The bulk of the heavy lifting has been done for the Rangers and new GM Chris Drury as they have made several changes to their roster, adding plenty of grit along the way. They still have one RFA left to re-sign, however, in Libor Hajek but Mollie Walker of the New York Post reports that New York is closing in on a deal with the defenseman.
The 23-year-old was one of the pieces that went to the Rangers as part of the deal that saw Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller go to Tampa Bay back at the 2018 trade deadline. At the time, Hajek was in the middle of wrapping up a strong junior career and it looked like he might be a prospect that could be a long-term piece for New York.
While he’s still young enough to change his fortunes, that hasn’t quite happened yet. Hajek played in 44 games with the Rangers last season but in a limited role, averaging just over 15 minutes per game while predominantly being on their third pairing. His waiver exemption allowed him to be shuffled to the taxi squad and after working his way back up to the big club in February, he was sent down another 13 times through the season for cap purposes.
With his limited role, it’s hard to see Hajek landing much more than the value of his qualifying offer last month, one that was worth just over $874K. He isn’t waiver-exempt anymore which makes a proposal of a lower NHL salary than the qualifier in exchange for a higher AHL salary – a common contract we’ve seen with some restricted free agents this summer – less palatable but it’s a deal that should be fairly simple to hammer out. With the bigger moves now complete, Drury can focus on getting Hajek re-signed, a move that appears to be coming sooner than later.