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Could A Kevin Hayes Trade Make Sense?

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Calgary Flames v New York Rangers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In a bombshell of an article released this weekend by Larry Brooks, there were so many nuggets of information I’m not even sure where to start. A potential deal with the Edmonton Oilers involving Brady Skjei in a package for the Milan Lucic contract and Leon Draisaitl? Talks for the second overall pick? A return move for Ryan Callahan in a salary dump move? Or Carl Hagelin since we’re getting on the reunion train? It was all there, and so much more.

Oh, yeah, and then there was a fresh Kevin Hayes rumor where Brooks had the below to say in terms of Hayes:

Chances are that if the Rangers make a substantial move leading into Friday’s first round of the entry draft in Dallas, it will involve Kevin Hayes. Multiple sources report the 26-year-old impending Group II free-agent center has attracted significant interest from around the league as general manager Jeff Gorton sifts through various scenarios both connected to and independent of improving the club’s ninth-overall position.

There is a lot of unpack here, not so much in what is said above, but in what a Hayes trade would look like. Hayes seemed a lock to get a long-term contract; due to the fact that he’s coming off a bridge deal and saw J.T. Miller get moved to pave the way to fit his new salary cap hit. Now? Well, let’s just say the door is opened to him not being on the starting roster next year. Not wide, mind you, but the door is open. For reference, Matt Cane’s contract projections have Hayes earning $4.83 million a year on a four year deal, and $5.35 million on a five year deal.

While still relatively young (Hayes won’t be 27 until the end of next season), he is on the cusp of forcing the ever-important “how old will he be when the team is relevant again” question. If Brooks’ article did anything, it was prove that the Rangers are still at the crossroads of what they want to be. Acquiring the second overall pick or grabbing Callahan’s contract screams rebuild. The move with the Oilers that could potentially bring in Draisaitl? That’s far more win now, even with Lucic’s bag of money coming with him.

Hayes seems to fit both theories. He’d good enough that he could get a nice package with soon-to-be win-now pieces that will help both in the short term and long term. After the Brooks story dropped, reports came out that the Flames were one of the teams kicking the tires on Hayes:

Calgary is a team we’ve speculated a lot about as a good fit, mainly for targets like Adam Fox, Rasmus Andersson, and Jusso Valimaki. Oh yeah, and that Dougie Hamilton guy — although Brooks’ speculates that’s not really on the table for the Rangers.

The flip side is Hayes can be a centerpiece for a deal that nets either a major prospect or a major move in the draft. As an example, would Carolina — potentially looking to make a splash with all their front office changes — think about moving on from the second overall pick for Hayes, pick No. 9 and pick No. 26? (Andrei Svechnikov is second on the Banter’s master rankings for a reason.)

There’s reasons to want to keep him as well. Hayes is one of the better primary point producers in the NHL, and in a year when Alain Vigneault stifled his offense with a forced two-way role, he produced 25 goals and 44 points in 76 games. As you can see in Tom’s breakout below, Hayes is up there with some of the better names in the NHL in this regard.

If the Rangers do make a move for another win-now piece, and land Ilya Kovalchuk — who reportedly would consider the Rangers if he saw them making an attempt to contend — Hayes is a guy you can build with. Having both him and Mika Zibanejad around long term does pose issues for the budding growth of Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, but that is a problem the Rangers could shift down the line if they have to. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a terrible situation.

That said, moving on from one of Zibanejad or Hayes makes a lot of sense if the Rangers do believe both Chytil and Andersson are top-six centers. It would also indicate the team feels they are ready sooner than later to assume such a role. And none of this even takes into account Brett Howden (who has a projected ceiling between a 2C and 3C) or potentially Jesperi Kotkaniemi (number eight on Blueshirt Banter’s master ranking) if he happens to fall to nine. The Rangers have a glut of centers, and the glut might only get worse once this summer is over. Thinking this way: Does it make sense to move Hayes right now when you may be able to start a bidding war for him?

If that many teams are kicking the tires, there has to be a trade out there that makes sense. The question, of course, is who and what the Rangers are trying to be. We might get our answer this week leading up the draft. We might get our answer at the draft. We might get our answer when Hayes signs his extension. Because Hayes is one contract year away from unrestricted free agency, any deal signed would be for multiple years. The Rangers lack the ability to sign him to a one-year deal and kicking the can down the road, because they would risk him to going to market and potentially losing him for nothing.

One way or another, we’re going to get our answer.