It’s no secret that Kevin Hayes has been playing really well lately, accumulating 16 points in his last 10 games. While it’s unknown how serious the Rangers are in trying to trade the 26 year old center, it’s a strong possibility that he gets dealt at this year’s deadline.
A team acquiring Hayes this season would most likely be to a playoff contender, as his current deal expires at the end of the year. Hayes has done is best work as a center, so with the high price to acquire him, the team trading for him would likely want to keep him down the middle — therefore they’d likely need to have an open top-six center spot.
Cap space should not be much of a factor if the team were only trading for Hayes as a rental, but a team’s long-term cap situation plays a role if they are serious about re-signing him. Coming off a one-year deal and set to become an unrestricted free agent, Hayes won’t come cheap next season so a team pressed up against the cap would have trouble fitting him in.
Tom already gave excellent insight into what sort of return we can expect for Hayes, but which could teams have interest? Which teams would Hayes best fit with? Which teams have the best assets to acquire him?
A number of insiders and reporters have confirmed that several teams are interested in acquiring Hayes. But which of those teams would best fit Hayes and which have the assets to entice the Rangers?
The Predators have not been afraid to swing big deals over the last few years, whether it be long-term roster moves or just rentals at the deadline. Last year they acquired Kyle Turris in a three-way with Colorado and Ottawa to try to bolster their depth down the middle. At last year’s trade deadline they picked up Ryan Hartman for a first-round pick.
With Nick Bonino also in the fold, Kevin Hayes isn’t a great fit because Nashville would ideally be looking for a winger to round out their forward group. Neither of Johansen, Bonino, and Turris have played much on the wing in the past and neither one of them are suited for the fourth line, so Hayes would be the odd man out as the player who’d need to play on the wing. If the Predators were to do this, why wouldn’t they just acquire a natural winger (maybe Matts Zuccarello)?
Either way though, the Predators are likely to make some kind of move and have the assets to do so. They have almost all of their draft picks for the next few seasons (minus their 2019 third round pick that they’ve replenished with Florida’s third-rounder) and plenty of interesting prospects to offer. There’s almost no chance they’d part with Eeli Tolvanen, but Dante Fabbro might be available. Similar to why the Predators were able to part with Samuel Girard in the Turris trade, the Predators defense is already crowded with elite talent, making Fabbro a luxury the team might be able to afford to give up in exchange for top-six help. Fabbro’s also probably a few years away from making an immediate impact in the NHL so Nashville might be enticed to trade him for short-term help to bolster a serious Cup run. If Nashville has serious interest in Hayes, Fabbro is the guy for the Rangers to target.
Purely based on lineup fit, Hayes to Colorado makes the most sense. The Avs have skyrocketed up the standings with the play of their dominant first line but after that the talent level drops off quite a bit. Carl Soderberg’s a good third-line center but the Avs arguably lack a solid number two center. Alexander Kerfoot’s not a bad player by any means, neither is Tyson Jost who is currently playing wing, but in a playoff format where Nashville or Winnipeg might be the Avalanche’s first round opponent, you can never have too much center depth. Out of all the teams with confirmed interest, the Avalanche need a top-six forward the most and Kevin Hayes could slide nicely into their second line center position.
Similar to Nashville, the Avs are unlikely to part with their prized prospect Cale Makar. However, unlikely most contenders, Colorado has two first round picks to play with at this year’s draft and it would make too much sense to deal their own first round pick for help with their playoff run. They also have the cap space to resign Hayes and keep for the future, where he can continue to be a strong part of their budding forward group.
Besides their first rounder, Vladislav Kamenev came over from the Matt Duchene trade and might be available while Conor Timmens is a defenseman that looks like a potential top-four defender. Shane Bowers is a step down from the two but if the Avs aren’t interested in giving up one of their top-three prospects for a potential rental, their own first rounder and Bowers could be a good package for Hayes.
This year might be the Jets best chance at a Stanley Cup with several of their young players still on their ELCs and a weaker Western Conference that leaves the door open for them (compared to the stacked Atlantic Division). If the Jets want to keep their first place spot in the Central to avoid playing Nashville or Colorado in the first round, they will almost definitely be making some kind of deadline move. Last year the Jets acquired a center in Paul Stasnty to add to their depth down the middle, but lost him in free agency to the Vegas Golden Knights — the team that ultimately beat them in the Western Conference Final. They didn’t address that loss later in free agency either, which may lead them to looking to the trade market once again for a center.
They have their first and second round picks to make a deal but notably have plenty of talented prospects and young forwards, which means one could be expendable for the sake of acquiring a more established NHL talent like Hayes. The Jets are known for keeping their homegrown talent, making Kristian Vesalainen and Sami Niku most likely off the table, but a player like Jack Roslovic or Nic Petan could be a good add for the Rangers. They’re both young and have the potential to become solid contributors in the NHL, but aren’t the obvious high-end ceiling that makes them untouchable. Not to mention, they are stuck behind some of the Jets top forwards, meaning that they could flourish when given a better chance in New York. I specifically like the idea of the Rangers acquiring Petan, who’s posted big numbers in the AHL but has been stuck down in the depth chart in Winnipeg. He might flourish in an increased role where he sees more than eight minutes a game that he is right now.
Even though the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, Boston has been rumored to have a lot of interest in Hayes. He plays style that could blend in with the Bruins and would give them three strong centers that can match up line for line against other dynamos like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins actually have quite a few decent young prospects that could be of interest to the Rangers, along with their own first-round pick this year. Ryan Donato and Anders Bjork are the Bruins top prospects in their system and already have some success at the NHL level. Donato’s scored 16 points in 38 games over the last two seasons while Bjork recorded 12 points in 30 games for Boston last year. If the Rangers wanted one of them, they even have the option of taking on David Backes’ contract, who carries a six-million-dollar cap hit for the next two seasons. No playoff team is in the business of trading away cheap, young, NHL-ready talent but saving $6 million against the cap along with acquiring Hayes might be too much to pass up.
A more realistic scenario though would be the Rangers acquiring one of Urho Vaakanainen or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson along with the Bruins first or second round pick. The 18th overall pick in 2017, Vaakanainen projects to be a steady, defensively sound defender who can skate quick and be a strong presence on the blueline. He was briefly called up by the Bruins and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he’s playing in the NHL. Forsbacka Karlsson hasn’t had as successful 2018-19 season (as he struggled a bit in his NHL stint with the Bruins), but the former second round pick has tremendous hockey sense and two-way ability. Either way, the Bruins are a strong favorite to land Hayes and have multiple options to go about getting him if they choose to.
San Jose Sharks
Similar to the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes, I see the San Jose Sharks as a bit of a dark horse in the bidding for Kevin Hayes. They already have a solid forward group and could probably use the help elsewhere, but the Sharks might be looking to add more impact players after going all-in with the Karlsson trade.
Going all-in with the Karlsson trade has already depleted most of their trade assets though, as the Sharks are left with no 2019 first-rounder, 2020 first-rounder, and many high-end prospects. Kevin Labanc is probably the only roster player that would be of interest to the Rangers, as at 23 he’s still on the young side and possesses potential, on pace to score 48 points while only seeing 14 minutes of average ice time. However, it would be tough for the Sharks to deal out more assets without being leaving the prospect cupboard extremely bare.
Correction: when this article first published, Josh Norris was listed as a member of the San Jose Sharks. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators as a part of the Erik Karlsson deal is September 2018. That has since been corrected.