2021 NY Rangers Player Report Card: Mika Zibanejad

To truly understand Mika Zibanejad’s 2021 report card, we have to break it down into pre-COVID recovery and post-COVID recovery. Because let’s be real, there were two different versions of Mika Zibanejad this season. Zibanejad certainly didn’t put up the numbers he did last season, but that was never a realistic ask either. He did, however, show that when he’s himself, he’s a top scoring threat in the league.

Not necessarily in a contract year, but playing to see if the Rangers should give him a new contract at some point, Zibanejad was worse than invisible to start the season. As late as March 4, Zibanejad was playing like one of the worst centers in the league, and had just two goals and eight points though 21 games on the season. The Rangers were playing .500 hockey in spite of Zibanejad’s struggles.

Luckily for the Rangers, Zibanejad’s struggles were temporary and largely due to COVID. He really turned it on in the final 35 games of the season, putting up a line of 22-20-42 in those 35 games, finishing the season with a respectable 24-26-50 in 56 games. That’s just shy of a point per game. Given he wasn’t really there for 1/3 of the season, that’s pretty impressive.

Lingering effects impacted numbers

Aside from the lingering COVID effects impacting his scoring line, it severely impacted Zibanejad’s play away from the puck.

The season-long numbers for Zibanejad aren’t pretty. The stat line recovered, but the impacts didn’t. Not surprisingly, Zibanejad was a net-negative offensively (-9%), and pretty much break even defensively. The major question is how much of this was COVID related, and how much of this is just Zibanejad being less of a driver and more of an opportunist. Remember, the last time Zibanejad was a net-positive offensively –in terms of xGF/60– was 2016-2017. There’s *a lot* that goes into that, so it’s worth noting when evaluating for this season. Don’t worry, there will be a much longer evaluation of Zibanejad’s play when we look re-signing him.

When we compare Zibanejad’s March 4th RAPM to his full season RAPM, we see some improvement in his play driving metrics. Specifically, we see a big improvement in his defensive metrics, but not his offensive metrics. This has been a problem for Zibanejad under David Quinn, but the offensive output had always been there. Especially on the powerplay. 

The full picture

The full picture for Mika Zibanejad’s season is a complicated one. He certainly had struggles to start the season. We saw significant improvement on the stat sheet and defensively as he recovered from COVID. But the isolated offensive impacts didn’t improve. The big question is how much of this was coaching related, since we know Quinn micromanaged the top-six too much. Zibanejad was a net-positive in isolated offensive metrics until DQ, and was negative with DQ. Is that on Zibanejad? Or is that on Quinn?

Those questions won’t get answered until next season. But we still need to look into Zibanejad’s play this season. You can’t ignore what he was to start the season. And you can’t ignore what the season long numbers look like. Conversely, you can’t ignore the absolute tear he went on to close out the season.

Mika Zibanejad 2021 Report Card Grade: B+. This would be higher if he didn’t play like Brett Howden for 1/3 of the season.

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  • I’ll start by saying I love Zibby. But his year this year was not that good. Covid is to blame. He deserves a B- in my book. Only giving him that high of a grade because he had enough guts to play thru the aftereffects of covid, missing very little time despite being way off his usual form.

    Zibanejad was Howden bad in terms of performance in the first third of the season, and that can’t be overlooked. His feast or famine scoring habits sank this team’s start this year. With a real NHL coach behind the bench this season, I hope a little diversifying of Zib’s offense can happen—like switching around his favored one-timer spot, for example.

    I have confidence that he finally scores 50 this year if he stays healthy. But he needs to play a full year to show he’s worth a longterm contract with the Rangers. Due to Zibby’s injury history, he is another player I’d lowball on term, 3-4 years at most.

    • Well stated. He’s my favorite Ranger and it killed me to see him get off to such a slow start this year. I agree with everything you said, but I think the 3-4 yr deal is not realistic. He’s been one of the better bargains in the league under his current contract. He’s going to be looking into cashing in on probably his last chance at a big payday.

      • You’re probably right on about what Zib wants for term, but I think things are going to be weird for a few seasons because of the flat cap. Players who want to get paid huge dollars might have to compromise on term, or vice-versa.

        • Very true regarding frozen cap. I know the previous Ranger management thought very highly of Zib. It’ll be interesting to see what the new regime thinks of him and how they negotiate with him.

  • Zibby had a tough year. Tough to grade.
    One thing to note is that a very high percentage of his points were against Philly and NJ. He feasts on the bottom dwellers. If you look at his numbers against the Isles and Pitt, for example, he did not make a dent.

  • Mika is a fine regular season player with an accurate shot but not a center that can deliver in a playoff environment. In the Islanders-Bruins series he would have been most likely been completely ineffective. His FO% numbers are also light. He is a contributor but not a big game player. I’ll rate him B+ for the regular season and a D for the playoffs. Maybe with a tough physical winger on his line that can change things.

    • “Maybe with a tough physical winger on his line that can change things.”

      Come on.. Zibby deserves a A+++ to the 10th power, times infinity.. He has played with 45 point wingers in the last 3-4 years meanwhile he has been a 70-80 point center with 30-40 goals. He has been doing great, playing with less talented wingers during 5v5.

      There is no room for a nasty winger on that line when you have Panarin, Laffy, Kakko and Kravtsov waiting in the wings.

  • I do not think Mika’s battle with COVID to be a valid negative against his performance as a player that should affect his grade. Once he recovered he was much, much better defensively and tore it up offensively. A.

  • First 25 games grade D (Covid) byproduct of the virus is
    A for playing through it..(guts)
    Next 35 games grade A
    Total grade for me (B to B+)…

    • … and give him an A for not using it as an excuse through those first 25 games. Everyone suspected it, but he wouldn’t acknowledge it until the very end of the season.

  • A quick caution about comparing stats from last year to this year. If you compute points earned by each team minus games played in the division, you get 50, which not coincidentally was the number of three point games. This was roughly predetermined and had nothing to do with the strength of the teams.

    In contrast, computing this number for the same eight teams last year gives 107. Last year they did play more games and the performance was roughly 86 over 56 games. The average team in the division declined by 4.5 points from last year. And this was preordained, it had nothing to do with whether teams improved or weakened. If we assume the average team stayed at the same level, the 60 points the Rangers got in 56 games was an improvement on 79 in 70 games.

    The important point is that filters down to individual stats. The Rangers lost a couple of games that they would have won if they had played a “normal” schedule and those losses correspond to weaker individual stats. This was hardly as dramatic as the stats drop-off from AHL to NHL but these Rangers did play in the toughest league they will ever play in.

    • In general, I think that comparing this past year to the previous year is a mistake.

      To me, pts per 60, 5 on 5, has become a very important measure for productivity. I think that stat tells a very good story.

    • I think 3 years won’t get it done, same for the $7M per … more realistically we’re looking at 5-6 years at around $8M — and I think that would be something of a hometown discount, both in term and $s.

    • Lol try, **they will offer a 9-10 mill contract for 6-8 years.

      Panarin’s contract + Fox’s new deal + Zib’s new deal + a big fish through UFA or trading = 30+ mill easy…

  • You gave kreider an A but you give zib a B+.. kreider was a ghost for half of the season, gave up on plays. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Great player and fantastic center. Obviously he should be in the Hart conversation. I don’t know what the sports writers are watching! His underlying stats are fabolous. He has a amazing shot and hands of a swiss army knife! He drives to the net like no other in NHL. I remember all those clutch goals he had against Pitts/Bruins/Isles! It was very impressive! Especially those last 4 games against the Isles when our playoff hopes were still alive….he was a force to be reckoned with! If it wasn’t that Buch and Kreider were no showing it, we would have made the playoffs easily!

    I don’t know what season you were watching but this guy is A++++ in my book!

    Now back to our regular schedule program. The previous writer has been sacked. And that sacker has also been sacked! Oh wait….the new writer was about to say something positive so he had to be sacked as well.

    All biases aside he had a pretty crappy season. His first 25 games were the worst probably of his career. (If he had lingering effects of Covid why was he playing 20 minutes a night?) His no show efforts in the final games against the Islanders were just toppings on the ice cream. If you give him a B+, what do you give Panarin? I mean you have to be somewhat unbiased….no? Does anyone think that Panarin and Mika were even playing in the same league this season? You know how you know you should probably wrap it up? When I start to make sense. He had a C maybe C+ effort this season. Everything that could go wrong this season did. But it is up to the player to overcome that adversity.

    • “You know how you know you should probably wrap it up? When I start to make sense.”

      If that were true then you would still be typing. The above is my new definition of “infinity”.

    • I have gotten torched by our esteemed posters here as well, but the fact of the matter is that, the slow start aside, Zib’s underlying stats are going in the wrong direction anyway.

      The beating up of the Rangers’ top 6 against the non-playoff teams has some of the Ranger fan base fooled. Annual, traditional stats are fine, but further analysis is also necessary.

      The fact is that the rangers would have gotten annihilated by any of the teams in their division that made the playoffs. Similar to the spanking they took against the Canes in the summer of 2020.

      We “hope” that a real NHL coach gets the players to play “the right way” that wins in the playoffs. I think that the jury is out on whether they can. We will find out.

      The start is to have a legit “one-two” in the center position. The Rangers would love to have either a Zib/Eichel or Zib/Barkov combo. That can work for next season, but if the cap does not go up that much the year after, then it might be a problem.

      The next step is to get a legit 4th line. The next step is to get the Ranger players to buy in and play the way that wins playoff games. There’s no Henrik to save their bacon now, and make them look good.

      • “The start is to have a legit “one-two” in the center position. The Rangers would love to have either a Zib/Eichel or Zib/Barkov combo. That can work for next season, but if the cap does not go up that much the year after, then it might be a problem.”

        I see you are off that juice of wanting to see Zib trade pieces for a 1c… I don’t see why Barkov would want to leave his place on the beach for NY. I think the range from any top 6 available this summer, has the chance to be Zib’s 1b.

        The entire bottom 6 will be going through this overhaul. The third line will either become more traditional or have more skills to provide depth.

        • To Avery:

          Ok, again, that “trade proposal” was merely a way to get Eichel without giving up a guy like Chytil, who I think that the Rangers should keep. I did not endorse it, I just threw it out there. No one liked it, which is fine, the group responded.

          I ran the cap #s by adding Eichel and keeping Zib, and it is doable but there will be no room left to improve in other areas like the bottom 6. Which then puts Buch at risk of not being here. Or also puts at risk not giving Fox a long-term contract. Obviously, Strome would be gone if Eichel and Zib are here.

          I think that trading Buch will be a huge mistake, but if the Rangers have a Zib/Eichel or Zib/Barkov combo, then trading Buch will be a necessity. Probably, anyway. Maybe the Rangers feel that Kakko and Krav can fill the right side for the top 6.

          But the bottom 6, especially the 4th line, has to be fixed. Baron is one piece of that line, for sure.

      • I don’t really care about the downvotes. I had 2 after the first 20 minutes and the only post was tanto. I am not really interested in what someone who posts tweet comments time and time again has to say. The deepest argument that guy has made in 10 years is everyone is a idiot and he is great and all knowing. What kind of honest discussion can that lead to?

        You can put up all the stats and data to back your opinion but it matters not. Like Buch or Kreider(forget which one it was) being a +22 at even strength goal differential over the past 3 seasons. And Mika being a -8 in this same category tied with Howden.

        Mika is a good center. As you have stated. No argument from me. I know his production will be a significant loss to our 1st power play unit. But we have to think long term and cap future. Signing him for anything over 7 million a year for any term over 4 or 5 years is going to be a serious brick wall to this team’s playoff chances.

        Here is a interesting point…what happens if say Laffy or Kappo go nuts next season? Like adam fox nuts? What are we going to do then? What if Kappo puts up McDavid type numbers next season? He is a year away from a new contract? Is it really that impossible? Now what do we do? We have 35% of our cap tied up in 4 players presently. Where do we find the money to pay Kappo and Mika and Fox who are all UFA’s/RFA’s after next season? I mean we can only get so much a of discount. Right?

        This is somehow lost in the crowds brain. They somehow can’t see this ultimate truth. While yes it sucks to lose Mika. Doesn’t it suck more to lose him for nothing in return in Free Agency?

        • “Where do we find the money to pay Kappo and Mika and Fox who are all UFA’s/RFA’s after next season? I mean we can only get so much a of discount. Right?”

          I don’t know why your’re worrying about none important issues.. The disbanding of CK and Trouba contracts through trade and possible buyout or another trade will open up the door to more $$$$$$.. Not re-signing Buch as a UFA, dumping names like Smith and other’s will add up for money in the bank. Someone Eichel could be added with his cap hit…

        • Having 2 high priced centers, tying up $20M per, is doable but it also puts a lot of pressure on other areas, cap wise, like:

          Retaining Buch, who is one of the best all around players on the team, and helps drive Zib’s stats.

          Fox cannot get a long-term deal, which might be a problem.

          Fixing the bottom 6, a must if the Rangers are getting to playoff status levels.

          Shesty needs a new contract.

          What to do with RFAs in 2022-23.

          See this is when giving out bad contracts matter. Trouba being overpaid by $2-3M matters. Zib given a $9-10M per contract may matter, if he starts to decline the minute that he gets the contract.

          The ONLY saving grace to getting Eichel, is that is he ends up having a recurring injury problem, then he can be LTIR’d so he would not count against the cap. Of course, whatever assets they use to get him would be wasted.

          It’s going to be a very interesting offseason.

          And, I wonder what is the hold up for hiring Gallant. I’m wondering if the Rangers “waiting on” Brindamour pisses Gallant off and he takes another job. I can’t see Brindamour coming to the Rangers, even if he is available, because his buddy, Ron Francis, is in Seattle.

  • Grading on this season…before I get stats from 3 years ago…

    Zib, was one of the worst players on the team for the first 30 games.

    Next 15, vs mediocre, competition, he was amazing.

    Last 10-12, horrible.

    GP G A PTS +/-

    Sabres 8 5 2 7 3
    Devils 8 3 6 9 2
    Flyers 8 7 11 18 7

    Totals 24 15 19 34 12

    I’slaners 8 1 2 3 -1
    Pens 8 2 1 3 -7
    Caps 8 4 2 6 -3
    Bruins 8 2 2 4 1

    Totals 32 9 7 16 –10

    I love Zib as much as the next person, but I am honest and don’t cloud my views of his performance.

    I am also leery of giving him a long term contract. Zib for a big man is very soft and fragile. I don’t need him banging bodies with guys…but whenever his gets hit, I hold my breathe.

      • Hahaha, nice one Peter! It looks like imagining Ranger hockey results is a full-time pastime for a few posters here.

        • 46 NYR @ NYI L 0 0 0 -3
          47 NYR PHI L 0 1 1 0
          48 NYR PHI W 0 2 2 2
          49 NYR BUF W 3 0 3 1
          50 NYR BUF W 1 0 1 0
          51 NYR NYI L 0 0 0 -1
          52 NYR @ NYI L 0 0 0 0
          53 NYR WSH 2 0 2 -3
          54 NYR WSH 0 0 0 -2
          55 NYR @ BOS 0 0 0 -2
          56 NYR @ BOS 2 0 2 2

          those were the last 10 games

          I know you are in love with the guy…and he scored 4 goals vs Buffalo and 2 meaningless goals vs Boston..but when the season was on the line…he was -8…imagine that!

          • jjb: With all due respect, you said the last 10 – 12 games were awful. Well, in the span of 10 games he had 8 goals and 11 points and in the last 12 he had 9 goals and 13 points.

            I understand that you have issues about particular games during that stretch, but your statement about his last 10 – 12 games being ‘horrible’ doesn’t jibe with greater than 1 point per game production. So that is why I posted it.

          • Ok, so, let me clarify, he was an A vs. The Sabres and Flyers, and an F vs. Everyone else the during their most critical stage of the season, then an A again the last game of the year when it meant nothing…is that better?

  • The Islanders came out of the series basically unscathed…the Bruins, they were the walking dead. They lost Carlo, huge loss on a thunderous hit, Smith for a few games from a big hit, guys coughing up the puck for fear of the thunderous hits…there is no razzle dazzle to the cup…if you don’t have a blend, u will be watching the playoffs from the Golf course.

    The Rangers, when they had that magically 3 year run…by the time they got to the end…they were also the walking dead….

    The playoffs are a war…how anyone watching these games see otherwise is baffling to me.

  • May want to add Zibby to the package to get Barkov. Barkov and Sam Bennet for Zibby, Chytil, our first round pick and Braden Schneider

    • Braden Schneider isn’t going anywhere … but even if he were, why in the hell would Florida make that trade?

  • Zib is a fantastic hockey player. Anyone who has followed the Rangers knows that. But, a big but at that…is he going to be great going forward. Is Zib the guy who is going to carry the team for the next several years. If Drury has any doubts he needs to think twice before he locks Zibanejad up to a long-term deal.

    Personally if it was me as GM, I would sell high on Zib this off-season. I think he would fetch a good return in a trade deal. Young center prospects and some draft choices. Bring on the thumbs down.

    • That would extend the rebuild 3-5 more years until those center prospects develop. I don’t think the owner wants to go that route.

  • Zib is my favorite NYR. However as many have suggested, I am concerned after watching this years playoffs. Curiously I am most concerned about Zib and Panarin in future playoff rounds.

    I think Buch will actually be a perfect playoff performer. I think he will be one of those guys that raises his level in the playoffs and shines. I think Kakko & Laffy will both be premiere playoff guys once they fill out and start playing with confidence. They will continue to develop their obvious skills while playing a 200 foot game but more importantly they will both fill out nicely physically. Kakko will use his size well in corners, lean in on guys, protect the puck and crash the net (I know he doesn’t do this yet, he will). Laffy will do all of that but he will also lay on some nasty hits and play with the edge the NYR are “drippin” for! : ) Even the occasional fight at the right time – like it or not… I like it and it will ignite our bench when it happens. Kreider is Kreider… has the size and speed. Hope he can play a more consistent hard nose style (even if the offense disappears – just be a nasty and not so f’n polite player for four rounds!).

    We better have a shut down physical playoff specialized 4th line by then as well as one or two other “playoff specialist” guys in the top nine.

    But as I began to say… Is there a way that Zib and Panarin can and thrive adjust their games to be effective in the playoffs? We’ve seen in the bubble as well as the meaningful tough games during the season that they have not come close to figuring this out. I’m trying to think of some specific examples of guys who are “nice and pretty” in the regular season but adapt in the playoffs. Kucherov? Not sure. But I think this is something that the new coach should be focused on all season and hopefully they are open to working on it!!!

    Also, so many people love to point out all the time how specific players beat up on the bottom feeders for stats that are misleading. Ummm…. So did all the players on all the good teams. So the statement in general is misleading because they just did what everyone else did. Lopsided all around the league. So I don’t think it’s a valid argument or concern.

  • A lot people love to point out how specific players beat up on the bottom feeders for stats that are misleading.

    Ummm…. So did all the players on all the good teams. So the statement in general is misleading because they just did what everyone else did. Lopsided all around the league. So I don’t think it’s a valid argument or concern.

    There is a great site called HOCKEY-REFERENCE dot COM and you can see player splits vs teams there. See for yourselves.

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