SUNRISE, Fla. — Ryan Spooner was in Toronto this past July, mentally preparing himself for one of the most uncomfortable processes in pro sports — salary arbitration.
“Not a fun a process,” Spooner told The Post on Friday. “No one wants to go through to that. It’s obviously the worst-case scenario.”
Spooner looks back on that experience with a bit of trepidation, knowing it could be coming again this summer with the Rangers. Back then, the Bruins were offering the restricted free agent a one-year deal worth $2 million, while he was requesting $3.825 million. He settled for $2.825 before actually reaching the arbitration hearing, making him an easy piece to throw into the trade with the Rangers two weeks ago that sent Rick Nash to Boston.
The 26-year-old winger has played well with the Blueshirts, notching a goal and two assists in their 5-3 loss in Tampa on Thursday, taking his total to two goals and eight assists in six games going into Saturday night’s match against the Panthers. Numbers like that surely will increase his value, and might press the hand of Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to not let it get to arbitration if he sees Spooner as a part of the massive rebuilding process already underway.
“It’s been fun, it’s a good chance for me here. It’s a team that’s trying to prove something,” Spooner said. “For a team that traded away a decent amount of guys, I think we’ve been doing well. So it’s good to see and I’m having a fun time.”
Spooner said his agent hasn’t heard anything yet from Gorton, and there is no reason for the Rangers to rush into any decisions. Also coming up on tricky restricted free-agency negotiations are Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Vladislav Namestnikov and Brady Skjei. So for Spooner, this is more of a try-out period for Gorton to evaluate if he might fit in the future.
“Just trying finish the games here and cross that bridge when it comes,” Spooner said. “That’s all I can do, right?”
Coach Alain Vigneault has been relatively impressed with the right-hander out of Kanata, Ontario — the same Ottawa suburb where the Senators’ home rink is located. Vigneault pointed to the play he made on Mats Zuccarello’s goal early in the third period Thursday, a backhanded saucer pass that was similar to the one he made to John Gilmour for the overtime winner in Vancouver on Feb. 28.
“I see a guy who’s got real good skill level. He’s got a knack for making those quick little plays, like on Zuccey’s goal,” Vigneault said. “Certain guys can make those plays. Him right now, he’s making them and they’re finding the back of the net, whether it’s on a pass by him or him finding the back of the net. So from that standpoint, it’s going very positive for Ryan.”
Spooner also scored in the second period on a nice finish off a juicy rebound.
“I’ve always been the kind of guy that can get points and all that kind of stuff, but the most important thing is the team winning,” he said. “It’s nice to get points, but if the team isn’t winning, it’s obviously not the best-case scenario.”
Spooner called it “a shock” to get traded from the Bruins, the team that drafted him in the second round (No. 45 overall) in 2010. Part of that was leaving all the friends he made there since he was 18 years old, and another part of that was Boston had been one of the best teams in the league over the past three months. The Rangers, not so much.
But the production thus far has helped him get over the shock, and he hopes that it’s going to keep him from going through another round of agony preparing for arbitration.
“It’s there for a purpose, a lot of players do it,” Spooner said. “It’s kind of like, we [as players] have our rights, too. But at the same time, it’s not something you want to do. It’s always best just to kind of settle and be on the same page. I think that’s the first step.”