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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As the Rangers continue to be linked to a Jack Eichel trade, they have a huge contract of their own to deal with before next summer. 

Tab Bamford

If you pay attention to Rangers chatter on Twitter, they are still the leader in public sentiment to make the blockbuster trade for Sabres center Jack Eichel.

The Sabres and Eichel’s camp are at odds over whether or not he needs surgery after an injury ended his 2021 season early. Eichel’s camp has maintained throughout the offseason that he wants out of Buffalo, but a trade has yet to materialize.

The Rangers have the requisite pieces to make a deal for Eichel, including picks and roster players. But whether or not the players Buffalo would want are actually available is another discussion, especially with Pavel Buchnevich having been traded to St. Louis already.

But any deal the Rangers would make for Eichel would only complicate the most significant internal contract negotiation in recent club history. Adam Fox needs a new deal after the 2021-22 season, and that should be the Rangers’ priority.

How much will Fox cost?

Fox won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman after the 2021 season. He has been exceptional since joining the Rangers and will get paid for his efforts, beginning in the 2022-23 season; he’s a restricted free agent next summer.

This has been a busy summer for other defensemen getting the bag, so it’s worth evaluating the new landscape of blue line contracts to get an idea of what Fox might be worth.

  • Darnell Nurse, Edmonton — 8 years, $9.25M AAV
  • Zach Werenski, Columbus — 6 years, $9,583,333 AAV
  • Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey — 7 years, $9M AAV
  • Cale Makar, Colorado — 6 years, $9M AAV
  • Seth Jones, Chicago — 8 years, $9.5M AAV

Fox, 23, might compare most favorably to Makar, who was also a finalist for the Norris this year. Makar is younger than Fox but was also headed to restricted free agency.

Nurse, Werenski and Makar all re-signed with their teams; Hamilton (UFA) and Jones (sign-and-trade) wound up with new organizations.

The biggest difference between Fox and these five defensemen: Fox won the Norris.

Assuming the Rangers want to keep Fox in the fold for as long as possible, they could offer him an eight-year contract. And, based on the five contracts listed above, it’s safe to assume Fox is worth more than $9 million per season.

That’s a massive commitment for the Rangers — and Fox is worth it. But they have work to do to make that work.

Eichel has five years remaining on a contract that carries a $10 million cap hit. Adding that to their current payroll before extending Fox would complicate the financial realities of the roster beyond the 2022-23 season.

Current payroll

With news the Rangers extended Igor Shesterkin on Monday, the organization already has five players with a cap hit over $5 million for multiple seasons beyond 2021-22 on their books already.

  • Artemi Panarin — 5 years, $11,642,857 AAV
  • Chris Kreider — 6 years, $6.5M AAV
  • Jacob Trouba — 5 years, $8M AAV
  • Igor Shesterkin — 4 years, $5,666,667 AAV

That’s a top-heavy roster already, before a hypothetical trade for Eichel or re-signing Fox. And between now and the start of the 2022-23 season, Fox isn’t the only player the Rangers need to re-sign.

At forward, Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome are both unrestricted free agents next summer. Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais, Julien Gauthier and Vitali Kravtsov are restricted free agents after the 2021-22 season.

Alexandar Georgiev is also a restricted free agent next summer.

And the Rangers have just two more years of control with Alexis Lafrenière, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020.