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.
Mike Richter wouldn’t be surprised to see Henrik Lundqvist perform like an elite goaltender for several more seasons. But the Rangers legend also said The King’s reign could end much sooner than even he realizes.
“No one knows that, and least of all Henrik. He doesn’t know that and he can’t control that,” Richter said of the 36-year-old. “Some people can go on for another five or 10 years at a high level at the goaltending position. Other people fall off a cliff.”
Over the past two seasons, Lundqvist’s Hall of Fame numbers have dropped significantly. Two seasons ago, he posted a 2.74 goals-against-average. He followed that with a 2.98 last season — a 2.48 GAA in 2015-16 was his previous career-worst — while failing in back-to-back seasons to record a save percentage of at least .920 for the first time since 2008-09.
With last season’s veteran sell-off, Lundqvist may find even less defensive support this coming season, but Richter doesn’t see the Rangers in traditional rebuilding mode.
“Clearly the Rangers aren’t starting from scratch. They have one of the best goalies in the world in the net,” Richter said. “They felt the window close with the veterans that they had. They had to start anew. … They should be commended for saying, ‘We’re not just good with making the playoffs. We’re not good with getting to the conference final. We want to win the Cup.’
“Across the league, a lot of people are looking at what just happened with Vegas, and you can’t start more from scratch than that.”
Though Lundqvist holds several significant franchise records, he seems further than ever from holding the Stanley Cup, which Richter helped bring to the Rangers in 1994.
But the retired lifelong Ranger doesn’t think the current face of the franchise needs to leave New York to earn the elusive title.
“Take the great young talent that he’ll be surrounded with here and mold it into something that understands how to be a champion,” Richter said. “Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, they all had to learn that at some point in their life, and when you have good leadership you can.”
Regarding the Rangers, I am reminded of Joe Namath’s tale of his first meeting with Bear Bryant. As a high-school recruit, Joe Willie has related many times, he was invited to ascend the tower from which the fabled Alabama coach oversaw practice.
The quarterback admitted he could barely understand Bryant through the coach’s pronounced southern drawl. Except for one word.
As in, “Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble STUD … mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD …”
STUDS to the left, STUDS to the right, and a STUD right there in the tower standing beside the Bear in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but no studs at all on the Rangers. A new coach is coming, a new culture is waiting to be created, a blue wave of prospects and draft picks is on the way, but it’s that STUD or two the Blueshirts so desperately miss and require in order to make a quick U-turn on 2017-18.
It turns out breaking up was not hard to do for this group of Blueshirts, many of them transients who came through the door after the previous breakup days that marked the season. The Rangers pretty much started talking about the season in the past tense once management issued its decree on Feb. 9 that the deadline would be about tearing down rather than building up.
Their play did all the talking necessary most of the rest of the way.
By the time the official breakup day arrived, it felt as if the Rangers had been through a number of these already, like when Rick Nash left, and Michael Grabner left, and Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller left. They seemed traumatized by the whole experience. That, I think, explains the players’ utter lack of emotion in reaction to the firing of Alain Vigneault three days earlier. By the time Tuesday rolled around, Vigneault seemed like old news and most of his guys — Nash, Grabner, McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Derick Brassard — were long gone.
Kevin Shattenkirk produced the most noteworthy take on the season, suggesting the room had lacked veteran voices demanding accountability while admitting that his early-season issues regretfully had prevented him from assuming that leadership role.
Shattenkirk, who was out of the room for good after the Jan. 18 match that preceded knee surgery, is one of the Rangers who is least likely to be traded this summer. Make a list and it is: 1. Henrik Lundqvist; 2. Filip Chytil; 3. Chris Kreider; 4. Lias Andersson; 5. Brady Skjei; 6. Pavel Buchnevich; 7. Shattenkirk; 8. Mika Zibanejad; 9. Kevin Hayes.
But if somehow a STUD becomes available — if somehow, some general manager is looking to move, say, the equivalent of Taylor Hall — then everyone on this list excluding Lundqvist and Chytil would become fair game. If a top-pair right defenseman becomes available — say maybe Jacob Trouba or Dougie Hamilton — again everyone other than the Swedish goaltender and the Czech kid center would be on the board.
There is, of course, a Nine Percent Solution to the Rangers’ issues, and that is the nine percent chance the club has of winning the April 28 lottery drawing and coming away with the grand prize in projected franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD.
The last time the Rangers had this good of a chance to emerge with the first-overall pick was 2005, when the team had a 6.3 percent chance to claim Sidney Crosby. The Blueshirts had the same chance as the Penguins, Sabres and Blue Jackets in the universal lottery that followed the canceled 2004-05 season. Nobody had as good or better chance than those four teams.
The Rangers came away with the 16th choice in the first round (before trading up to 12 to snare Marc Staal), Buffalo 13th, Columbus sixth, and, Pittsburgh, grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble, STUD.
Shattenkirk, whom the Rangers desperately need to be the player they believed they were getting when they signed him July 1, cited the Devils, Maple Leafs and Bruins as examples of teams that were able to pull off dramatic turnarounds. But New Jersey missed the playoffs for five straight seasons before this year and the Maple Leafs missed 10 out of 11 until last season.
Boston, out twice in a row before last season following a run of seven straight qualifying seasons that included a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and a losing trip to the final two years later, probably is the template for the Rangers. But they struck it rich only after replacing successful veteran coach Claude Julien with young Bruce Cassidy out of the AHL and only after
Brad Marchand turned into a, mumble, grumble, STUD beside another one in Patrice Bergeron.
So the mandate for 2018-19 is for the Rangers to find one or develop one of their own, so that next year breaking up is harder to do.
The New York Rangers were without assistant coach Lindy Ruff for the team’s Wednesday night game after he suffered a concussion during Tuesday’s practice.
Ruff was injured when he fell and hit his head on the ice. In addition to the concussion, the veteran coach also had a gash on the back of his head.
“We’re not sure if he stepped on a puck or a puck hit him, but he hit his head on the ice,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had to take him off the ice. He went to the hospital. He’s got a pretty big gash with some stitches in the back of his head. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion, so he’s going to be out for a couple of days. He should be back (Thursday) and fine. I talked to him (Tuesday) night, I talked to him again (Wednesday). He’s back to his perky self. He was just a little dazed yesterday. It was just an unfortunate accident.”
Ruff, a defensive assistant with the Rangers, has previously spent 15 years as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres and four years as the Dallas Stars‘ head coach.