Kevin Hayes ended the 2017-18 campaign with 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points in 76 games. On the surface these totals may seem low, but 2017-18 was a career year for the 26-year-old forward in a number of ways.
Kevin Hayes 2014 to 2018 Breakdown 5v5
Here’s an excerpt from the story I wrote on April 18, which was a deep dive into Hayes’s expiring contract:
Hayes had his best season to date in terms of goal scoring and his second best season in terms of primary points, total points, primary points per 60, and total points per 60. He also improved his possession metrics and his on-ice goal stats.
It should be noted that according to Corsica, only 26.72% of his faceoffs started in the offensive zone vs. the 26.54% he took in the offensive zone the year prior, so his improvements weren’t by virtue or increased offensive usage. His other zone starts in 2017-18 included 35.97% in the defensive zone and the remaining 37.32% coming in the neutral zone.
The TL/DR is that Hayes was used as a defensive shutdown center for a second straight season; despite that, he found ways to generate offense and be an impact player for the New York Rangers. He finished the season with both the highest rate of 5-on-5 scoring (1.96 per 60) and primary scoring (also at 5-on-5 with 1.59 per 60). In all situations, his scoring rate was fourth on the team (2.00 per 60), while his rate of earning primary points was fifth (1.59 per 60). These are all impressive numbers given the circumstances and are something that he can build on moving forward.
This is why negotiations with Hayes will be very interesting this summer, as he is an RFA who is one contract year away from unrestricted free agency. It is unlikely that the next head coach of the Rangers will purposely misuse Hayes by deploying him in a defense first role. Additionally the next head coach would be wise to bump up Hayes’ time on the power play; it was baffling that 2017-18 saw Hayes receive the third-fewest minutes on the PP of his career, as he skated just 85:13 in total with his team on the man-advantage. Hayes clearly proved he could get it done 5v5, but for some reason the coaches didn’t want to put him in a position where he had more open space to create offense. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Although there were some moments he was used on the power play and he did connect.
Hayes did, however, log a significant amount minutes killing penalties – a total of 170:22 minutes to be exact, which averaged 2:15 a game and was most among forwards. What was beneficial about him playing in a variety of 4-on-5 situations was his ability to generate offense while playing defense.
If Hayes had been used in a more prominent offensive role and given serious power play time it is quite possible he scored 30 goals and eclipsed the 50-point mark for the first time in his career. The next new coach could unlock another side of Hayes’s game, and that’s why the Rangers should hedge their bets in negotiations.
While Hayes statistically was one of the better Rangers of 2017-18, that doesn’t mean he didn’t receive criticism throughout the season, some of which he didn’t deserve. Hayes at times has been called lazy and criticized for not hitting a lot for a guy of his size. These critiques can’t be measured completely by something you’d find on NHL.com or Corsica, but there is an explanation that makes sense if you watch for it: bigger players, like Hayes who stands 6’5” and weighs 217 pounds, are more prone to look like they are floating when skating. Simply stated, Hayes has longer legs and therefore his stride covers more ground that most players. He doesn’t have to exert as much energy to move up the ice like the 5’7”, 163-pound Mats Zuccarello.
As for the hitting, I think it is fair to say that a player like Hayes has the puck when he’s on the ice and isn’t as chasing as much and by extension in a position to hit. If you have the puck on your stick you aren’t going to hit. While his Corsi for percentage doesn’t look too impressive, it was a bad season for the Rangers across the board in terms of shot share. He was decent possession player on a horrendous possession team, and relative to his teammates his numbers were above average. There’s certainly nothing wrong with him wanting to be a bit more physical, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of his puck possession because Hayes is more of a help to the Rangers by focusing on the offensive side of the game.
With all that said, how would you grade Hayes’ season?
Hayes more than did his job in 2017-18, and performed in a way that suggests that he can be even more effective. He was a square cog that AV attempted to shove into a circular hole, but Hayes found a way to make things work. The Rangers are somewhat lucky he is a free agent now, because had he been deployed properly he’d have made a bigger case for a much higher cap hit and more substantial contract.
The Rangers should have a good sense of the player Hayes is after four seasons on Broadway, and the player he can be under a new head coach. If they bet properly they can end up with amazing production at a bargain price. The bottom line is that the Rangers have seen Hayes put up solid offensive numbers in a defensive role, so there’s a lot of reason to believe with more offensive opportunities, the goals and points will fall into place.
Stats via Corsica.Hockey unless otherwise noted.
2018 Report Cards: Marc Staal / Mats Zuccarello / Ryan Spooner / Rob O’Gara / Jimmy Vesey / Brendan Smith / Vladislav Namestnikov / Brady Skjei / Steven Kampfer / Jesper Fast / Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Buchnevich/ Ondrej Pavelec