The New York Rangers and Kevin Hayes failed to come to a long-term agreement in the offseason, but both sides were adamant about their mutual admiration for each other. From the Rangers’ vantage point, Hayes was being given a situation to prove himself and earn a much bigger payday.
Hayes looked at the situation as a chance to take things to a new level under a new coach with whom he has a close relationship. If it were up to him, Hayes would be a lifelong Ranger, but for now the 2018-19 season is 15 games old, and he’s off to a solid start under David Quinn.
The first few games were worrisome as it saw the 6’5” Bostonian stapled on the bench for stretches by Quinn in order to give him a new perspective. The Rangers are fresh off their biggest win of the season, and it featured Hayes front and center.
He picked up three assists and arguably had his best game of the season skating with Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. The trio is a new one, and has been together since Buchnevich returned from being a healthy scratch for two games in a row against the Buffalo Sabres.
The success of Hayes this season is in line with what he’s showcased since entering the league, and that’s playing great 5v5 hockey. Here’s a brief look at Hayes’ first 15 games under Alain Vigneault in 2017-18 and his first 15 under Quinn.
The results are pretty impressive. It’s nice to see Hayes is possessing the puck and generating more chances with frequency.
He did it in the Kreider goal included above, but something I’ve noticed with Hayes this year is a tendency to slow the play down to a crawl before firing a pass to someone. Here’s another example from the preseason.
His PDO is up slightly, but it is nothing to be alarmed about. While the decrease in 5v5 ice time may seem odd, that’s a byproduct of Hayes seeing ice time in other situations — consistently in all situations this year.
This season he’s averaging 19:03 through 15 games, which is 2:35 more than he did last season. He’s scored the same amount of goals, but has increased his assists and primary points by two. It is encouraging to see, and the trend can continue if Quinn keeps him together with Buchnevich and Kreider for the foreseeable future, or linemates with comparable skill.
What makes matters interesting with Hayes is that his hot start hasn’t gone unnoticed, as they are reportedly teams interested in his services. Nick Kypreos mentioned the Winnipeg Jets as a potential landing spot.
Elliotte Friedman reported that it appears that the team has made the decision to not re-sign him. Darren Dreger mentioned that Hayes is a name on the board, and the Rangers could be patient with how they attempt to deal their assets.
This chatter is interesting, and the clock is ticking for Rangers to ultimately make a decision. I’ve written about Hayes extensively, and am on record with the concept of dealing him if he isn’t in the team’s long term plans. I don’t think it is a radical strategy, because he’s an asset that could net a considerable return. Conversely, I feel he can be part of the solution.
Hayes is in a position to be more of an offensive threat logging 19 minutes a game as opposed to the 17:21 he skate last year. There has been a progression on how he’s been handled, and a contract year is the perfect time to showcase his value. It is understandable to be hesitant about locking him up long term given the depth at center, but right now that depth is hypothetical.
Brett Howden is off to an amazing start, and has played better than expected. Filip Chytil has been limited in ice time and lacks offensive production despite solid underlying numbers. Lias Andersson was just recalled, and looked OK in his first game of the season.
Mika Zibanejad is off to a great start offensively and is playing some dynamic hockey. That was to be expected, but the rub with him is his concussion history that looms in the background.
These factors complicate things in a huge way, and the decision would be much easier for the Rangers if Hayes were a UFA next year. The kids would have more time and more experience at the NHL level under their belt, and the Rangers would have a better idea of their potential and ability. When it comes to staying or going, there’s merits to both options, and you could argue that given the fact that the Rangers in a rebuild they can afford to take the risk either way.
If you were to ask me to make a snap decision, I would confidently say that at least one of Andersson, Chytil and Howden are going to be able to provide Hayes-like production or better within the next few years. I also think there’s the ability to add a quality center through the draft, or via free agency.
To me, it’s the whole concept of the grass being greener on the other side. Both sides have mutual admiration for each other, and it would make sense to stick with something that works. But it would be foolhardy to ignore a team if they were to value Hayes even more.
For now, things should remain status quo unless the team is simply given an offer they can’t refuse. Hayes deserves a chance to prove what he can do in a larger role, and the Rangers should take as much time as possible in evaluating their trio of young and talented centermen.
Stats via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted