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Kevin Hayes Needs to Be Part of New York Rangers’ Future

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Hayes is a free agent at the end of the season, but he is showing why he should be part of the team’s future.

St Louis Blues v New York Rangers Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Kevin Hayes has been his usual productive self 24 games into the season, as has been the case since he first donned a New York Rangers’ uniform. With each game he plays, it’s become more apparent that Hayes, who is set to suit up for his 335th regular season contest as a Broadway Blueshirt tonight as the team takes on the Ottawa Senators, should be extended so that he can be around for at least 300 more in a Rangers’ sweater.

As tempting as it is to see what the team could fetch for Hayes at the trade deadline, pragmatically it makes more sense just to keep him. Common wisdom has suggested that the Rangers’ depth at center would make it easy for them to try and trade Hayes for assets, because there was enough to back-fill. That was the theory, but the reality has been different 24 games into the 2018-19 campaign.

Hayes and Mika Zibanejad have had great starts in the top six, and both are showing they have the ability to be a formidable 1-2 duo for years to come. Brett Howden is having an amazing start to the season as the third-line center, and that’s an area he should hold down for the remainder of the season.

Shayna Goldman, @HayyyShayyy

From a development standpoint it would optimal to see if he can maintain a level of play in a set role over an 82-game schedule before tweaking his usage.

Filip Chytil, the assumed heir to the No. 1 center job, has started to solidify a role in the top-six as a left winger, and it doesn’t make much sense to breakup a good thing.

Shayna Goldman @HayyyShayyy

There’s a chance he may ultimately return to center, but if he continues to show a proficiency left of center it could give the Rangers options.

Lastly, Lias Andersson has had a rough go of it through 10 games played, although some of that has to do with his deployment. The subtraction of Cody McLeod from the lineup due to injury means that Andersson should have some linemates with an ability to finish.

So where does that leave the Rangers’ current second-line center? Simply stated, Hayes is too good for the Rangers to trade, and it is unlikely they would be able to get an adequate return that is better than just keeping him and re-signing him. If one of the kids plays well enough to force the team’s hand, that would be a good problem for the Rangers to have which could be addressed at the particular point in time.

From a basic stats standpoint, Hayes is third on the team in scoring with 16 points. Here’s a more in-depth look at where Hayes has been at this point of the season since joining the Rangers.

Kevin Hayes 2014 to 2018 Raw Offensive Stats Through 24 Games Played

Natural Stat Trick

These numbers show that Hayes is five points ahead of where he was at this point last year, and this is his second best start to the season when factoring all situations play. He tied his career best for total points 5v5, although his primary points share is the lowest it has been. Having a split of 67/33 in terms of primary points is nothing to sneeze at, although there have been some plays where his “secondary” assists have played a big role.

Among all Rangers skaters, Zibanejad is directly ahead of Hayes with 19 points, and Chris Kreider ahead of him by a point with 20 overall. If Hayes were to maintain his season pace, he would finish with 55 points. If he were to maintain the point per game pace he’s played at during the month of November, Hayes would finish the season with 74 points. Hayes could actually finish within that range, but even on the low end of those paces he’s projected to have a career year.

Hayes has shown consistency from a production standpoint since joining the team, and what has been really encouraging about his play this year is his improved underlying numbers.

Kevin Hayes 2014 to 2018 Advanced Metrics Through 24 Games Played

Natural Stat Trick

Thus far he’s up 3 percent in Corsi, just under 1 percent in goals for percentage, just under 3 percent in scoring chances share, and 6.49% in high danger scoring chance share. The one negative this year versus last year is high danger goals for percentage in which Hayes is down -4.52%. On a relative to teammates perspective, this season Hayes has a Rel CF% of 7.52, a Rel GF% of 28.03, a Rel SCF% of 13.57 and Rel HDCF% of 19.28. These are great numbers, and much better than he’s produced in years previous.

Let’s keep looking below the surface by looking at more than just his raw scoring, but his scoring rates over the years.

Kevin Hayes 2014 to 2018 Rate Stats Through 24 Games Played

Natural Stat Trick

Hayes has seen an improvement from last year in his scoring rate at both 5v5 and in all situations. Year over year his P/60 5v5 is up 0.17, and his all situations P/60 is up 0.43. In terms of primary points, Hayes’ all situations rate is up 0.23, but his 5v5 rate is down 0.35 when compared to last year. The decline stands out, but isn’t as big a deal with the context of Hayes’ 67/33 primary/secondary point share 5v5. Not included in the chart is Hayes’ GAR rating which stands for goals above replacement. Via Evolving-Hockey, Hayes has a GAR of 5.7 in all situations which is second to Kreider, and his 5v5 GAR is 4.4.

The final chart included is a revision of one used in a piece on Hayes last year, and it showcases his standing among forwards since becoming an NHL player. Since entering the league, Hayes has 57 goals and 55 primary assists 5v5. His 112 primary points are 57th among all skaters since entering the league. When sorting Hayes among the top 100 forwards in primary points by primary points percentage, he ranks 22nd overall at 81.16 percent.

Here’s the top 50 for reference.

Kevin Hayes 2014 to 2018 P1% Rank

This chart is simply another way of showcasing Hayes’ dominance 5v5, and seeing his name in relation to other big name NHL players helps hammer home the point. There are also some names you wouldn’t think about at first, and that would include someone like Brendan Gallagher, Jason Zucker and Anders Lee among others.

As a followup, I wanted to see the impact Hayes has had on the Rangers’ offense as a whole, so I asked fellow Blueshirt Banter contributor Evan Oppenheimer about his betweenness. In Evan’s words, “ betweenness is proxy for estimating the percentage of a player’s points that are “truly” their own.” It is also accurate to say that it helps show which players are drivers as opposed to passengers.” If you would like to learn more, check out Evan’s article on the subject here.

During Hayes’ tenure in the league, he finished 1st among Rangers in 2017-18 and 2015-16. He finished 2nd among Rangers in 2014-15 and 14th overall during the 2016-17 season. When looking at Hayes’ impact among all NHL skaters, he finished 33rd in 2017-18, 442nd in 2016-17, 20th in 2015-16 and 2014-15. This information makes sense when you juxtapose it with the chart above.

In short, Hayes’ ability this season driving possession, generating scoring chance and high danger chances suggests that he is due for more success going forward. His PDO is a touch high at 105.1, but it is slightly above last year’s rate of 103.6 through 24 games. It also doesn’t come close to his high of 109.8 which came during the 2016-17 season which was somewhat of a disappointing year for Hayes in totality.

If there’s one or two things you are going to takeaway from reading this besides his improved underlying numbers, I would suggest it be his consistency of generating offense — just look at his scoring rates over the years. It goes to show how the Rangers can depend on Hayes, and that is more of a reason to lock him up.

You could also say all of this information does make him a valuable commodity via trade, but the question then becomes; can the Rangers via return of assets and cap space come ahead overall as opposed to just keeping him?

It’s hard to see them getting fair value for Hayes because he is a rental. There may be a team that wants to trade for him and subsequently extend him, but there’s a slim chance they will give up the real goods in order to acquire him. Because the Rangers would rather have something as opposed to nothing, this creates a potential situation in which they are selling Hayes for pennies on the dollar.

Hayes turns 27 in May, and there is reason to believe he can be an impactful player for the next four or five years.

The Rangers don’t quite know what they have in Andersson, Chytil and Howden, and that is more the reason to keep veterans around until they are ready. There is a fine line in development between giving a player an opportunity to show what they are worth and giving them a spot outright.

That’s been the case thus far with Howden and Chytil, and because of how Hayes and Zibanejad have played, Andersson has been the odd man out on the fourth line. Howden may continue to play well, but there’s the chance he goes into a rough patch which would then open the door for Andersson. This is an ideal way of developing as opposed to opening up a top six spot outright. There will likely come a time in which a tough decision has to be made, but ideally that will be once the kids have two or three years under their belt. Despite the better start than expected, this is still a rebuild and the Rangers need to do things at a modest pace.

Additionally, as I have written in the past, there’s also something to be said for having security for Mika Zibanejad, as his concussion history has to be kept in mind. I also wrote about the potential of dealing Zibanejad outright because of his name value, and the fact that he has NMC set to kick in. He’s produced at a torrid pace since I wrote that article, and I would still consider trading him in the right circumstance. For now the Rangers should keep him unless the offer is simply one that blows them out of the water.

Hayes’ cap hit this season is $5. 175 million. Every year going forward is a UFA year, so the Rangers would need to pay him market rate. Given the lack of impact forwards scheduled to hit the market outside of Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner, Hayes won’t have a problem getting paid. He is worth every bit of $6.25 to $6.75 million, and depending on the years the Rangers might be able to massage the average annual value (AAV) of the deal.

In a previous article I made comparisons of Hayes to contracts signed, and you can check that out here.

At any rate, Hayes receiving 7.5 to 8.5 percent of the Rangers salary cap wouldn’t be an unfair ask on his part. Using $83 million as a midpoint, 7.5 percent would be $6.225 million and 8.5 percent would be $7.055 million.

Top teams in this league pay for their top two centers. Right now the Toronto Maple Leafs are spending roughly $12 million on John Tavares and Auston Matthews, but that number could be as high as $23 million next season if Matthews were to sign a deal worth $11 million a season. The Pittsburgh Penguins pay Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin a combined $18.2 million a season. Tampa Bay is paying Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point a combined $9.18 million a season and that’s set to increase once Point gets a well earned raise from his current $686,667 stipend.

If Hayes were to get a $6.5 million deal, the Rangers would be paying him and Zibanejad a combined total of $11.85 million a season which isn’t a whole lot. According to Elliotte Friedman, the 2019-20 salary cap should be between $81.4 million and $85.4 million depending on what the NHLPA decides to do when it comes to using an inflator. That puts the percentage of cap for both between 14.55 percent on the high end to 13.87 percent on the low end.

Regardless of what the Rangers decide, they should have enough evidence at this point to be ready to approach Hayes with a contract extension. The challenge was laid out, and thus far Hayes is living up to Glen Sather’s prediction of playing himself into a better contract than he could have got over the summer. It would be better for the team to try and sign him as soon as they are able to, because the longer he goes without a contract the odds of him increasing his eventual payday will continue to rise.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick and Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted. Financial information via Cap Friendly.