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The Rangers Looming RFA Situation Is Quickly Coming To A Head

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J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Chris Kreider are all Restricted Free Agents at the end of the season. With a severe cap crunch, the Rangers have big decisions to make by the Trade Deadline.

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The Rangers are in a serious, self inflicted, cap crunch. They might have to trade their best defenseman, Keith Yandle, which will hinder the team in making needed improvements to the roster. The Rangers have three very young, talented RFAs who will need raises this offseason. Like Carl Hagelin, at least one of these three players will be a salary cap casualty. So who should get dealt at the deadline? Let's go through the three American-born forwards one by one.

J.T. Miller:

While Miller may not have one elite skill like Kreider (speed) or Hayes (vision), Miller's best asset is his all around high end versatility. He's developed this year into a very sturdy winger that can play in a top six role and complement his linemates. J.T. won't dazzle you, but he does so many things well, from carrying the puck into the zone to creating time and space for others, that he'd be a solid top 6 winger for the Rangers for years to come. One of the big reasons I would keep Miller around is that he's shown an ability to learn and to adapt. Parts of his game still need to be refined, as with all young players, but Miller's penchant for adding different facets to his overall game has made him a current top 6 staple.

Kevin Hayes:

6'5, 225lbs. Kevin Hayes is a whole lot of human and that's probably not even his best trait. The big center is in his second overall season and, despite what some of the odder corners of #Rangerstown may think, Hayes is still chugging along using that big frame of his to body players off of pucks in order to make some insane passes to teammates that didn't even know were open. Hayes has struggled a bit with head coach Alain Vigneault switching him between right wing and center, as well as with not having consistent wingers to build chemistry throughout the season. There an easy perception of Hayes that he's "lazy" or "doesn't try." This comes from Hayes's ability to slow the game down and think through an offensive zone opportunity like a chess game, figuring out where the defense is and where his offensive teammates will be. Hayes can very easily become the Rangers top center in a year or two if given the time and patience to develop.

Chris Kreider:

Oh Chris. Where do I even begin with you. 6'3, 220lbs with some of the best acceleration in hockey and a lethal, if severely underutilized, release on his shot, Kreider should be taking over games, using his strength and size in the offensive zone to create his own shooting and scoring opportunities. Instead, we're still waiting for Kreider to figure out what the offensive zone is. Every Kreider shift is the personification of the story of Tantalus. For those of you who aren't mythology nerds, Tantalus was made to stand in a lake with a fruit tree with low hanging fruit. If Tantalus would try to eat the fruit, the branches move just out of reach and if he were thirsty, the lake water would recede to a point where he couldn't take a drink. How does all of this pertain to Kreider? Well, we know he has the talent to be a top line "power forward" if you want to use the term; however, Chris thinks he's still playing in the NCAA where he could skate through an entire team and impose his will over them. Unfortunately, Kreider still hasn't learned or added the extra layer to his game that Miller has, nor does he have the high hockey IQ that Hayes does. He is a very talented player, but until he figures out the offensive zone he's going to be a very frustrating player to watch.

Conclusions:

If you were to tell me in September that in January I would rather keep J.T. Miller over Chris Kreider, I'd have said you were crazy. Miller has shown that he's developed his game to fit his strengths and to, mostly, hide his weaknesses. Kreider just tries to skate through through the world and chuck the puck wildly from a sharp angle after a defenseman forces him towards the boards. Now could the Rangers hold onto all three RFAs? It'd be tricky but they would have to, and probably should, try and find some way to get the Wonder Twins off the books. Even if the Rangers were to do that, I would still look at trading either Miller or Kreider to make room for Pavel Buchnevich who proved this season that he's ready for full time NHL duty next season.