The final RFA, Kevin Hayes, signed a new contract with the New York Rangers only hours after the organization agreed to a four-year deal with pending RFA Chris Kreider. As many expected, and as predicted by Real Talk Rangers, Hayes was able to negotiate a bridge contract worth $2.6 million per year for the next two seasons.
Kevin Hayes was a source of warranted frustration for the Blueshirts last season. Coming off an impressive rookie campaign where he potted 17 goals and 28 assists, he followed it up with a less than stellar 14 goals and 22 assists. Although the numbers from his sophomore year are not drastically different from his rookie season, his motivation, drive and hockey sense were all questioned following the 2016 season. Often Hayes found himself out of position, gliding back to play defense and missing golden opportunities to score goals. The chart below compares his last two seasons and demonstrates that while his offensive production did decline from his rookie year, it did not decline drastically.
There is no doubt that Hayes, at 6-foot-5 inches, 227 lbs, and the young age of 24, has tremendous upside. Hopefully he can use these last two years in order to mature as a player and increase his offensive production as the Rangers likely third or fourth line center.
The bridge deal given to Hayes is another example of Jeff Gorton being smart about where he puts his money for the next few years. Leaving flexibility in money and term allows the Rangers to move pieces around as they see fit. Hayes will now be under the microscope for the next two seasons: If he performs and proves he deserves to be in the NHL, he will likely be awarded a contract similar to Kreider’s; if he underperforms, he will likely get a lowball offer from the Rangers or simply have to take offers from other organizations.
Another speculative motivation about the Rangers signing Hayes has to do with the fact that he is a very close friend of the highly coveted Harvard graduate and looming free agent Jimmy Vesey. Vesey, who will become a free agent on August 15, has told reporters that he has a short list of teams that he has taken meetings with. The list is assumed to include the Sabres, Bruins, and Rangers. Who knows whether or not Hayes will have any pull in trying to recruit Vesey. Either way, it can’t hurt having Hayes-the-recruiter signed.
With both moves on Saturday, the Rangers now have an estimated $3.4 million in cap space. While the Rangers are usually not a team to sit on excess money, new GM Jeff Gorton has shown he can be patient with making moves in order to improve his team.
Reports have again put the Rangers in the Shattenkirk market and surely they will be all in for the Vesey sweepstakes. Stay tuned for more updates.
Let’s Go Rangers!