The New York Rangers are not out of the playoff hunt yet, but the outlook is not bright. They have not been bad enough to receive a prized pick in this offseason’s draft, but still not good enough to compete in the postseason.
This is a primary result of the team’s efforts to rebuild, but also a contributing factor as to why they’re largely considered to be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline. Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid have been at the forefront of trade rumors for months now. We are very close to finally learning what their fates may be.
If all of these players are traded before next Monday’s deadline, regardless of to whom, the Rangers must make it a priority not to burn bridges with them as they’re sent on their way.
Possible Return of Zuccarello & McQuaid, Not Hayes
If the Rangers play their cards right, they may be able to bring one or two of these players back to New York this offseason. While this may not be the most popular idea as it pertains to the rebuild, it nonetheless could still prove to be very beneficial.
There is an exception to this. Once Hayes is traded to a new team, the chance that he ever returns to the Rangers organization is next to none. One of the primary reasons behind the team’s desire to trade the big forward is the salary he will demand this offseason.
The Rangers valued Hayes in the $5 million per-season range last offseason. He is currently playing the best hockey of his career and will surely demand more than that, perhaps even closer to the $7 million range. Hayes has essentially performed his way out of a future with the Rangers.
Zuccarello, more so than any of the players on the Rangers’ trade block, has expressed an unwavering desire to remain a part of this organization. Despite his improved play of late, his performance has been lackluster this season, likely meaning that he will have a much smaller cap hit on his next contract.
This opens up the possibility of the Rangers trading Zuccarello and potentially bringing him back on a cheap, discounted contract in the offseason. Hayes, who is entering his prime at age 26, is not likely to agree to such a contract, nor should the Rangers bother offering him one.
McQuaid is another player who could benefit the Rangers if traded but offered a contract to return. He has expressed his desire to remain with the team and most likely won’t demand a costly salary due to his age. But if the Rangers have any desire to offer these players contracts in the offseason after trading them away, general manager Jeff Gorton and the rest of team management must make it clear to them that there is a desire to see them as Rangers in the future yet again.
But why should the Rangers even consider doing such a thing? The statistics of Zuccarello and McQuaid are not overly impressive. With that said, though, the value they may provide to this growing and rebuilding team is what’s significant.
Zuccarello & McQuaid’s Proven Leadership
Regardless of how many points he scores, Zuccarello has always been a responsible player and vocal leader. These attributes are incredibly important in order to mold young players. He has become a mentor to the Rangers rookies and younger players this season, and has provided invaluable service to this team for a long time.
McQuaid, while perhaps to a lesser extent, has also been a key veteran presence. The Rangers have a plethora of young defensemen, several of whom may receive playing time next season. Having a physical, hard-nosed defenseman to play alongside may serve an instrumental role in acclimating the young players to the NHL.
Zuccarello and McQuaid will both be in the market for contracts that pay less than the ones they’re on currently. Zuccarello is currently making $4.5 million and McQuaid is making $2.75 million. But they’re both over the age of 30 and provide less value than they did when they last signed contracts.
If the Rangers trade the two and offer them contracts to return in the summer, they would likely sign each of them to cheaper contracts. This would save them money overall when compared to the amount of salary cap allocated to the two in the season prior.
What the Rangers Can Get for Zuccarello & McQuaid
The return for the Rangers in a trade would likely be a second-round pick and a prospect for Zuccarello, and a third or fourth-round pick for McQuaid. Therefore, the Rangers would essentially receive a prospect, a second-rounder and third/fourth-rounder while keeping the two players for the next season on smaller contracts.
A prospect, draft picks, cap savings and retention of the players for the 2019-20 season. It is the best case scenario for the Rangers if they trade Zuccarello and McQuaid but try to bring them back. In order to do this, the Rangers must ensure that both of these players leave New York this season on good terms with team management.
Trading Zuccarello and McQuaid and agreeing to new contracts that will return them to the Big Apple would provide a world of benefits, given the age and inexperience of the rebuilding Rangers. We don’t know what Gorton will do before the trade deadline, but this should be on the back of his mind.