Game 16: NYR-PIT, Thoughts on Zibanejad and Strome
The Rangers take on the Penguins, who will be without Sidney Crosby (update: and Kris Letang), tonight at MSG. Alexandar Georgiev will be back between the pipes after ceding the net the last three games to Henrik Lundqvist. Mika Zibanejad is out for the seventh straight game and will at a minimum miss the next two contests with his "neck/upper-body injury." After facing Pittsburgh, New York heads to the Sunshine State to take on Tampa Bay on Thursday and Florida on Saturday.
With Zib sidelined and Marc Staal on the shelf for at least another 10 days, the Rangers' lineup should be same as Sunday, save for Georgiev in for Lundqvist. Panarin has been all that we hoped for and more, the more to me is his compete level in the neutral zone and his own zone. Offensively, he is an even better passer than I thought and a magician in stealing the puck to create chances. See below for a graphical look at just how good the KCB line has been and to me, we haven't even remotely come close to seeing how good CK20 can be. Very much like what we have seen from Lindgren-Fox, plus i thought Skjei had a decent game as well after sitting as a healthy scratch.
Here is a look again at Mika injury:
As I wrote when the injury happened, "Patrice Bergeron loves the reverse pivot and putting a shoulder into the defender, That's what happened to Mika. The point of contact was the chest, but a whiplash effect appeared to have occurred as well. Given Mika's concussion history, the concern level is raised."
As time goes on and Zib remains sidelined, the concussion concern is raised. But to me, it gets raised exponentially when coach David Quinn says Zib took a step forward one day, the a step back. That sounds like post-concussion syndrome. Zib has already had 4-5 and each one requires a longer recovery period while also raising the concern that he will be out for an extended period of time.
All that said, from watching the hit, you can see Zib's neck snap backwards. It's that reaction why it is possible that this is just a neck injury. In addition, Zib having upper-bpdy soreness and pain wouldn't be shocking as well. But knowing how poor the league is in reporting injuries and his past history, regardless of what is said, the first thought is and will be that Zibanejad is dealing with a concussion.
In Zibanejad's stead, Ryan Strome has more than filled the top line center role. We keep expecting the wheels to come off on his streak and Strome looks to be getting better and better. Playing with Panarin sure doesn't hurt, but Strome has held his own and then some.
Making $3.1 million this season, Strome is an RFA with arb rights. All the talk of trading him at the deadline could be rendered obsolete if New York decides they want to keep him.
Strome is looking at a healthy pay day in arbitration right now. Somewhere in the $5 million range seems likely, which could price him outside the team's budget. In addition. there is a concern that Strome's rise is free agency driven. But since he will be an RFA not UFA , that thought is mitigated somewhat. In addition, Strome could slide down to the 2c or skate on the wing with Zib - when/if he returns - and Panarin, unless Kakko is moved there.
His value is approaching an all-time high and New York might be able to parlay that into a healthy return at the deadline. But what if this is a case where a player needed to mature and settle in to find his level? Strome was the fifth overall in 2011 and while he failed to produce with the Islanders and Oilers, maybe the third location is the charm.
GM Jeff Gorton and President John Davidson will have a tough decision on how to proceed. If Strome continues to excel, he will make that call even harder. Which direction would you go?