Rangers say goodbye to Hayes by sending him to Winnipeg

The second domino fell a little while ago. With over four hours left in today’s NHL Trade Deadline, the Rangers said goodbye to Kevin Hayes by sending him to Winnipeg in exchange for forward Brendan Lemieux, a 2019 first round pick and a conditional fourth round pick.

In his fifth season with the Blueshirts, the 26-year old center was having a good year on the rebuilding club. Despite missing 11 games including the last two this weekend, Hayes ranked third in team scoring with 42 points (14-28-42) in 51 contests.

A good two-way playmaking pivot who can play any situation including power play and penalty kill, the soon to be unrestricted free agent now moves to Winnipeg where he’ll be asked to help the Jets win a Stanley Cup. After setting a career high in goals (25) and power play goals (6) last season, the Dorchester, Massachusetts native continued to excel for the rebuilding Blueshirts as their second line center. Nine of his 14 goals came at even strength with him also notching two shorthanded goals to match a career high set last season. Twenty-eight of his 42 points have come at even strength.

There’s no question that he matured over the past two years following some inconsistency. Not too long ago, he acknowledged that after his rookie year in ’14-15, he slacked off and wasn’t in the best shape. Something changed for the better. It clicked for the former Blackhawks 2010 first round pick, who wound up signing with the Rangers as a college free agent after he couldn’t come to terms with Chicago.

The most points he put up on Broadway came in Year Three when he tallied 49 (17-32-49) over 76 games during ’15-16. Thirty-five of the 49 points came at even strength. In ’17-18, former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault used Hayes in more of a shutdown role as a match-up center. Facing opponents’ top scoring lines, he fared well while taking on more responsibility. A good possession player who makes teammates better, he finished with 44 points (25-19-44) including 34 at even strength with a plus-one rating.

An area Hayes improved on was face-offs. It’s easy to forget that he wasn’t a natural center when he entered the league. After struggling in the circle the first two seasons, he’s become respectable. Last year, he won a career best 50.5 percent on draws. In ’18-19, he’s a bit lower currently at 48.6. He’s still good enough to win key draws when it’s needed.

Winnipeg was searching for a good two-way forward who is capable of adding offense to a nucleus that features Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Bryan Little up front. Hayes can slide into the second line and center Laine, who’s had his difficulties with consistency. He recently snapped a 15-game goal drought with a pair on the power play in a win at Vegas. Laine added his 28th in a 4-1 loss Sunday night at Arizona. He’s a minus-23 despite ranking second on the team in goal scoring.

With Hayes playing for a new contract this summer, he should be in line for a long-term contract in the neighborhood of six to seven million over at least six years. That now becomes Winnipeg’s problem. Not that they’ll care if Hayes can help them win a championship. He was a good player for the Rangers, finishing his career in the Big Apple with 87 goals and 129 assists for a total of 216 points with a plus-31 rating over 361 games. Can he improve on a playoff career total of 10 points (2-8-10) in 34 games? The Jets are banking on it.

From a Rangers perspective, GM Jeff Gorton did good. Sure. He wasn’t able to pry Jack Roslovic. The former 2015 first rounder has 17 points for the Jets in his second year as a 22-year old. But they weren’t getting a player with his upside for a potential rental in Hayes. Hence the conditional fourth round pick in 2022 that was included, which can become a first if he can help Winnipeg win the Cup. I’m okay with that.

Funny enough, I was all over wanting a young, gritty forward like Brendan Lemieux to address the lack of toughness up front. While Lemieux won’t put up the numbers of his Dad Claude, he’s the type of player that is a pain in the butt for opponents to play against. Originally a Sabres second round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, he was part of a package that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and a St. Louis first round pick that became Roslovic. Buffalo also received Jason Kasdorf (who?). I would say it worked out better for Winnipeg with Kane now starring in San Jose. A team the Jets will be competing with to reach the Cup.

It took a while for the 22-year old Lemieux to establish himself as a NHL regular. After spending some time in the AHL, he got into nine games last season scoring his first NHL goal with 21 penalty minutes. This year, he’s become a pest who’s capable of contributing when he’s not mixing it up. In 44 contests with the Jets, he has nine goals and two assists with a plus-10 and 64 penalty minutes.

The young man can fight like his old man. Something the Blueshirts can use. A deterrent who can be plugged anywhere while standing up for more skilled teammates. Exactly the kind of high character player first-year coach David Quinn has coveted. I’m looking forward to seeing what Lemieux will bring.

Of course, I understand that some fans might be disappointed that they couldn’t get a better young prospect with a higher ceiling. I was in favor of seeing them try for Dillon Dube or Oliver Kylington from Calgary, who was said to be involved in talks along with Nashville. I guess that rumor involving Eeli Tolvanen was just that. Maybe the Predators will set their sights on Mark Stone if he doesn’t reach agreement on a new contract with Ottawa. There are still two hours left before 3 PM hits.

As far as value, a roster player, a first round pick and conditional pick is about right for Hayes. It helps the Rangers continue their path for the future. Now, we’re still waiting on Adam McQuaid. I don’t expect more than a third round pick if they’re lucky. Get what you can.

Wishing Hayes the very best with his new team. Hopefully, he won’t get hurt in his Winnipeg debut like Mats Zuccarello did for Dallas on Sunday.

In other trade news, the Devils sent Keith Kinkaid to Columbus for a fifth round pick. I’m sure Hasan will delve more into the move that allows Mackenzie Blackwood to be recalled. Marcus Johansson took the morning skate. The Devils host the Canadiens tonight.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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