Adam Fox extension shows Rangers spending like contenders

Adam Fox extension shows Rangers spending like contenders
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Are the New York Rangers done with their rebuild, and ready to contend? The Adam Fox contract extension provides the latest bit of evidence that, whether they’re true contenders or not, the Rangers are spending like one.

The Rangers confirmed that they signed reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox to a seven-year extension. According to various reporters, including the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, the cap hit will be $9.5 million per season.

Fox, 23, just began what would have been a contract year. With that in mind, Fox’s extension carries that $9.5M cap hit from 2022-23 through 2028-29.

By itself, Adam Fox extension is a no-brainer for Rangers

During the 2021 offseason, prices went wild for top defensemen. Big deals weren’t just thrown around for clear top blueliners. Teams practically tore muscles stretching to pay up for defensemen they merely hoped would look like No. 1 blueliners. (Look at the hasty Seth Jones extension, and the trade cost to acquire him.)

Amid what sometimes resembled chaos, the Avalanche actually attained value for a genuine, young, No. 1 defenseman. Credit the relative value on RFA leverage, but either way, locking down 23-year-old Cale Makar for six years at a $9.M cap hit was a no-brainer for the Avs.

Apply the same logic to Adam Fox and the Rangers.

Like Makar, Fox is in the meat of his prime at 23. Both are rare defensemen whose best days might come after signing for $9M/$9.5M. Worries about the aging curve are muted, if they’re there at all.

Considering Fox still has this last cheap year left, the Rangers now have him locked down for his prime years. Honestly, the Rangers shouldn’t have even flinched at Adam Fox’s extension. Grunt at the Harvard connection or not, but Fox is truly a brilliant defenseman.

Costs starting to really add up for New York, though

You’ve got to “spend money to make money.” In hockey, you have to spend money to keep players beyond their RFA years. For the special ones, you often have to open up the wallet for their second contracts.

So, again, the Rangers should not feel a second of regret about the Adam Fox extension. He’s already well worth $9.5M per year. If that goes wrong, it’s likely due to something few could have seen coming.

But the Rangers’ larger spending profile still raises a red flag or two.

The easy to defend

To start, consider a few of the bigger contracts that are easy for the Rangers to defend.

  • Fox is a premium defender. If he maintains his current level of play, Fox’s contract extension is a bargain for the Rangers. At his age, he might even get better. Scary for the rest of the NHL.
  • It’s early, but Igor Shesterkin‘s $5.667M cap hit (through 2024-25) looks like a very nice value. If not, it was a reasonable bet on the 25-year-old goalie.
  • At 30, Artemi Panarin could tussle with Father Time fairly soon. Then again, his savvy style could also age well. Either way, he’s been MVP-adjacent since joining the Rangers, so that $11.643M cap hit’s totally fair.

Lingering mysteries

  • Kaapo Kakko, 20, recently began his contract year. He’s set to become an RFA after this season. Frankly, the Rangers might want to extend Kakko, too — before he possibly breaks out.
  • Alexis Lafrenière, 20, has two years remaining on his rookie deal. It’s a mystery what he’ll cost in 2023-24 and beyond.
  • What does the future hold for Ryan Strome (28, $4.5M cap hit set to expire after 2021-22)? Can they maintain a spot for Filip Chytil (22, $2.3M AAV through 2022-23)? Alexandar Georgiev‘s Rangers days may also be numbered.

Possibly extravagant

  • Mika Zibanejad is a heck of a talent. The 28-year-old could easily be worth it when his cap hit raises to $8.5M starting in 2022-23. How well will that age, being that Zibanejad’s under contract through 2029-30? Plenty of people thought Zibanejad might get lost in the shuffle. (Although some of those thoughts were Jack Eichel-related.)
  • Chris Kreider, 30, is another Rangers player whose extension was mildly surprising. Kreider’s useful, but his rugged style might accelerate his decline. His $6.5M cap hit runs through 2026-27.
  • In their quest for grit, the Rangers splurged on Barclay Goodrow. Might they regret signing a 28-year-old supporting cast member at $3.642M for so long (expires after 2026-27)?
  • To some real relief, Jacob Trouba‘s bounced back from a profoundly terrible start to his Rangers career. That $8M price tag still stings, especially since the 27-year-old’s on the books through 2025-26.

Things could get tight pretty quickly for Rangers

Just to emphasize it once more: the Rangers had to sign Adam Fox to this extension. It’s highly likely to pay off, too.

That said, for a franchise that’s frequently paid marquee prices for sometimes off-Broadway results, it’s a little unsettling to see breathing room choke away so fast. That’s especially true if an opponent tries to squeeze them on young players who could hit RFA status.

Via the indispensible Cap Friendly, the Rangers devote almost $71M in cap space to 15 roster spots so far for 2022-23. They’re slated to spend almost $60M for 10 roster spots for 2023-24.

(The sticker shock lingers. In 2024-25: $53.45M to seven players. Six players command almost $48M in cap space for 2025-26.)

Naturally, optimism outweighs gloom and doom. The Rangers are loaded with young talent, and if their veterans age well, they could be a force. At 6-2-1, the Rangers already provide some proof of concept.

If things don’t come together, or they feel a piece or two short of completing the puzzle? That’s when they might regret some of their more luxurious decisions.

(But the Adam Fox extension counts as a necessity for the Rangers.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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