When Kevin Hayes signed a one-year contract with the New York Rangers in late July, the writing seemed to be on the wall. The big center was now scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following 2018-19, and with the Rangers publicly announcing their desire to rebuild last season Hayes could be the next big trade chip to facilitate that dream. After all, the Boston College product had produced 25 goals for the first time in his career and could easily be moved at the deadline if he wasn’t open to a long-term deal. Not so fast though, as Hayes has been open with his desire to remain in New York past this season. In a new piece from Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Hayes explains that he can’t see himself playing for any other team:
…everybody knows how I feel about wanting to stay. I’ve loved my five years here. I love the organization, the guys, the staff, the city, the fans. I really can’t see myself anywhere else. But it’s also kind of out of my hands.
Out of his hands is right, as the Rangers will have to make the final decision on whether their short rebuild has done enough to hand over a big contract at this point. After acquiring a ton of young assets last year for names like Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, New York is already well on their way to a successful future. Is a soon to be 27-year old Hayes part of that, or just another chip to cash in over the next few weeks?
Heading into the post-All-Star portion of the season, New York sits sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a 21-20-7 record. That’s better than many predicted for them when the season began, and Hayes has been an integral part—if not their best player for long stretches. The center has 33 points in 39 games on the year. That kind of production would certainly be welcome moving forward, but as Brooks points out it would likely need to be on a five or six-year deal worth at least $6MM per season. That’s the kind of money you hand out when you’re ready to compete, not when you’re just looking to develop a young core.
That young core is impressive, too. Neal Pionk, Filip Chytil, Pavel Buchnevich, Brett Howden, Brady Skjei, Lias Andersson, Ryan Lindgren and others all look like they can be the next group that takes the Rangers to the playoffs, and adding more this deadline could make them quite a formidable group. That said, if the team expects to compete next season perhaps retaining names like Hayes and Chris Kreider, who is scheduled to be a free agent in 2020, is more valuable to the team than whatever they would bring back next month. For his part, Hayes hopes that is the decision the team makes.