Pavel Buchnevich
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Rangers find themselves in an interesting situation when it comes what to do with Pavel Buchnevich and a potential new contract. 

Dom Renna

After two relatively disappointing seasons with the New York Rangers, Pavel Buchnevich finally put it together in his third full NHL season.

The timing of it could not have more perfectly considering how the Blueshirts employed a new coach in David Quinn who’s known to get the most out of younger players, and Buchnevich was entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It all made for 2018-19 to be a make or break year for the 24-year-old Russian forward, and after a tough start, he definitely opened some eyes around RangersTown.

Now that the big question of whether or not Buchnevich can handle being a top-six player in the NHL is out of the way, the Rangers and Buchnevich now find themselves in negotiations for his next contract. The Rangers find themselves in a tricky situation because there are really only two options when it comes what to do with Buchnevich. New York could make a long-term commitment based on what they saw last year and the hopes of even more improvement or they could do the basic bridge deal like they’ve done with so many others in the past.

The Rangers have a history with players coming off entry-level deals by signing bridge deals as their next contract before giving them a long-term commitment. They did it with Derek Stepan signing him to a two-year deal that paid him $6.15 million over two years before signing a six-year extension at the start of the 2015-16 season. Chris Kreider signed a two-year deal worth $4.95 million over two seasons prior to his four-year deal in July 2016.

A bridge deal might be the best option for the Rangers and Buchnevich since it allows the Rangers to have more flexibility when it comes to making other moves to improve their roster. It also allows the Rangers to take a longer look at what they have with Buchnevich considering he still has to prove last year was not just a fluke season. The use of this type of deal is honestly the best of both worlds for the Rangers. It also creates some flexibility moving forward.

Should they sign Buchnevich to a bridge deal, the Blueshirts’ will have the contracts of Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith and Henrik Lundqvist off the books. Those four players combine to make $25.2 million in cap space if the Rangers chose to keep them on the roster until the end of their deals. If they wait it out and Buchnevich proves he is the player they think he can be, there will be plenty of dough to spread around in order to keep him a Ranger long-term.

Ideally, New York should stay away from making the same mistake they made with Brady Skjei at the end of the 2017-18 season. Remember, they rewarded Skjei for a subpar season with a six-year $31.5 million deal and he did struggle to start the year on Broadway. While Skjei was able to rebound and salvage his 2018-19 campaign, you can’t help but wonder if they rushed a long-term deal with a player who has shown inconsistency over the last two years.

Buchnevich still has moments where he’s hesitant to shoot the puck, which was the biggest difference for him in his game during his hot streak. He still is unreliable defensively and needs to improve his toughness along the boards in battles for the puck. Arguably, he’s further away in his development than Skjei was which makes the idea of giving him a long-term contract even more confusing.

Going with the long-term route really should not even be considered as an option for general manager Jeff Gorton; there are just too many question marks still surrounding his game. They jumped the gun with Skjei, and while it looks like he’s proving them right, you can’t keep making long-term decisions based on limited sample sizes.

The New York Rangers are at a very important time in their franchise with a chance to accelerate their rebuilding process. They cannot afford to make a wrong bet on a player and must go the safe route when it comes to dealing with their players at the end of the entry-level contracts.

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Dominick is a graduate of Canisius College. He has covered the Rangers for the last seven seasons and the Yankees for the last four.