The New York Rangers have settled with Kevin Hayes prior to his arbitration hearing, but it’s not for a long-term deal. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Hayes has signed a one-year contract worth just over $5MM, which would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. Larry Brooks of the New York Post gives a bit of detail, reporting the deal is worth $5.125MM. Hayes was scheduled for an arbitration hearing on August 2nd, which only could have resulted in a one-year contract for the 26-year old.
Hayes is coming off a season in which he traded some point production for more goals, scoring a career-high 25 times but only registering 44 points. A very useful player for the team who can line up at wing or center, there was already plenty of reason to believe that the Rangers could be interested in trading him for the right price. The team has committed to getting younger and faster over the last year, and it wasn’t clear that Hayes really fit into that plan going forward. The team also has several interesting center prospects ready to take on bigger roles, and Mika Zibanejad still signed for another four years.
A deal of this sort gives Hayes a chance to impress early in the season with improved performance, but also puts him squarely in the crosshairs for a February trade. A player many teams would love to have for a late-season playoff push, if there’s no chance of a long-term deal the Rangers would be making a mistake by not moving him for a return as they recently did with Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Nick Holden. The team isn’t expected to really contend for the Stanley Cup again next season, but are building an incredible prospect pipeline in short order.
At a little over $5MM, Hayes is certainly an affordable target for teams at the deadline, especially if any of the salary has been given out as a signing bonus. With teams struggling to find center depth and willing to pay a premium for it when in a playoff race, the Rangers may have just secured themselves another nice package with very little risk. That’s assuming that the team doesn’t re-open extension talks in 2019, when the two sides will be able to negotiate. For now, all contract talks have to be put on hold until January since it is just a one-year deal.
With the earlier signing of Miikka Salomaki with the Nashville Predators, that leaves just six restricted free agents still scheduled for arbitration. One of those is Rangers’ forward Ryan Spooner, who is also only eligible for a one-year award given his age. The team, meanwhile, has quite a bit of cap space remaining even after adding Hayes big deal, and could take on some excess salary in trade if they are given the opportunity. For a team trying to complete a quick rebuild, getting assets by flexing their financial muscle is an easy way to speed up the process.