Rangers Should Keep Mika Zibanejad and Trade Kevin Hayes

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Rumor season is in full swing as teams start to talk to free agents and inquire about trades. For weeks now, it has been rumored that Kevin Hayes may end up being on the move with the Rangers having an excess of centers. But with that has come the rumblings that perhaps Mika Zibanejad would be a better piece to trade away. Despite their respective production over the course of the past few years, the Rangers must be extremely careful not to trade away their most valuable forward. That would be Mika Zibanejad.

From a numbers standpoint, Mika Zibanejad edges out Kevin Hayes. He has 235 points in 409 games played. Using that proportion, we can calculate that Hayes would need to have 178 points in his 310 games played to remain on track with Zibanejad. He has 174.

But even more telling when taking into account their numbers is that Hayes is older and was drafted a year before Zibanejad, yet has played over a full season less than him. That also includes the multiple long periods of time in which Zibanejad has been injured. Furthermore, Mika Zibanejad has been the most important piece of the Rangers powerplay, a job often undertaken by a team’s first-line center. Hayes has had the opportunity to play on the powerplay but wasn’t as dominant as Zibanejad. He has only notched 26 career powerplay points, compared with Zibanejad’s 70. And sure, one may believe that this is only a result of Hayes’ lack of man-advantage time-on-ice. This is absolutely the case, but at the same time, it is because of the lackluster play that has prevented him from receiving said powerplay opportunities.

 

The biggest issue that has plagued Hayes throughout his career, and puts him second to Zibanejad in my eyes, is his severe lack of consistency. Zibanejad has experienced some periods of inconsistency but never on the same level as Hayes. Let’s take a look at Hayes 2017-18 season.

Kevin Hayes 2017-18
First 44 GP Last 32 GP
Points 20 24
Pts. Per Game .45 .75
Prorated Points

(Pts. per 82 games.)

37 61

As we can see, Hayes only came on strong at the very end of the season when the Rangers were already down and out. Had his .75 points per game during that stretch, but had he been consistent throughout the whole season, it would’ve given him his career high in points. But his wildly inconsistent play once again reared its ugly head, as he managed a mere 20 points over half a season of play. At that rate, he would’ve only notched 37 points over the entire season. Hardly the numbers of a first-line center. On the contrary, not only was Zibanejad more consistent than Hayes, but he managed to score three more points in four fewer games played. That puts Hayes at .57 points per game, compared to Zibanejad’s .65 points per game. 

And this is all from just last season. The season prior, in which Zibanejad broke his leg, he notched 37 points in 56 games. Had he been healthy the whole year, he would’ve been on pace for 54 points, which would’ve eclipsed his previous career high of 51 points. Kevin Hayes has never scored over 50 points.

But, as always, numbers aren’t everything. The differences in style of play between the two centermen are huge. Zibanejad uses a speedy finesse style to carry the puck and set up in the offensive zone, whereas Hayes is more of a puck mover and power forward. That’s not to say that Hayes isn’t fast, but nowhere near as speedy as Zibanejad. With that in mind, Zibanejad’s style of play is much more suited for the modern NHL. We’ve seen over the past decade that the league has transformed into more of a speed and quickness based style of play. Teams place more emphasis on pure skaters who can move with the puck and open up the offense. And when you open up the ice, you become a more efficient passer. Take a look at this pass.

 

Now we’ll take a look at the trade market. Zibanejad has more trade value than Hayes for several reasons. For one, he is younger with more experience and is still developing as a player. Kevin Hayes has shown little signs of further development and seems to be nearing his ceiling. So, then why don’t we trade Zibanejad you may ask? Because he is better, hence the reason he has a higher trade value! But the Rangers NEED Zibanejad because of that skill. A prime suitor for Kevin Hayes would be the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets have a surplus of third-line and low-level second-line centers. They lack a playmaking center who can put up more than 40 points, and that is where Hayes comes in. The Rangers, who have been rumored to be interested in Artemi Panarin, can package Hayes and a couple of picks/prospects to bring Panarin to the Big Apple. It may not be a good idea to send away some of the prospects we’ve been accruing, but it’s a strong possibility. The Jackets have a much more dispersed point distribution, which would allow Hayes to come in and still make a difference.

But that kind of point distribution is something that the Rangers lack. Therefore, if Jeff Gorton were to trade away one of his greatest offensive weapons in Zibanejad, the offense would suffer a major collapse. The Rangers in the past have managed to survive without Zibanejad, but one must remember that they still had JT Miller, Rick Nash, and Michael Grabner among others.

With such a young team and many centers in the ranks, Zibanejad is the perfect player to have around. He is young but experienced, knows how to be a first-line center, and most of all knows how to be a lethal presence on the ice. These attributes, along with his leadership can be instrumental in helping to develop some of the Rangers of the future.

The case for trading Hayes makes much more sense. Zibanejad has been more effective and is still rapidly developing as a player. He opens up the ice, weaponizes the powerplay, and plays with intensity and finesse. These are all traits crucial to succeeding in the new NHL; and with so many young center prospects, it is clear that we have a surplus. Hayes is a second-line center. Nothing less, nothing more. If we expect Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, and perhaps even Brett Howden to rise in the ranks, then we must take advantage of our opportunities. Trade Hayes, and keep developing Zibanejad’s first-line skill set.  

Editor’s Note: In November, Michael Kaplan wrote an article arguing that Kevin Hayes is the team’s first-line center. To read the piece, click here.