Rangers avoid arbitration with Kevin Hayes; stage set for deadline trade?

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The New York Rangers had four of their restricted free agents file for salary arbitration this summer.

They have now avoided arbitration with three of them.

After previously agreeing to terms with Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei, the Rangers announced on Monday evening that they have signed Kevin Hayes to a one-year contract that will reportedly pay him $5 million for the 2018-19 season.

Hayes, who just turned 26 a couple of months ago, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this upcoming season.

Given that it is only a one-year deal and that Hayes will be a UFA at the end of it it certainly creates the possibility for an in-season, deadline trade. Especially as the Rangers are clearly going through a rebuilding phase right now and Hayes could be an attractive target for contenders at the deadline. Hayes isn’t a superstar, but he is a solid middle-six player whose production has been remarkably consistent during the first four years of his career. You can pretty much pencil him in for around 15-20 goals and 45 points every year and strong 5-on-5 production.

If the Rangers instead elect to try and re-sign him before next July 1 it would almost certainly be an expensive investment given that his contract jumped up from $2.6 million over the past two seasons to more than $5 million for this season.

He is coming off of a 2017-18 performance that saw him record a career-high 25 goals while finishing with 44 total points (five behind his career high of 49) in 76 games. He finished second on the team in goals (behind only Mika Zibanejad) and third in total points (behind Mats Zuccarello and Zibanejad).

With Hayes, Vesey, and Skjei all signed the only remaining restricted free agent the Rangers have to deal with is Ryan Spooner, who they acquired at the trade deadline in the Rick Nash trade. He has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4. The Rangers and Spooner have already been working on a new contract and it would not be a surprise to see them avoid the hearing.

Related: Rangers give Brady Skjei Tom Wilson money, basically

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.