Mission Critical: Finding a way to get Kevin Hayes on the wing
Don’t fix what isn’t broken. That is an old saying that carries a lot weight with many but does it pertain to the Rangers this year? The Rangers currently sit 4th in the Metro and hold a wild card spot. Of course, NY also has 3 games in hand on Washington who are only 1 point ahead and Pittsburgh who are up 4 points.
For a majority of the year, many Rangers fans have clamored for Tanner Glass to not only be taken out of the lineup but banished from the team. The primary reason being his advanced stats line (possession numbers). Still, many choose to ignore the issues of the Rangers face-off woes which impact possession and so much more.
New York ranks 29th in face-offs at 46.4% sitting in the bottom 10 of the league. Critics will cite that lowly Arizona ranks 5th and Carolina ranks 7th, which means they simply have good face-off men but loads of other issues. Of the top 10 teams in face-offs, 7 are in playoff position with L.A. at 10, 1 point out of playoff spot. The bottom 10 face-off teams have 5 in playoff position, with Calgary or Vancouver at risk of missing out.
We already wrote about this subject extensively here. The highlight of the article was how face-offs hurt the Rangers against L.A. who won over 54% draws in a series that featured and average of 70 plus draws a game. If the Rangers want to go far in the playoffs, they need help in this area. The price may be steep come March 2nd (NHL Trade Deadline) but Glen Sather must pay it.
Now what if I told you that a trade for a 3rd line center that can win draws, like Antoine Vermette, would impact the entire lineup in a very positive manner. Would you be more willing to make a deal?
The Rangers today are doing a great disservice to Kevin Hayes and themselves. This highly touted prospect, who blossomed on the RW at Boston College is being forced to play a position that is hindering his offensive abilities. Burdened with the defensive responsibilities of a center, he is unable to take his shots off the wing or get to the front of the net to cause havoc and use those gifted hands.
Kevin Hayes is a team player, and he should be commended not condemned for the job he is doing at center. A position he is learning as he’s playing and one that isn’t easy to transition to (just ask JT Miller). In general, this rookie is being asked to support his teammates at all times in all zones. He has to also lead breakouts, be the most responsible forward out there and win (drumroll please) draws. Sadly, Hayes is a poor 35% in draws, meaning Alain Vigneault can’t start his line in the defensive zone. This puts extra burden on Dominic Moore and to some degree Brassard and Stepan (whom both struggle on draws).
Now imagine what this 6’4″, 220 lbs behemoth could do if was unleashed on the right wing (being a left handed shot he could also play LW). Hayes scored 27 goals and 65 points in 45 games last year for BC. Put him on the wing and we should see an increase in shots and goals immediately. Hayes is barely averaging over 1 shot per game (1.09) but is managing a 13% shooting percentage this season. What if he was taking 3-4 shots per game on the wing? At just 3 shots per game and 13% shooting he would score 14 goals in the Rangers remaining 37 games (19 at 4 shot per game).
So what are the Rangers waiting for? Obviously an NHL level centerman that can take his spot. Also, the closer they get to deadline, the less of a cap issue it will be. What would a lineup with Vermette look like? Well that also depends on who the Rangers may have to give up.
For arguments sake, let’s just say the price is Mats Zuccarello who is on pace for a huge regression from last year’s 59 points to 42 this season. The entire dynamic of the Rangers may not suffer as much as you think with Hayes on the wing and likely Tanner Glass out of the lineup.
Of course, some have argued that Hagelin should be moved over Zuccarello but I find that difficult to understand. Hagelin’s speed is a hard to find asset and is an RFA which gives the Rangers more cost control for next season. Zuccarello being a UFA is the only reason why I would even bring up his name.
Bottom line, the Rangers have to think about the playoffs and making a deep run. This season they have the added benefit of a healthy and productive Rick Nash, plus a power play QB in Dan Boyle. If they can get stronger down the middle and improve on draws, the Rangers could get over the hump from double OT losses to a ticker tape parade in NYC.