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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.

Rangers give Brady Skjei Tom Wilson money, basically

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The New York Rangers avoided what could have been a tricky salary arbitration case by signing Brady Skjei to a six-year contract on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Skjei’s cap hit will be $5.25 million per season.

Hockey Twitter is still probably batting the Tom Wilson contract around as we speak – spoiler: it’s about as divisive as the pesty player himself – so it only seems natural to compare Skjei’s contract to that of Wilson. Even if it wasn’t fresh on the mind, the parallels would be tough to dismiss, because they’re very similar.

Wilson: six years, $31M ($5,166,666 per season).
Skjei: six years, $31.5M ($5.25M per season).

So yeah, as you can see, it’s a $500K difference over the life of the contract. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are related in anyway, but their proximity to each other makes it difficult not to make the comparison (and, if you’re the type, to make unflattering jokes for one or both sides).

The parallels pretty much stop at the contracts, though. Skjei is a big, talented defenseman who’s already shown some possession prowess, although the 23-year-old has enjoyed some cushy zone starts at times. Kevin Shattenkirk was by far his most common defensive partner at even strength last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. If that stands and Shattenkirk is more effective as a healthier player, it would be reasonable to expect better results from Skjei as well.

Even if he’s already close to his ceiling instead of just scratching the surface, Skjei’s already shown signs of promise, and potential to meet or exceed the value of his new contract. He scored 39 points during what was his first, impressive full season in the NHL in 2016-17, and while his numbers slipped a bit in 2017-18 (25 points in 82 games), there were still things to like.

Personally, this seems like a very good – maybe great – value, as strong top-four defensemen (and possibly suitable top pairing ones) are only going to get more expensive as the years go on and the salary cap increases.

It’s worth noting that some are higher on Skjei than others, and it’s not merely a fancy stats vs. “old-school” divide.

Remarkably, this $5.25M clip only makes Skjei the Rangers’ third-most expensive defenseman from an AAV standpoint.

Via Cap Friendly, the Rangers are spending about $25M on their defensemen in 2018-19, although that could slip a bit if they demote one of the eight listed to the AHL. Either way, it’s an expensive group, with Shattenkirk ($6.65M through 2020-21) and Marc Staal ($5.7M through 2020-21) making more than Skjei, while Brendan Smith isn’t too far behind at $4.35M through 2020-21.

It’s fair to say that, while Shattenkirk could easily turn things around – again, he was dealing with a bum wheel last season – the Rangers can’t be very happy with most of that defense spending as an openly rebuilding team. You wonder if they might try to throw an asset or two to another team (not unlike GMs liquidating assets by trading them to the Coyotes) to get rid of Staal and/or Smith. That could be especially prudent if the Rangers hope to make this a quick reset rather than a rebuild, as that cap space could theoretically go to Artemi Panarin and other hot-ticket items.

(How would Erik Karlsson or Ryan Ellis look in a Rangers sweater? Asking for a cigar-chomping friend.)

Whatever course the Rangers take, Skjei seems like he’s part of the solution, and this is a smart contract. In fact, it’s probably the best long-term deal the franchise currently has on the books, although Mika Zibanejad would spin a different story.

And, yes, it’s a better bet than giving nearly the same deal to Tom Wilson. Sorry, passionate Caps fans.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers

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[WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers]

Projected Lines

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards

Claude GirouxSean CouturierMichael Raffl

Oskar LindblomNolan Patrick – Jake Voracek

Travis KonecnyValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Scott LaughtonJori LehteraMatt Read

Defense

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting Goalie: Brian Elliott

[NHL On NBCSN: Flyers look to clinch playoff spot against Rangers]

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadRyan Spooner

Jimmy VeseyFilip ChytilMats Zuccarello

Vladislav NamestnikovKevin HayesPavel Buchnevich

Paul Carey –  Lias AnderssonPeter Holland

Defense

Marc StaalNeal Pionk

BradySkjei – Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour – Rob O’Gara

Starting Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

————

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.

Lundqvist, rebuilding Rangers brace for rough road ahead

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WASHINGTON — Henrik Lundqvist got an early glimpse into the New York Rangers’ rebuilding future.

It’s not pretty.

Lundqvist roiled with frustration after a rookie defensemen left an opponent wide open for a tying goal that led to New York’s 44th loss of a lost season. As Zen-like as he was earlier in the day about the new organizational direction toward youth and away from trying to win now, the face of the franchise for more than a decade was bothered by a mistake caused by inexperience that’s sure to be repeated over the coming years.

”So frustrating,” Lundqvist said.

When general manager Jeff Gorton committed the Rangers to a roster refresh that laid waste to 2018 playoff hopes and set the stage for pain that could last longer than Lundqvist’s prime, the star goaltender battled his own internal conflict. The 36-year-old from Sweden had never played in an NHL game with no chance of making the playoffs.

”As a competitor, you want to win, and I never experienced that before where you’re like, ‘We can’t go for this,”’ Lundqvist said Wednesday, hours after the Rangers were eliminated from contention but several weeks since it became clear they wouldn’t make the postseason. ”It was definitely a new experience. But we’re all on board in this.”

Lundqvist and his veteran Rangers teammates have two choices: get on board or be tossed overboard. When it became apparent this team didn’t have the stuff to compete for the Stanley Cup, Gorton traded captain Ryan McDonagh and forwards Rick Nash, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner before the deadline and set a course for the future.

With three years left on Lundqvist’s contract at $8.5 million per season, how far away that future is remains painfully unclear. After 11 playoff appearances and a trip to the final with Lundqvist as the backbone, the Rangers may not get within reach of the Cup in his prime or even his career – but even current players see the need for change.

”I think it’s good for this organization to get some fresh air and some new young players and go from there,” 30-year-old winger Mats Zuccarello said. ”But it’s going to be a process.”

The process began last summer with the trade of veteran center Derek Stepan to Arizona for the seventh overall pick that turned into Lias Andersson and the selection of Filip Chytil later in the first round. Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei are young building blocks already in place, and there’s hope that free agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk and trade acquisition Vladislav Namestnikov become part of the long-term solution.

When the Rangers played at Washington on Wednesday night in their first game with no hope of playoffs since 2004, they dressed 15 players age 26 and younger. New York’s future is its present, which can mean blunders like Neal Pionk‘s missed assignment in front, along with the excitement and potential of prospects like the 22-year-old defenseman, Andersson and Chytil.

”When you see the progress of the group, especially the young players, that gives you hope for what’s ahead of us,” Lundqvist said.

With a full no-movement clause and the equity he has built up with the Rangers, Lundqvist can choose his future. Others, like Zuccarello and coach Alain Vigneault, aren’t so fortunate.

In February, when he announced plans to go young, Gorton didn’t want to answer a question about whether Vigneault would be back next season other than to praise his coaching and say, ”We’re all responsible in some way here for what we’re seeing.” This spring will be the first time in a decade Vigneault hasn’t coached in the playoffs, a tough turn for the 56-year-old who almost certainly will be behind an NHL bench somewhere next season.

”A tough decision was made for the long-term future of this organization and you have to respect it and you have to do your jobs,” Vigneault said Wednesday. ”That’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what my staff is trying to do and that’s what the players are trying to do.”

Try as they might to focus on the final few games of the season, the Rangers feel the threat of drastic change that hangs over them. Lundqvist said ”now is not the time” to talk about the bumpy road ahead.

Describing one of the most successful runs in franchise history, Zuccarello used words like lucky, fortunate and even spoiled. In a sport with a salary cap, it’s difficult to remain among the top teams for even this long, and now everyone is bracing for the uncertainty of what’s next.

”This is a new situation for most of the guys that have been here for a while, but you have to buy in, you know?” Zuccarello said. ”It is what it is. It’s nothing you can do about it. … Hopefully I have some good years – five, six good years – left and can be part of the rebuild and come to the good times again.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Rangers at Capitals

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[CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE]

PROJECTED LINES

New York Rangers

Chris Kreider / Mika Zibanejad / Jesper Fast

Kevin Hayes / Filip Chytil / Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey / Lias Andersson / Ryan Spooner

Cody McLeod / Vladislav Namestnikov / Pavel Buchnevich

Marc Staal / Neal Pionk

Brady Skjei / Ryan Sproul

John Gilmour / Rob O'Gara

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Rangers – Capitals preview]

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Evgeny Kuznetsov / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Nicklas Backstrom / T.J. Oshie

Shane Gersich / Lars Eller / Devante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Alex Chiasson

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Brooks Orpik / Christian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby