The Rangers’ 11-year streak of avoiding arbitration hearings continued Thursday when they agreed to a two-year, $9 million deal with center Ryan Strome hours before his salary dispute was to be heard by an arbitrator.
Strome, 27, reportedly will earn $4 million in the first year of the contract and $5 million in the second year.
The agreement was the third the Rangers have reached with players who filed for arbitration this offseason. Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev and defenseman Tony DeAngelo agreed to two-year deals on Oct. 15 to avoid arbitration hearings.
Brendan Lemieux is the only player remaining with an arbitration hearing scheduled. His hearing is set for Friday.
Strome put up career highs in assists (41) and points (59) and tied his career high in goals with 18 last season. His camp had submitted a salary figure of $5.7 million to the arbitrator and the Rangers countered with $3.6 million.
An arbitrator would have been free to choose either of those numbers or come up with one of his or her own. But if that number had been over $4.54 million, the team would have had the right to walk away and allow the player to become a free agent.
The last time the Rangers actually went to arbitration, in 2009, they chose not to accept the arbitrator’s ruling and allowed forward Nikolay Zherdev to become a free agent. He signed with a KHL team in Russia.
The Rangers had to be skeptical about whether Strome’s numbers were inflated because he played almost the entire season on a line with Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin. The team is squeezed tightly under the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap. Therefore, general manager Jeff Gorton was limited in what he could afford to pay Strome.
Gorton has been clearing space under the cap for months, beginning with sending defenseman Brady Skjei to Carolina at the February trade deadline and continuing in September with his surprise trade of Marc Staal to Detroit and the buyout of the final year of Henrik Lundqvist’s contract. Moving Staal freed up $5.7 million under the cap and buying out Lundqvist saved $3 million this year, though it adds $1.5 million in dead money in 2021-22.
When free agency opened Oct. 9, Gorton and the Rangers were very cost-conscious. They let forward Jesper Fast leave (he signed with Carolina), and their most expensive signing was defenseman Jack Johnson, who agreed to a one-year, $1.15 million deal.