Interest in Kevin Hayes is Growing; What Type of Return Should Rangers Aim For?

Kevin Hayes has been on fire as of late with 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in his last four games played, and it’s no coincidence that trade chatter has picked up. His stat line reads 8-18-26 in 32 games played to date, and on the latest edition of 31 Thoughts: the Podcast, Elliotte Friedman said:

So I think Boston will be in on Hayes. I think Winnipeg will be in on Hayes. I think Colorado will be in on Hayes. And there’s probably more. I mean, he’s a center. There’s going to be a lot of people in on Hayes.

Shout out to Blueshirt Banter reader Tyler McGillick (@TylerRichard93) for getting his question answered.

These teams make sense for varying reasons. The Bruins current center depth with Patrice Bergeron sidelined is David Krejci, Colby Cave, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Noel Acciari.  The Colorado Avalanche have an amazing first line with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but the forward depth behind that isn’t optimal. Carl Soderberg is playing better this year—22 points in 34 games—and Alex Kerfoot has a respectable 18 points in 30 games, but there’s a drop off after that.

Lastly, Winnipeg surely wants to bolster their depth after getting bounced in five games in the Conference Final — winning Game 1 and losing the next four straight — last year versus the Vegas Golden Knights, and Hayes would really strengthen the team’s top nine. While they acquired Paul Stastny last year at the deadline, Hayes would be an upgrade on what the Jets lost in free agency, and likely a rental.

Hayes carries a cap hit of just $5.175 million, and is in line to be a sought after free agent. His main competition down the middle is Matt Duchene — 12-22-34 in 29 games played, $6 million cap hit — but as of now it appears the Ottawa Senators are attempting to re-sign him according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

Now I can’t sit here and tell you that Duchene’s going to re-sign in Ottawa, but I can tell you there appears to be good faith bargaining going on on both sides. The Senators want him back and he has interest in staying if it’s the right deal. We’ll see how it goes from here.

There are going to be many suitors for Hayes, assuredly more than those listed above — independent of Duchene’s availability — so it’s important for general manager Jeff Gorton to gauge on what he could bring to the Rangers via trade.

The last four trade deadlines have seen a number of deals involving centers, and each has featured at least one deal getting a decent return.

Here’s a look at the trades in chronological order.

The good news for the Rangers is that Hayes is in line to be the most productive of the recently available centers. His points per game average sits a 0.81, and that is higher than Stastny’s mark of 0.63, Vermette’s 0.56, Staal’s 0.52, and Hanzal’s 0.51 at the time they were traded. Obviously a lot can change between now and then, but it is likely that teams consider and weigh past performance in addition to recent success.

Using the Hanzal trade as a template — and adding to it — should be the strategy, but there are bound to be compromises.

A major selling point for Hayes, and the Rangers, is primary production; especially in 5v5 situations.

Hayes has skated in 342 games, and has a stat line of 59-83-142 at 5v5, that is good for a P/60 rate of 1.99. Of those 142 points, 114 are primary and his rate of primary points per 60 is 1.60. In all situations, Hayes’ stat line reads 81-119-200 with a P/60 rate of 2.26; 157 of the 200 are primary points, and his P1/60 rate stands at 1.78.

Teams want a player who can make an impact sooner rather than later, and if a player is getting the job 5v5, there’s reason to believe it will be repeatable.

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

I have written extensively about Hayes’ consistency as a player (see above), and his progression this season on top of everything else will certainly be a cherry on top from an outside party’s perspective.

Hayes has also been pretty proficient with limited power play time — 433 minutes career to date — and has a stat line of 13-19-32 with a P/60 of 4.43. Twenty of those points are primary and his P1/60 on the power play sits at 2.77. For the sake of comparison, here’s a look at how he stacks up to number one center and noted PP wizard Mika Zibanejad.

Career Power Play Performance

Seventy four of those minutes have come this season which means he’s logged 359 minutes in the prior seasons. If you average it out, Hayes logged 89 minutes on the power play per season, so he’s well on his way toward exceeding his yearly average already this year.

Power play time is important and it can impact how a player is perceived. Prior to this season, Hayes was averaging 46 points a season with limited power play time. Had he been utilized on the power play more, and able to take advantage, he could have potentially added at least 10 points more a season on the low end and 20 on the high end. Hayes averaging 56 or 66 points a season would certainly impact how he’s viewed. We have no way of knowing what kind of production he’d have been capable of, but we can evaluate how he’s progressed.

Kevin Hayes Career Power Play Performance By Season

Given his overall body of work, the package for Hayes should be pretty good. The rental market — as illustrated above — varies from year to year, but the Rangers can get creative when it comes to setting conditions. If the trade involves only Hayes leaving New York, most likely with 50 percent salary retention ($2,587,500), the team should expect three pieces in return.

A guaranteed first round pick is something that will be included at a minimum. All of the deals — sans the Rangers’ trade with Carolina for Staal — saw the selling team recoup a first round pick.  In this case they sent second round picks in back-to-back years in addition to the rights to Saarela.

The second piece should be a second-tier prospect, especially if that first-rounder is going to be a high pick if that team looks like they’ll go deep in the playoffs, as no team is going to part with a blue chipper on top of a first for a non-elite player. If I were going to make a comparison, this would be a prospect like Brett Howden who was a tier below second-year pro Brayden Point, rookie Mikhail Sergachev, WHL standout Cal Foote, and so on.

The third piece would be a conditional pick, ie: if Hayes re-signs with his team, New York receives a 2020 first round pick. If Hayes walks it becomes a 2020 second round pick. Is this realistic? The answer to that is yes and no, as we have seen teams award a pick based on how far the team has progressed in the playoffs and we have seen it tied to whether or not the team wins the Stanley Cup. It would be in the Rangers’ best interest to work out the best possible condition, and one that doesn’t depend on the luck of a playoff series.

Getting an addition pick would more valuable than an additional prospect, because it would give the team flexibility. Acquiring picks and adding more prospects through the draft is helpful, but those picks also allows for trading up or down. This is what happened at the 2018 draft when the Rangers moved number 26 overall (acquired in Rick Nash trade with Boston) and pick number 48 (acquired in Michael Grabner trade with New Jersey Devils) in order to select K’Andre Miller 22nd overall.

This may seem like a steep price — two firsts and a prospect or a first, a second and a prospect — because it is.  Early on the Rangers should take this approach early on to limit the market to serious bidders. If the interest isn’t there, something I don’t think will be the case, they can adjust accordingly. It’s also better to aim with the sky as the limit to see exactly what their options are. Winnipeg is a team that may really want Hayes — as a rental — and in that situation the Rangers could ask for a better prospect in addition to the pick.

A team like the Avalanche or Bruins could have plans for Hayes long term, and that a situation where you maximize on the picks. For the Jets, on the other hand, their cap situation likely wouldn’t allow for Hayes to be a long-term option.

Hayes is an exemplary player, and it would make sense for a team to acquire him and extend him. I’ve argued that in some ways it makes more sense for the Rangers to keep Hayes long-term, but if they are going to trade him they can maximize value by finding a team that wants him past this year.

Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone and Duchene are the names who can and should test free agency, and while they will garner both significant attention and dollars; Hayes is certainly no slouch. He is more comfortable at center, but his versatility that allows him to play on the wing is an additional marketable attribute. Hayes also will likely come at a much lower cost than any of those three free agents listed above, which may come in handy to those facing a cap crunch, but in need of more help up front. That cost is also key to teams hesitant to sign an at least 27 year old long term, which is the challenge all teams have to manage with unrestricted free agents.

Opposing general managers should be able to see that Hayes is a player who has developed in New York as he changed his game based on the assignments given to him, and is now breaking out in situations that play to his strengths. Hayes has the potential to do even more, and there will be a team out there willing to offer him the chance to grow into a 65-point player or more.

How the Rangers handle Hayes will be fascinating, and they have an amazing opportunity to get a massive haul if they decide to go that route. I am still very much on team #KeepKevinHayes, but it would be foolhardy not to consider the possibilities trading him presents.