With Kevin Hayes Still Unsigned, Here’s What The Rangers Can Do With Or Without Him

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NY Daily News

NHL free agency has arrived, and with that comes difficult multi-million dollar decisions. The New York Rangers face an abundance of players that will be put up for auction for the league to bid on. One of those players is fourth-year center, Kevin Hayes.

Hayes, who is coming off of a career high in goals and also faceoff winning percentage, is an RFA. For me, I believe he should be part of the rebuilding Rangers. But, if that doesn’t happen and Hayes is moved after July 1st, how will the Rangers replace him? Could younger players move up to take his spot? Will a new face emerge from free agency to take Hayes’ spot?

Familiar Faces

Hayes is a secondline center who also spent time as a winger. What this means is that under Zibanejad at 1C, the lines can be mixed and matched depending on the handedness of the center for the bottom-nine.

This team is in full rebuild mode and it is apparent by their activity since July 1 that all eyes aren’t on next season being “The Year.” Vladislav Namestnikov is returning for two years at $4 million AAV, and the signing of stay-at-home defenseman Fredrik Claesson shows the status of the team.

With Namestnikov returning, the absence of Hayes moves him back to his normal role of center. For all intents and purposes, Vlad was dynamite with Tampa Bay, playing alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, but was a dud once he became a Blueshirt. 

Lias Andersson, Flip Chytil, and Vinni Lettieri could command the fourth line as the youth movement marches on to MSG.  

Best of the Rest

The Rangers could also look to dabble with their approximately $25 million of cap space on some older free agents. Losing Hayes opens a spot for the RW on the third or fourth lines. Zuccarello, Fast and possibly Ty Ronning would make up the entire right side of the Rangers forward core.

The wildfire of the first two days of free agency have come and gone and a plethora of potentials have gone to other teams in the league. Ryan Reaves and Michael Grabner were two names that grabbed a lot of traction but to no avail. Tobias Rieder and even Rick Nash was a possibility for the Blueshirts. But as I said they came and went and the Rangers stood idly by, and for good reason.

Hey Hey Hayes!

In all seriousness, I believe that Kevin Hayes should be involved in this upcoming rebuild. He has improved his scoring each season and seems to be improving as a valuable centerman. Varying between the wing and center is something that can’t be continued. Gaining back Namestnikov and pushing him back to his role as a center will make bringing back Hayes a lot easier. 

Nevertheless, Hayes staying as a center leaves Zibanejad, Hayes, Namestnikov, and Chytil as the four men down the middle. Zucc and Fast remain on the right wing from last year’s team, with a possibility of Ty Ronning and Vinni Lettieri emerging out of training camp. The left side is considerably set with Kreider, Buchnevich, and Andersson filling three of the four lines.

Jimmy Vesey is another question mark as he too is an RFA. Vesey’s performance in his first two seasons of professional hockey has been a bit on the lackluster side. He held a Corsi for of around 45% in both years and was on the ice for a considerable amount of goals against with a plus/minus of -31. Again, the Rangers have a lot of cap space this offseason, so being able to bring back Vesey is entirely possible on a short-term deal like two-years and $1.5 million AAV.  

It will come at a price, however, with former Ranger JT Miller signing an impressive 5x$5.25 million deal with Tampa Bay. Miller shined in his final 19 games with the Lightning, scoring eight goals and contributing on ten others. In comparison to Miller, Hayes performed less, except for scoring the puck. I would value Hayes at five-years, $4.75 million AAV, and for that, he may sign. 

Whether or not Hayes is a Ranger or not come October is impossible to predict. This is the hardest decision the Rangers must make in terms of all free-agent signings this offseason.

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