James O'Brien

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18:  Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers celebrates after scoring a goal in the first period against Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Rangers get a good deal in re-signing Chris Kreider

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The New York Rangers avoided Friday’s scheduled arbitration session with Chris Kreider, instead signing the restricted free agent.

Terms aren’t quite official yet, although it appears that the consensus is that it’s a four-year deal with a cap hit a bit under $5 million per season.

Aaron Ward reports that it’s $4.625 million per year, although there might be some fluidity to that exact number.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks backs that up:

Even if Kreider experiences peaks and valleys from a production standpoint, this continues the Rangers’ run of getting good deals on RFAs. Whether they inspire loyalty or merely drive a hard bargain, they tend to keep their homegrown guys for reasonable prices (while breaking the bank for big names with sometimes iffy results).

Kreider is 25, so this deal eats up a healthy chunk of UFA potential.

Echoing Leonard’s point, Brooks believed that Kyle Palmieri could serve as a comparable for Kreider, yet Kreider took one few year and $4.625 million to Palmieri’s $4.65 million.

(Of course, that could be to Kreider’s advantage if the cap climbs in the future and he ends up signing a well-timed deal then.)

The Rangers initially faced five possible arbitration hearings, but now only Kevin Hayes remains, with that scheduled for July 27.

It’s not a big surprise to see most of these hearings being avoided. Feelings can be hurt in many of those cases.

A buyers’ market is bad news for veteran free agents

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Florida Panthers skates out to face the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Panthers 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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If you’ve followed NHL off-seasons in the past several years, you’ve likely encountered certain tropes:

  • A player coming off of an injury-ravaged season is now in “the best shape of his life.”
  • Some guy on a bad team is super-optimistic about a playoff run this time around, everyone. (Taylor Hall mastered these proclamations before his naivete was shattered.)
  • After big names and trendy positional guys grab the mammoth deals in free agency, we start to see who’s losing this game of musical chairs.

Are we already at that point for mid-level, veteran free agents?

Josh Jooris gave that impression when he spoke to the Calgary Herald about signing with the New York Rangers.

“There’s still players on the market and teams are making decisions,” Jooris said. “It’s a buyers’ market so, at that point, the players don’t really have much pull. I wanted to get something done sooner rather than later.”

Good thinking, because time equals lost money for many free agents.

Losing the waiting game

Look at last summer, when guys like Curtis Glencross and Maxim Lapierre retired or went overseas after seeing their options rapidly evaporate. Lee Stempniak played great hockey even after having to carve out his own spot with a PTO.

Every year, it seems like highly overqualified players need to beg for roster spots.

It’s plausible that a dry market increased Brad Richards‘ odds of retiring, too.

When you look at a list of unrestricted free agents, it’s not exactly like there are only table scraps remaining, especially for teams that might be willing to forgive some flaws to grab some bargains.

Plenty of interesting names remaining

Yes, the likes of James Wisniewski and Dennis Seidenberg have seen better days, yet the desperate rush for defensemen makes you wonder if they can still land a decent payday.

Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler languished in their contract years, yet they both were prominent scorers. At 32, Hudler in particular seems like he should be able to find a nice home.

The way things are going, Kris Russell may stand above everyone else as the person who bluffed one too many times in the poker game of free agency.

(General Fanager’s list is handy for looking over other solid names waiting for a gig.)

Demanding times for those in low demand

Some of those guys might just need to ask for a little less money or term. Still, it’s not the greatest sign when The Hockey News is already listing five players who might have to battle for jobs at training camp.

It’s not even August yet. Yikes.

Again, this isn’t really a new thing. A salary cap that keeps limping along has been hurting free agents for some time. Such stories have been rolling in to PHT since the earliest days, too.

There are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases, offers become less desirable as time marches on.

Generally speaking, the real losers of free agency are the players waiting on the sidelines.

Leafs give Auston Matthews a fully loaded rookie deal

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews celebrates onstage with Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello after being selected first overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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If Lou Lamoriello really was playing hard ball with Auston Matthews, give 2016’s first overall pick credit for hitting it out of the park.

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they signed the rookie forward to a three-year entry-level contract on Thursday.

While the team didn’t lay out the specifics of the deal, it sounds like Matthews got exactly the sort of deal he wanted … at least when you consider the stringent ceiling presented by rookie maximum rules in the CBA.

Any issues with Lamoriello were downplayed. Maybe it was just out of habit for the former New Jersey Devils GM?

For what it’s worth, Lamoriello brushed off any speculation.

It’s possible that most of Toronto’s work is done, at least for this off-season:

Nathan Horton‘s $5.3 million cap hit and Stephane Robidas‘ $3 million mark could both go on LTIR, depending upon the Maple Leafs’ needs, so that number is a little fluid.

The bottom line is that Matthews isn’t breaking the bank. The question is: can the Leafs improve fast enough to truly benefit from the star American forward essentially being underpaid during this entry-level deal?

In other Maple Leafs news, old banners are being replaced. Almost feels like a changing of the guard, huh?

Report: Islanders ponder leaving Brooklyn, building arena near Mets

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 22:  New York Islanders partners Scott Malkin (L) and Jon Ledecky (R) answer reporters questions during a press conference at Nassau Coliseum on October 22, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky insists that Brooklyn is “our home,” but the Barclays Center’s issues still seem to prompt doubts about the future.

The latest report is that the Islanders “are in talks” with New York Mets executives to build a hockey arena in Queens, next to Citi Field, according to Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick.

There’s no word on how far along such discussions are, although Soshnick’s sources said the Islanders and Mets have been talking for “months.”

More than a few people view this as the Islanders using such threats to leverage improvements at Barclays, as the Islanders’ first season drew complaints about transportation to the arena, obstructed views for seats and choppy ice during games.

Puck Daddy points out that the Islanders can opt out of their lease after the 2018-19 season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a Queens-area building alongside the Mets stands as merely one of several rumored options.

There have already been a few:

This provides plenty of time for people to make fun of the situation, too.

Hey, you can’t expect to develop a world-class free agent destination without a world-class building, right?

Reilly Smith thinks he’s found a home with Panthers

DENVER, CO - MARCH 03:  Reilly Smith #18 of the Florida Panthers controls the ball against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on March 3, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Panthers 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Reilly Smith is still just 25, yet he isn’t that far removed from fears of traveling down the dreaded “journeyman” path.

He was at a fork in the road in 2015-16: either stick with the Florida Panthers after being traded from the Boston Bruins or find himself bouncing around the NHL some more.

(Heck, as Corey Crawford mentioned, ‘tweeners sometimes must even ponder leaving North America entirely.)

Smith was already on his third team when he joined the Panthers, but he made a big impression with the Cats. He generated a career-high with 25 goals, and maybe most importantly, wowed with eight points in six playoff contests.

The financial reward was significant: a five-year, $25 million contract extension.

It’s about more than just money, however.

Sticking with a team with such potential and chemistry – not to mention getting that security with a nice term – made the move a “no-brainer” for Smith, as he told the Miami Herald.

“I feel like I’ve found a home here in Florida,” Smith said.

“That means a lot. … I’m still fresh in my career, and I hope there’s a lot more good times still to come.”

With a modified no-trade clause, Smith also has some say regarding where he goes if the good times hit an abrupt stop.

The young forward has to feel pretty nice about being part of the core of this team as it pivots to a new direction. The front office staff changed in dramatic ways while Brian Campbell and other familiar faces were replaced by the likes of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

Smith and Vincent Trocheck really earned their spots in 2015-16, and they now enjoy life as established players.

Some are more convinced than others that this will all work out, but if nothing else, Smith has to be awfully happy at the moment.

What a difference a year makes …

Speaking of finding a home with the Panthers … Jonathan Racine hopes to eventually do so. He signed a one-year, two-way deal with the team today.