Inside Rangers' contract talks with Ryan Strome, option they won't choose

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Regarding the Rangers, one off the NHL lead in overall victories and in regulation victories as of Wednesday afternoon:

1. The Blueshirts are engaged in ongoing talks with the representatives for pending unrestricted free agent center Ryan Strome, with preliminary numbers having been exchanged between the parties, The Post has learned.

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While it seems as if there is a fair amount of work to do in order to reach an agreement on an extension, there will be no sign-or-be-traded ultimatum coming from general manager Chris Drury in the manner that then-GM Glen Sather put the hammer to Mats Zuccarello ahead of the 2015 deadline or to Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi a year earlier.

Rest assured, Drury will not sabotage his team ahead of the playoffs by trading the Blueshirts’ second-line center so as not to allow Strome to flee for nothing in return if he does indeed hit the July 13 open market. If the Rangers cannot sign Strome to an extension during the pre-deadline window, talks would resume following the playoffs.

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Artemi Panarin has thrived with Artem Anisimov as his center in Chicago and with Pierre-Luc Dubois in the middle in Columbus, so it would not be the end of the world as Panarin knows if Strome does not re-up. At the same time, Drury and the Blueshirts recognize Strome’s value that extends beyond being Panarin’s favored partner. There is no doubt they want to keep him.

But with the cap crunch looming for 2022-23 and beyond, the Rangers are limited as to what they can pay Strome. There is little doubt the 28-year-old, working on the final season of a two-year, $9 million deal, would leave some money on the table in order to remain in New York. The question is how much is palatable?

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alexis lafreniere, chris drury, new york rangers, nhl, ryan strome

Ryan Strome

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Under a shadow roster that includes Igor Shesterkin in goal; Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider and Patrik Nemeth on defense; and Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves and Flip Chytil up front, the Rangers would have around a net-$12 million under the cap to sign a second-line center, plus Kaapo Kakko, an additional four or five forwards including Sammy Blais, a seventh defenseman and a backup goaltender.

Remember, the cap that is projected to increase by $1 million to $82.5 million next year is not likely to grow by more than another million to $83.5 million for 2023-24. And that’s the year the Rangers will owe second contracts to Lafreniere and Miller.

So it is difficult to imagine the Rangers being able to go much past $5.75 million per on Strome without compromising the rest of the roster for years to come. It is folly to expect that the team will be able to fill in up front next season with Will Cuylle and/or Brennan Othmann.

There is another consideration for Drury and that is potential free-agent candidates to replace Strome such as Tomas Hertl or Vincent Trocheck will likely cost even more to sign. So if not Strome, who?

2. Again, the Rangers’ preference is to sign Strome, but J.T. Miller could lurk as a potential replacement. We are told that Vancouver GM Jim Rutherford’s asking price for the one-time Ranger is astronomical at this point, but the ask is surely to drop as the deadline approaches if the Canucks — five points out of a playoff spot with five teams to pass while at a games-played disadvantage — entirely drop out of the race.

alexis lafreniere, chris drury, new york rangers, nhl, ryan strome

Rangers general manager Chris Drury.

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Is Miller a replica of Strome? Not even close. But with another year remaining on his deal at a $5.25 million cap hit, Miller could play right wing with either Zibanejad or Strome down the stretch this season before sliding into the middle next year if the need arises.

Perhaps the Rangers, whose interest in Miller has been previously reported in this space, could get the Canucks to eat 50 percent of the contract for a sweeter return. That would allow the team to have Miller with Strome next season if No. 16 does sign an extension.

3. So can I be the only one to wonder whether the Canucks will make a serious offseason run at acquiring Lafreniere now that they have hired his (former) agent, Emilie Castonguay, as assistant GM?

Lafreniere is going to have to move to the right wing in order to get top six minutes in New York. If there is doubt that he can handle the move, the Rangers are going to have to consider their options. (Even now, with a temporary right-side vacancy on the Zibanejad-Kreider Connection, head coach Gerard Gallant is opting to fill the void with Julien Gauthier rather than No. 13.)

And yes, you think about an Elias Pettersson or a Bo Horvat coming back in a mega-deal to fill that spot in the middle behind Zibanejad. But Pettersson is carrying an unaffordable cap hit of $7.35 million and though Horvat’s $5.5 million AAV hits the sweet spot, he only has one more year on his deal.

Still, I would be surprised if Vancouver does not make an inquiry.

4. We’re told the Rangers’ reported interest in Arizona defenseman Jakob Chychrun has, in the least, been overstated.

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