The New York Rangers have avoided arbitration once again, this time signing Ryan Spooner to a two-year contract. Spooner was scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Saturday August 4th. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the deal will carry an average annual value of $4MM.
Spooner, 26, had just one year of restricted free agency remaining meaning that the Rangers have bought out one of his UFA seasons. That’s a different tact than was taken with Kevin Hayes, who signed for just one season and immediately became the target of trade speculation. Spooner, who only came to the Rangers a few months ago as part of the package exchanged for Rick Nash, actually fit into the lineup quite well and registered 16 points in 20 games down the stretch. While part of that is due to the increased role he was given on a team out of the playoff race, there has always been good offensive potential in Spooner just waiting to really be taken advantage of.
Even with the added year, Spooner will continue to be a trade possibility for the Rangers. As the team continues to try and get younger and faster, his pending unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2020 makes him a prime target as a deadline acquisition in February. Teams often like to get an extra year of control, but at $4MM we’ll have to wait and see what kind of market develops. Spooner isn’t recognized as a defensively responsible forward, though that may be overlooked with enough offensive production this season. If he’s given prime powerplay opportunities and is lined up at the wing in New York’s top-six, there is a very real chance he could surpass his career high of 49 points.
For New York, that would be a dream scenario as they look to cash in on as many assets as possible. Spooner, Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey could all be valuable to the right buyer, and aren’t signed past the 2019-20 season. In fact, no forward on the roster except for Mika Zibanejad has a contract that extends for more than two years—not counting young players like Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, who haven’t guaranteed themselves a spot just yet—meaning the Rangers are almost completely free of long-term commitments. That’s a key part of what could be a quick rebuild in New York, as they hope for the next generation of prospects to lead them back to the playoffs in short order.
With Spooner’s arbitration case resolved, the Rangers will receive a second buyout window in which they could potentially create even more cap flexibility by ridding themselves of Brendan Smith or Marc Staal. Both defensemen have declined rapidly in recent years, but are tough buyout candidates given their front-loaded contracts. More likely the Rangers will just ride out the next few years with them and hope they can attract a buyer near the end of their contracts (though both hold trade protection). While the team doesn’t expect to contend this season, the 2020-21 season may be a different story.