Larry Brooks had a lot to unpack in his Sunday Slapshots column. Besides the piece on Lou Lamoriello, which could have an impact on the Rangers due to what that could mean related to John Tavares’ pending free agency, Brooks covered several direct Blueshirts’ topics. Hard coach, pending RFAs and the need for a top-pair, right-handed defenseman all were fodder for Brooks this week.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but B.U. coach David Quinn remains a viable candidate to take over the Rangers, who wrapped up their organizational meetings Friday. It is believed GM Jeff Gorton is waiting to talk to coaches who are currently working in the playoffs (NHL or AHL) before reaching a decision.
Quinn’s in, he’s out and now back in again? Maybe Quinn along with Gorton doesn’t know what direction he wants to go. Coaches in the NHL must mean asssitant coaches, because it’s doubtful that any of the four head coaches left on the playoffs will be looking for new roles either voluntarily or not of their own volition. In terms of the AHL, Sheldon Keefe of Toronto, whose status may be impacted by the hiring of Kyle Dubas as Toronto GM, in is the Calder Cup Finals while no whispers have come out about anyone from the Phantoms being on the Rangers’ radar.
RFA and Top-Two Pairing, Right-handed Defenseman
The only way I’m trading Kevin Hayes or Mika Zibanejad is if a legit top-four righty defenseman (now or future) comes back in the deal. The Blueshirts would love to be able to pry Jacob Trouba out of Winnipeg, but the impending arbitration-eligible Group II free agent is probably out of reach.
Calgary appears to have a surplus of right defensemen and could use help in the middle. Dougie Hamilton is the big name who might be obtainable, but I wonder if the Rangers might not target 20-year-old Adam Fox, who will be a junior at Harvard, in talks with the Flames.
Fox, Calgary’s third-round, 66th-overall selection in the 2016 draft, was Ryan Lindgren’s partner with Team USA in the past two World Junior Championship tournaments. The 20-year-old Lindgren, obtained from Boston as part of the pre-deadline exchange for Rick Nash, played 10 games with the AHL Wolf Pack after leaving Minnesota following his sophomore season.
Hayes, one of a select few Blueshirts who matched or exceeded expectations last year, is arbitration-eligible and one year away from unrestricted free agency. It may take five years at around $4.5 million per to get him under contract.
The term ‘now or future’ could also apply to the draft. In the draft, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson are all ranked in the top-10 or so in the draft but I don’t know if am moving one of your top-two centers to potentially acquire one of those three, when I don’t believe any are sure-fire, top-four d-men. I understand that with the aforementioned top-two pivotman along with Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Vladislav Namestnikov, depth exists at center. But neither Andersson nor Chytil have shown yet that they can fill that type of role and it’s questionable as to whether Namestnikov will be back with the team next season. Now, if Winnipeg would move Trouba, the equation completely changes and that’s a move you make.
Hamilton is midway through the six-year, $34.5 million deal he said he’d with Calgary in June 2015. The Flames do have a solid blue line, at least on paper, because like the Rangers last season, the product on the ice didn’t match the expectations for the season. When Hamilton was dealt by Boston, it came as a surprise and mostly felt that the Bruins didn’t get enough. Now with the rumors that Calgary may deal Hamilton, questions have to be raised as to whether his production will ever match the talent many believe he is and maybe his defense has yet to or won’t catch up to his offense. To me, getting Hamilton is obtaining another Brady Skjei, who underachieved last season. I would prefer Trouba by a wide margin, and ask you, if Calgary wanted Zib or Hayes for Hamilton are you making that deal?
When New York was in the midst of their fire sale last season, Calgary was a possible trade target while the Flames remained in the race. I was all on board with getting Fox after seeing his play at the WJC. But not at the expense of Zib or Hayes. I would love to deal Nam for Fox but doubt Calgary would be interested in a move like that, even though the Flames need a 2c behind Sean Monahan.
I will discuss Hayes further in the future. But as I wrote after the season, he originally filled the role of a shut-down center pretty darn well. Then, he shifted back to a scoring center and started racking up points. The next step does Hayes is to combine the two roles at the same time and produce on both ends of the ice throughout at a game rather than switching on and off.
After collapsing the second half of the 2016-17 season, Hayes came to camp in much better and determined to make amends. Hayes has been target of jokes due to his laconic style of speaking, and at times, laid-back attitude. But I thought his game went to a new level last season. After making $2.6 million a year in his last deal following the expiration of his ELC, five years at $4.5 mil could very likely be viewed as a bargain in a few years.
I doubt that Ryan Spooner fits into the Blueshirts’ long-term plan. The winger, reasonably productive but a bit too perimeter-oriented for a team that wants to transform into more of a straight-line attack mode, is also arbitration-eligible and a year away from free agency.
To that end, it may be difficult to move Spooner, who went 4-12-16 in 20 games after coming to New York as part of the Nash deal, at the draft. The Rangers will have to decide whether to sign the winger for one year — probably for around $3.5 million — so he can be available as a trade-deadline rental or simply allow him to become a free agent by not qualifying him.
From watching Spooner, I didn’t think he was completely perimeter oriented and did show a desire and willingness to go to the net. When Spooner was brought in, the view appeared to be that he, Hayes and J.T. Miller were all very similar and one would have to go. Personally, I felt that line could be effective and it was the first game against Detroit, but Miller was gone the next day.
Much of Spooner’s production came early in his Rangers tenure. Seven points the first three games and 13 in the first eight. The joke circulating was that Spooner was scoring on instinct but just wait until he has to play AV’s system and then we will see what happens. Sure enough...well you can fill in the rest. Spooner made $2.825 mil last season. One year at $3.5 mil with a rising cap is a pretty good deal. I would be surprised if New York doesn’t qualify him with the only possible reason that other forwards were brought in and/or concern that his arb award would be too high for New York’s liking but below the walk-away point.