Where Rangers stand on four key players as arbitration hits

Where Rangers stand on four key players as arbitration hits

The next step in negotiations for the Rangers and their large group of restricted free agents took place Thursday, when forwards Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Ryan Spooner, along with defenseman Brady Skjei, filed for salary arbitration before the 5 p.m. deadline.

It’s unlikely any of them will get to an actual arbitration hearing, but if so, a third party will hear the cases from both sides and make a ruling on either one- or two-year deals.

In the past, the Rangers have managed to get a new deal done before reaching the hearing. The most recent time any Blueshirts went through with it were Sean Avery and Nikolay Zherdev in 2007.

All four Rangers who filed are still able to be traded and that is where the most intrigue lies, especially with Hayes. The 26-year-old center could fetch quite a bit in return, and that could save the Rangers from having to give him a long-term deal at market value, around a $6 million annual salary-cap hit. Spooner, the 26-year-old who came to the Rangers in the February deadline deal that sent Rick Nash to Boston, also could draw some outside interest, especially as part of a package deal.

General manager Jeff Gorton is more apt to try to lock up Skjei on a long-term deal. The 24-year-old has shown glimpses of being an elite defenseman, but had a difficult 2017-18 season — as did a lot of players on the Rangers, who declared their decision to rebuild in a letter to the fans on Feb. 8. It also makes sense Gorton would give Vesey a short-term deal to allow the 25-year-old a chance to bounce back after a disappointing second NHL season.

Now that the four have filed, they are considered to be signed players. That only means they can’t receive the rarely used offer sheet from another team, which would put the Rangers in a tough spot, either having to match the offer or get some sort of compensation in return. The most recent time an NHL offer sheet was signed was by Ryan O’Reilly in 2013, and the most recent time an offer wasn’t matched by the original team was Dustin Penner in 2007.

Three Rangers RFA’s with arbitration rights — John Gilmour, Rob O’Gara and Boo Nieves — did not file. They were given qualifying offers, meaning if they turn them down, the Rangers still retain their negotiating rights. The Rangers can also file for arbitration against them by Friday at 5 p.m., although it doesn’t seem advantageous either way.

Sniping Rangers prospect steals the show at camp scrimmage

Sniping Rangers prospect steals the show at camp scrimmage

Prospect camp scrimmages are prospect camp scrimmages, but Rangers free-agent signee Ville Meskanen had an impressive morning, sniping a pair before getting one in the shootout.

The 22-year-old Finn, who recorded 44 points (24-20) in 48 games for Ilves, is a candidate to earn a spot with a Rangers team that seems to be shy of scorers on the wing.

“The way he can spin around in the slot and snipe it, that’s not easy to do,” said Gordie Clark, Rangers director of player personnel. “He’s got a lot of talent. It’s the same thing, with him though. His body has to catch up.”

The Blueshirts, we have learned, did inquire about Adam Fox before the Harvard junior defenseman’s rights went to Carolina from Calgary as part of the Dougie Hamilton-Noah Hanifin swap, but the price was too high.

The Rangers have interest in a reunion with impending free agent Michael Grabner, but won’t get into a bidding war to sign No. 40. General manager Jeff Gorton is an interested third-party to the John Tavares sweeps, with the Blueshirts having ample cap space with which to help Tampa Bay, Toronto and Dallas if one of those clubs is able to convince the captain to depart the Island.

Islanders draft pick: Rangers will regret passing on me

Islanders draft pick: Rangers will regret passing on me

The debate of Vitali versus Ollie could rage across the East River for years to come.

Two high first-round picks, Vitali Kravtsov to the Rangers at No. 9 and Oliver Wahlstrom to the Islanders at No. 11, have already sparked inevitable comparisons after they were taken in last weekend’s draft in Dallas. Wahlstrom was supposed to go in or near the top five, while Kravtsov was expected to go between picks Nos. 10 and 20.

And Wahlstrom has made it clear he took notice of all those teams that passed on him — especially the one from Manhattan.

“I think the New York Rangers made a mistake there,” Wahlstrom said after the team’s first day of prospect development camp on Long Island on Tuesday. “It’s fine. I’m just really happy to be with the Islanders. I just have to stick to my gut and work hard. I’m not focusing on anyone else in the draft other than my team here, my organization here. So I’m very excited.”

Wahlstrom, 18, is from Massachusetts — his mother is from Sweden — and is considered a big-time goal scorer. Playing in the U.S. development program this past season, he had 48 goals and 94 points in 64 games. He has committed to play at Boston College in the fall.

Kravtsov is the 18-year-old Russian winger whom the Rangers had ranked as the second best forward in the whole draft, behind only Andrei Svechnikov, who went No. 2 to the Hurricanes. He has one more year left on his contract in the KHL, where he has excelled playing against older players. This season he tallied the most postseason points (six goals and 11 points in 16 games) in league history for a player under 20 years old.

Vitali KravtsovNHLI via Getty Images

The plan was for Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to sit down with Kravtsov’s agent at the end of their prospect camp this week in Westchester and discuss the possibility of buying the contract out and getting him to North America this season.

“I can tell you that in our conversations with him and his agent, he does want to be over here sooner than later,” Gorton said Monday. “We’re going to watch him closely this week and see what our options are going to be there. I’m not going to rule anything out right now. He’s a really talented kid, but he’s a kid. So we’ll see where he’s going to be.”

Though Kravtsov didn’t exactly make any proclamation like Wahlstrom, he is not short on confidence, either. When asked if he could end up being like Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov — whom so many have compared him to — Kravtsov went one step further.

“Development can be very rapid,” he said through an interpreter, “and by the end of that process you can be as good, or sometimes better, depending on what you do during that process of development.”

It’s understandable that a teenager who has been fawned over for the past few months comes into his first NHL experience feeling pretty good about himself. If Kravtsov does show well this week and both parties decide he is best suited over here this season, then he would be looking at a Rangers roster designed to give opportunity to young players.

“I will do everything I can to play as soon as I can,” Kravtsov said.

Wahlstrom is in a bit of a different situation, as the Islanders continue to eagerly await the decision of captain John Tavares, who kept hearing pitches from possible free-agent suitors Tuesday in Los Angeles before he can hit the open market Sunday. Tavares’ decision will color how they approach free agency and what the Isles’ roster will look like come training camp.

Either way, Wahlstrom is still likely to go to Boston College and keep developing. So although any rivalry with Kravtsov might not come to fruition for a while, the comparison won’t go away any time soon.

“I look at what you do after the draft,” Wahlstrom said. “That’s the most important thing. I could care less one way or the other where I go in the draft. If it’s first round, second round, third round, it’s all about what you do after, develop yourself and get yourself ready for the NHL.”

Rangers have some free-agent chips ahead of NHL draft

Rangers have some free-agent chips ahead of NHL draft

DALLAS — Jeff Gorton was not really entertaining the idea spewed by a few outsiders that the Rangers aren’t fully committed to this rebuild. Instead, the Blueshirts’ general manager made it very clear on the eve of the NHL entry draft Thursday night that the focus is strictly on the future, just as it has been since the infamous letter to the fans back on Feb. 8.

“The draft, you think about the future,” Gorton said after he left the GM meetings. “If so be it and somebody ends up on our team next year, that’d be great next year. But we’re trying to find the best players for a long period of time. So I think in particular for [Friday] for the draft, we’re thinking about the future, not this season.”

Mind you, it’s not as if Gorton is going to turn his phone off and plug his ears when offers are coming his way. For the first time in a long time, the Rangers are actually stocked with draft picks, starting with three in the first round.

It starts with No. 9 overall, the pick they earned for missing the playoffs this past season for the first time in seven years. They then move on to No. 26 (from Boston in the Rick Nash trade) and No. 28 (from Tampa Bay in the Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller trade). Gorton also has two apiece in both the second and third rounds, taking place Saturday morning, with those seven picks holding quite a bit of value on the draft floor when GMs start getting antsy about losing players that they have targeted.

Vladislav Namestnikov looks to avoid a lunging T.J. Oshie last season.AP

“We’re going to investigate everything,” Gorton said. “That’s what the job is, that’s what we want to do. If there’s an opportunity to get a player and the price wasn’t too high, then we’re going to look at it.

“But for anybody that would be skeptical of the rebuild, all you have to do is look at the last several of months and the trade deadline and some of the things we’ve done. I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re trying to get a lot of young players and assets and we’re trying to get better and give these players opportunity.”

In addition to all the draft picks, Gorton has a bevy of young, restricted free agents who could draw quite a bit of interest, especially if they are part of a package. That starts with 26-year-old center Kevin Hayes, who is coming off a two-year, $5.2 million deal that carried an annual cap hit of $2.6 million. At 6-foot-5, Hayes is a presence down the middle, with hands and vision that would make him a good supplemental piece on a good team. He also embraced the role as a shut-down pivot this season under former coach Alain Vigneault, showing a versatility that had been previously lacking.

The other RFA likely to be dangled is Vladislav Namestnikov, who was underwhelming once he came over from the Lightning and was taken away from the line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. At 25 years old, his numbers — 22 goals, 48 points — might get someone to bite on his upside.

The best RFA the Rangers have is 24-year-old defenseman Brady Skjei, but even coming off a disappointing sophomore season, it would likely take a very good return for him to be offered in any package.

Surely Gorton also will listen to offers for the remaining members of that restricted group, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey and John Gilmour, but their outside value might not add up to what their (affordable) potential with the Rangers could be next season. Gorton said every restricted free agent was given a qualifying offer except minor-leaguer Adam Tambellini.

With rookie NHL head coach David Quinn set to take over, this is a major year of transition for the Rangers. And what Gorton does over the next two days will continue to show his focus on the future of the organization.

“A lot of opportunity to make our team better for the future and build [with the] pieces that we need,” he said. “It’s a vital time for us.”

Veteran amateur scout Elmer Benning ready to get back in game

Veteran amateur scout Elmer Benning ready to get back in game

The great amateur scout Elmer Benning, who has worked for the Montreal Canadiens for nearly 50 years, is just back from a clinic in Mexico, hoping to slow his prostate cancer, so won’t be at the NHL draft on June 22-23 in Dallas.

But he’s anxiously waiting to see what name his employer calls at No. 3.

Who are they taking?

“I didn’t ask, I don’t want to know. I might tell somebody,” laughed Benning.

His travel-weary Camry, which traversed snowy roads in Saskatchewan and Alberta, has been retired even if its owner hasn’t after, “a million, three thousand clicks.” He gave it to his mechanic for a dollar and then it was moved to a Toyota dealership on Calgary Trail where it sits proudly with a new paint job in a large indoor showroom.

“It had some rust spots but nothing was a disaster,” Benning said.

Son Brian gave him a nice Lexus to drive, but Benning also has a Chevy with 350,000 clicks on it, which might be his new travelling baby.

“But I don’t think I’ll get to a million with that one,” he said.

It was Elmer, 77, who quietly pushed for Carey Price in 2005, not that he’ll ever tell you that because blowing his horn has never been his thing. But he didn’t care that picking a goalie at No. 5 seemed a bit of a reach. And he was right, of course.

He also had a soft spot one year for a huge, raw kid named Dustin Byfuglien and when asked along with other Montreal scouts to go to bat for a long-shot in the later rounds, called out his name.

But, Chicago Blackhawks got Big Buff, instead, at No. 245 in 2003. Montreal had the 241st pick that year, taking Montreal Rocket fighter Jimmy Bonneau.

Benning has always had an abiding interest in the draft selection process more than most talent-evaluators, of course. Sons Jim and Brian were first and second-round picks in the 1980s, and grandson Matt a sixth-rounder six years ago.

And none went to Montreal. Like, where’s his pull?

Jim, the Vancouver Canucks general manager, went sixth to Toronto in 1981. Brian, who owns an Interstate Battery franchise, went 26th to St. Louis in 1984, just into the second-round. Matt, the Oilers defenceman, was the 175th name called in 2012 by Boston, out of Northeastern University.

“I never asked why my children or grandchildren didn’t get drafted by Montreal,” said Benning. “I didn’t go to the draft the year Jim was picked so didn’t sit in on their (scouts) meetings so didn’t know where he was rated. I don’t know if Montreal had a shot or not.”

Montreal were picking seventh that year and took winger Mark Hunter, the former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager.

“Brian went in the second round and missed half of his (draft) season because he broke his scaphoid (bone). Montreal took a feisty forward who played in Edmonton for a while (Shayne Corson, No. 7 overall) with their first pick,” said Benning.

In Round 2, Montreal didn’t select until 29th and got Stephane Richer.

“I was involved when Matt was drafted and can’t or won’t say he should have been picked by Montreal,” Benning said. “I gave my opinion of Matt but it’s not in my personality to go up to (head scout) Trevor (Timmins) and say, ‘why aren’t you taking my grandson?’ Every team had lots of time to take Matt higher.

“In Matt’s case when he became a free agent, six teams really wanted to sign him.”

Benning didn’t scout last winter because of his illness and watched Oilers games on TV, but hopes to scout the junior rinks this year, God willing, with some new treatment and a diet, which cuts out all sugar, white flour and salt.

“A weakness of mine has been desserts and I’m not ashamed to say it,” he said. “I can’t go to Costco and have a hot-dog anymore … no more fat foods. But how can you go wrong for a buck fifty?”

His health has been an issue for some time.

“I went to this cancer clinic May 8 and I’m not going to jump up and down and say they cured me but I feel a lot better, I’m a bit stronger and I have some hope now,” said Benning, who had treatments twice a day in Tijuana and is going back with nurse-wife Liz in three months for 10 days to see how things are. “I’m trying to buy a little time.”

Everybody misses his face. He belongs in arenas across the West, watching kids.

“I’ve really missed the rinks but Montreal has been good to me and I’m still employed by them,” Benning said. “The way I’m feeling now I can go (to hockey games).”

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