In a pretty big shift from expectations, Larry Brooks is reporting that the Rangers and pending UFAs Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes are engaging in contract extension talks. This comes in stark contrast to earlier reports where the Rangers had not reached out to either camp and trades were all but expected.
As we get closer to the deadline, the Rangers are playing better hockey of late. Zuccarello and Hayes have been a major part of this, as they represent one-half of the primary scoring for the Rangers. Hayes has had a great season, and Zuccarello has been on an absolute tear over the past month.
Both Hayes and Zuccarello are the big-ticket trade pieces that can bring back hauls for the Blueshirts at the deadline. However Bob McKenzie noted the other day that the Rangers aren’t necessarily getting the offers they may have wanted for Hayes, which may be the reason why the contract talks are starting up so late.
NYR getting good action on Zuccarello. Could go for a second rounder and a prospect perhaps. If the return on Kevin Hayes is soft, I could see NYR keeping him and trying to sign him. McQuad will go for at least what they gave up: 4th and 7th rders https://t.co/ngXvrZMBmU
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 14, 2019
In this scenario, the Rangers are not getting what they want for their prized UFA center, and this is likely because Ottawa screwed them in deadline talks again (last year it was Erik Karlsson kind of but not really being made available, impacting the Ryan McDonagh trade talks), with both Mark Stone and Matt Duchene available. Stone and Duchene are better than Hayes, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
For the Blueshirts, it’s a big decision to be made. Do they risk signing Hayes to a massive deal and getting nothing for him? Do they sign Zuccarello knowing that he’s already 30 years old? This certainly doesn’t scream rebuild. It screams half measures. But then again, is trading them worth a subpar return? After the public reaction of the McDonagh deal, Jeff Gorton may be getting cold feet.
There’s always the risky business of a trade and re-sign, but that’s not all that likely, especially in Hayes’ situation. Zuccarello has taken a hometown discount on his past two contracts, so it’s more likely with him.
If the Rangers decide to keep both, then something needs to be done to address the blue line and overall team forward depth. The Blueshirts would no longer be in rebuild mode. Just one year after the public letter to the fans as well. It’s not a certainty yet, but it is certainly a quick shift in organizational direction.
Of course, this could be a ploy by the Rangers. If they are negotiating with both on contract extensions, perhaps teams offer a little more to pry them away.