Key Rangers forwards Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the team’s top restricted free agents, filed for salary arbitration before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Negotiations can continue, and general manager Jeff Gorton has said that he hopes to reach agreements with the players. In recent years, just about every NHL player who filed for arbitration had secured a new contract before the hearings in Toronto, which will be scheduled between July 20 and Aug. 4 for the 24 players who filed.
The last Rangers player to have a hearing was Nikolay Zherdev in 2009, who was awarded $3.9 million and the team walked away from the arbitrator’s decision. Zherdev became a free agent and signed with a KHL team.
Two other restricted free agents signed deals with the Blueshirts on Tuesday. Forward Nicklas Jensen and defenseman Mat Bodie, who both played in Hartford last season, agreed to one-year, two-way contracts at $600,000.
Jensen, 23, acquired from Vancouver in January in exchange for Emerson Etem, had 15 goals and 25 points in 41 games for the Wolf Pack and was Denmark’s top scorer in the World Championships, with five goals and two shootout goals in eight games. Bodie, 26, the Wolf Pack captain, had seven goals and 36 points in 76 games.
Two other eligible RFAs — forward Marek Hrivik ($575,000 last season) and defenseman Tommy Hughes ($608,333) — who skated for Hartford, did not file. Teams can select arbitration before Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Kreider, the 25-year-old left wing whose numbers improved in the second half to finish at 21-22-43 in 79 games, is coming off a two-year deal that paid him $2,475,000 per season. Hayes, 24, was 14-22-39, a nine-point drop from his rookie season, had a cap charge of $900,000 in his entry level contract, and $2.85 million in performance bonuses. Miller, 23, is coming off a career season (22-21-43) and a one-year contract of $874,000. McIlrath, 24, was 2-2-4 in 34 games and earned $600,000 last season.
All four players received qualifying offers: Kreider’s had to at least match his previous salary, Hayes and Miller had to be offered a minimum 5 percent raise and McIlrath had to be offered at least a 10 percent hike. Arbitration does not provide protection: They can still be traded.
The Rangers have about $12.4 million in salary cap space available.