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.
Zac Jones (#NYR) with some sick moves, almost sets up a scoring chance with a yawning cage, but Wyatt Kaiser (#Blackhawks) gets *just* enough of the puck with his skate to redirect it from harm's way.https://t.co/bcsJjlSVkVhttps://t.co/sZ6DKVJohr pic.twitter.com/6TkN93PAha
— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) April 9, 2021
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.
— sportsology (@sportsology) April 9, 2021
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.
Zac Jones says he plans on returning for his junior year but his play says that he's ready to turn pro. Do the Rangers try to talk him into leaving school?
— Jess Rubenstein (@TheProspectpark) April 9, 2021
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.