort and hockey iq trumps good numbers over a season. You will not win those games where the goalie gives up two goals for your team if you take the week off. A lunch pail mentality will achieve greater success and go further in the postseason. Trade those that can’t perform nightly for draft choices to replenish the pipeline. Identify your core, pay them.

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