James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Kreider is part of the best thing going for the Rangers

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Much like the Montreal Canadiens with Carey Price, it’s true that, to some extent, the New York Rangers still go as far as Henrik Lundqvist can take them.

Still, this summer and Chris Kreider‘s new deal reminds us of one of the best things going for the Rangers: their young group of forwards.

As you can see here, Rick Nash and Tanner Glass are the only forwards above age 30 (both at 32).

New York got younger in its recent, splashy trade; Mika Zibanejad generates comparable production to Derick Brassard and is five years younger.

That move seems nice now (getting the better pick is quite the cherry on top), but it could look even better down the line.

The Rangers still eye a possible salary arbitration session for 24-year-old Kevin Hayes, who’s seen his ups and downs lately. Still, a core of Kreider (25), Derek Stepan (26), Zibanejad (23), J.T. Miller (23) and Mats Zuccarello (28) is nothing to sneeze at. Bonus points if Hayes breaks through.

Management added two 28-year-olds in Nathan Gerbe and Michael Grabner, so fresh legs abound in their forwards group.

The less-than-bright side is that Lundqvist may be flirting with a decline at 34, and that defensive group looks a little dicey these days.*

So, yes, there are some flaws … but the Rangers’ outlook seems brighter when you focus on that collection of prime-age forwards.

* – Although the picture would look an awful lot brighter if the Rangers went for Kevin Shattenkirk.

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

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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

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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

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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?