It’s been a busy day for Jeff Gorton. After re-signing Chris Kreider to a new four-year deal worth an average cap hit of $4.625 million, the Rangers general manager hammered out a new two-year deal with restricted free agent Kevin Hayes. They agreed on a bridge deal worth $5.2 million ($2.6 AAV).
After a good rookie season in which he tallied 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points in 79 games, the 24-year old Dorchester, Massachusetts native had a bit of a disappointing sophomore year. He still finished with 14 goals and 22 helpers with 36 points in 79 contests. Nine points down from his first year with the club.
It didn’t end well for Hayes, who was benched by coach Alain Vigneault for the last two games of a first round loss against Pittsburgh. He entered playing better but wasn’t able to get anything going. Rental Eric Staal didn’t pay off. He wound up leaving for Minnesota.
As for Hayes, he certainly has the ability to be a more capable offensive player than what we got in Year 2. There were too many shifts where he disappeared. His play away from the puck suffered. He was one of the guilty forwards who didn’t always back check. Such play got Derick Brassard traded to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad and a 2018 second round pick.
The 6-5, 227 pound Hayes is a strong puck possession player with good vision. An unselfish player who continues to learn a new position at center, he needs to improve his consistency. If he ever reaches his full potential, 20 goals and 30-35 assists is possible. That would mean elevating his game to a level the Rangers are counting on. As he enters his third year, he could be asked to center the second line. That largely depends on who impresses more between him and Zibanejad, who is a two-time 20-goalscorer that’s improving.
Both are young talented players with upside. There’s only a one year age difference. Hayes is 24 while Zibanejad is 23. Each was selected in the first round. Hayes by the Blackhawks 24th overall in 2010. Zibanejad sixth overall in 2011.
While the most responsibility will be with number one pivot Derek Stepan, the Rangers’ offense depends largely on the development and maturity of Hayes and Zibanejad. They’re banking on each for the future.
Gorton did a great job getting all our players re-signed. He somehow was able to save money by moving Brassard. Remarkably, the Rangers still have around $3.5 million in cap space. Unfamiliar territory.
With virtually everything done, it looks like we’ll have to wait through the dog days of summer for two months until the World Cup of Hockey and then training camp. I’m happy to see everyone signed.