With the New York Rangers in the midst of a rebuild, the future can be unclear. Beloved veterans and young up-and-comers alike can find themselves wearing a different jersey at any time. So what should general manager Jeff Gorton do with one of the biggest cogs in the Rangers lineup, Kevin Hayes?
What To Do With Kevin Hayes
When the Rangers signed rookie free agent Kevin Hayes out of college, not many were sure what to expect. The Dorchester, Mass. native had an explosive senior year with Boston College. Although, it was when he recorded 45 points in 79 games in his first NHL season that people began to take notice. Over the next three years, he emerged as a key figure in the Rangers top-six core. Jeff Gorton’s belief in Hayes’ development was a big factor in the Derek Stepan trade of June 2017. He was under the impression that Mika Zibanejad could fill Stepan’s role as a first line centre and Hayes would be able to hold his own as the second. While the trade itself may have been a blunder, the pair has stepped up to the plate aptly.
Now that rookie centres Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Lias Andersson are making the jump to the NHL, Hayes’ future in New York is in question. This past summer, he was in contract talks looking to be locked down long-term. The then-restricted free agent signed a one-year deal for this season worth $5,175,000. This season, Hayes looks to show what he’s worth. It’s no question whether he’s deserving of a long-term contract or not, but whether or not the Rangers are willing to foot the bill.
Kevin Hayes undoubtedly makes any team he’s on better. Since making the jump from the NCAA to the NHL, the 26-year-old has 78 goals and 110 assists for 188 points across a span of 332 games. Most impressive though is the fact that 151 of his 188 points are either goals or primary assists. He’s also a reliable force on the face-off. According to Puck Base, Hayes has won 50.6% of draws and averages 15.9 per game. It’s clear that the offensive contribution is a huge factor in any lineup. With the trade deadline approaching in a few months, what route should Jeff Gorton pursue?
Given Hayes’ status as a restricted free agent this past summer, he’s officially not allowed to sign a contract extension until January 1st. That means Gorton has exactly six months before his centre hits the unrestricted free agent market. The veteran forward has expressed his desire to stay in New York before, so re-signing is a viable option.
To get a sense of what his next contract would be, look to former teammate J.T. Miller. This summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Miller to a five-year deal worth $5.25 million AAV. Coming off back-to-back 50+ point seasons, Miller provides an example of what Gorton hopes Hayes will mould into soon. Although the latter has yet to eclipse 50 points, he is certainly on his way.
While producing relatively similar numbers and providing similar upside as well, Hayes is going to want something within the ballpark of Miller’s contract. Gorton gave him around what he was asking for just for this season but with a multi-year deal, the dollar amount could fluctuate.
Taking into account his desire to remain a Ranger, a no-trade clause will likely be factored in as well. Wanting to keep roster versatility, Gorton will probably mimic Brady Skjei‘s NTC. The defenseman has a modified NTC, which doesn’t kick in until the third year of his contract.
Hayes will likely get something similar, so if a trade is necessary down the road, Gorton can still move him. The general manager has been adamant about not being shackled by bad contracts during this rebuild. Re-signing Hayes remains a real possibility, but requires lots of quick negotiating before he hits the open market.
The Blueshirts have been no stranger to blockbuster trades the past couple years. The front office has explicitly said they have no holds barred from shipping players off, that is except for Henrik Lundqvist. Ranger fans have seen the likes of Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, and the aforementioned Miller all traded for younger assets. More fan favourites are likely to join this list and Hayes very well may be one of them. If the Rangers are to make a serious run at free agent Artemi Panarin in the off-season, they’ll need to free up serious cap space.
Gorton will likely be very busy this season. He’s already begun to deal players following Ryan Spooner‘s trade to the Edmonton Oilers. With the team’s recent success as of late, it’s unclear how much more of a roster shakeup we will see. If the Rangers continue accidentally stumbling into a playoff spot, it’s unlikely we’ll see the second line centre shipped off.
However, a much more plausible scenario is seeing New York come back down to Earth and begin losing regularly again soon. If and when this happens, a trade could be imminent. The timing will affect the return package substantially. Teams become more desperate as the trade deadline approaches. Gorton could secure better assets from teams gearing up for playoff runs. Waiting to trade Hayes does also open the door for injuries, lacklustre performances, and other setbacks. It’s all gambling risk and reward.
What To Expect Going Forward
It’s unclear whether Hayes will be wearing a Rangers sweater or not beyond the trade deadline on February 25th. Even though his one-year deal points to the likelihood of being shipped out of New York, it’s not a guarantee. Should offers start coming in, expect them to come from teams such as the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, or even his hometown team, the Boston Bruins. For now, fans can sit back and watch his trade stock rise with a surge in the team’s standings. Nevertheless, it will be interesting revisiting this topic in February.
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