Flyer insanity signing Hayes might impact Rangers with Kreider

I was gonna post this about three hours sooner. But a unfortunate panic episode had me recovering with a cold shower following a workout. So, I kept myself occupied doing stuff I needed to do here.

What I’m about to say isn’t easy. I like Kevin Hayes. He was a good player for the Rangers. He matured into a quality two-way, second line center under coach Alain Vigneault. It sure explains a lot with the Flyers recently acquiring his negotiating rights from cash strapped Winnipeg, who had no intention of keeping him, or newest Blueshirt Jacob Trouba.

Normally, I’d be like whatever in regards to the new contract Hayes agreed to with the Flyers. Not this time though. So, before I go off on the lunacy that’s become the NHL market, please have a closer look at this signing.

Now, you can imagine my astonishment when I finally logged into Twitter following the shower. To see TSN insider Bob McKenzie report that figure for Hayes really made me do a double take. Holy bleeping bleep!

I figured a good player like Hayes would top out at $6.5 million AAV. Instead, he’s gonna average a whopping $7.14 million over the next seven seasons in Philadelphia. Wow!

Please keep in mind this is a player who’s went over 50 points once in his first five seasons. The 27-year old ex-Ranger accomplished it in ’18-19 by combining to record 19 goals along with a career best 36 assists for a new career high of 55 points between the Rangers and Jets. Interestingly, he fared better on Broadway by going 14-28-42 in 51 contests before tallying five goals and eight helpers for 13 points in 20 games with Winnipeg.

In a tough six-game first round elimination to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues, he went 2-1-3 in a closely fought series that really didn’t feel like a Western Conference quarterfinal. That’s the sheer genius of this ass backwards league.

It’s also noteworthy that for some inexplicable reason, Hayes had his ice-time dramatically cut by Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice in the middle of the series. Eventually, it went back up in crunch time. Hayes didn’t perform badly considering how Maurice handled him. I really felt that the veteran bench boss did both his team and Hayes a disservice in that first round defeat. They rented him for the sole purpose of going far in the postseason much like last year. It was a puzzling decision.

Anyone with a pulse knew there was no chance Hayes was sticking around. The Jets had too many other key players. So, they took back a fifth round pick from the Flyers for Hayes’ rights. When deals like that go down, the team that acquires the player wants to sign them. So, it’s no surprise Hayes is officially a Flyer and off the market.

Now, is he worth that insane $50 million over seven years?

Excuse my humor. 😁 This really isn’t aimed at Hayes either. I respect what he did in NYC. He was also very honest about how much he struggled in his sophomore year due to thinking he’d arrived. I knew about it through a source. Let’s just say he wasn’t doing the best he could and leave it at that.

He recommitted himself and improved leaps and bounds between his third and fourth year. He’s a three zone player, who can be trusted at five-on-five, power play and penalty kill. It’s not like he won’t help the Flyers playing behind Sean Couturier and between Nolan Patrick.

You want to blame someone for this contract? Look no further than what the Islanders gave Brock Nelson. He also went over 50 points for the first time in his career due to an increased top six role under coach Barry Trotz, mostly because of John Tavares’ departure. Nelson got an AAV of $6 million over the next six years. At least it’s for one less year.

Also 27, the former Isles 30th overall pick in the same 2010 Draft as Hayes, who went number 24 to the Blackhawks, Nelson has scored at least 20 goals in four seasons. However, here’s the rub. In 480 career games, he’s totaled only a dozen more points (124-117-241) than Hayes (92-137-229), who has played in 99 less games.

If you do the math, it helps explain why Hayes got what he did compared with Nelson. Essentially a million more. They’re different centers. Hayes has totaled 67 even strength goals, 14 power play goals and six shorthanded goals over his five-year career. By comparison, Nelson has 100 even strength goals, 23 PPG and just one shorthanded goal in a six-year career.

The assist breakdown for Nelson is 90 even strength, 26 power play and one shorthanded. Hayes comes in at 99 even strength, 23 power play and seven shorthanded.

Based on that, you can conclude that Hayes is the more complete player, which further justifies the money he got. The issue is the Flyers gave him seven years. One more than Nelson, who’ll be 33 when his contract expires in 2025. More reasonable than Hayes’ deal that’ll take him through 2026 when he’ll be 34 by its conclusion.

That’s assuming he doesn’t become a cap casualty by either trade like former Ranger teammates Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan, or bought out. Remember Scott Gomez? Yeah. I went there because it’s basically the same contract. Crazy.

The NHL market dictates what players get paid. Even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of fiscal dollars and cents. That’s why so many teams lock up their young franchise players with ridiculous contracts that actually are worth it in most cases due to their talent. Crosby, anyone? Remember that contract Ovechkin got? Now, it’s a huge bargain and has been for quite some time.

Who would you rather have entering 2019-20? Proven superstars like Crosby and Ovechkin, who have carried their teams to championships while still being at peak level. Or rather Artemi Panarin, who despite dynamic talent, hasn’t accomplished much with his first two teams (Blackhawks, Blue Jackets) despite some excellent statistics in four NHL seasons. He’s gonna break the bank just like former Norris winner Erik Karlsson.

You know. The superb offensive Dynamo who just got a very long max contract to stay in San Jose for a very high AAV of $11.5 million thru 2027. As much as I love and admire Karlsson, he’s already breaking down. What’s he going to look like in a few years? That’s the huge risk the Sharks are taking. They know time is running out on delivering a Cup. So, they went the extra mile. Good luck.

So, what does all this June madness mean for Chris Kreider? I hate to be the harbinger of bad news. But he’s probably played his last game as a Ranger. 😕

What exactly could he command if he hits the market next summer? He is still on a cap friendly deal worth an average of $4.625 million that expires in 2020. That bargain is coming to an end and it could be sooner rather than later.

Why? In his sixth season, he eclipsed 50 points for the second time. While the very physically gifted Kreider hasn’t been consistent, he’s had at least 21 or more goals in four of the past five seasons. That includes matching his career mark of 28 set in ’16-17 when he also established a career best 53 points. Had he not needed blood clot surgery during ’17-18, he would have at least 20 goals in five straight years. Over 58 games, he went 16-21-37.

What could a player of Kreider’s caliber get in a player’s market? Due to escalating salaries, I don’t think he will settle for the proposed $6.5 million AAV I envisioned. Why should he? He’s more than a numbers guy. Anyone that’s followed him knows better.

Not only does Kreider bring strong five-on-five play due to possession. He also is a force in front of the net on the power play where his size and net presence can create havoc for opposing goalies. The ironic part is he’s never scored more than seven power play goals in any year. But he does such a good job screening that it takes away a goalie’s vision. He might not always get credit for scoring on the man-advantage. But you better believe he has a lot to do with some of the goals scored.

At 28, the former Rangers ’09 first round pick has developed into a leader on a young, rebuilding roster. Personally, I’d love nothing better than to keep him. That’s up to both Jeff Gorton and John Davidson to decide.

If Hayes can get seven million over seven years, why shouldn’t Kreider ask for similar? It’s up to him. How much does he value playing here for possibly his entire career? He’s built strong relationships with Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and a variety of other teammates.

I guess what it comes down to is does Kreider believe in what the Blueshirts are doing. He’s got maybe four peak years left. That’s if he avoids the injury bug. We know he’s tough. He played through it the final two months only missing three games. His production suffered. But the leadership he showed is something the newer faces can learn from. Ditto for his postgame interviews, which were always on the money.

The first time I saw Kreider was during the memorable 2010 USA run at the Under 20 World Junior Championship where they won gold. He and future Rangers linemate Stepan were terrific. I believed the former Boston College standout could reach 30 goals and 70 points. As it turned out, the 30 goals was realistic. But the seventy points wasn’t due to the style he plays.

To be honest, he’s never had a legit number one center who makes it easier for teammates to score. No disrespect to Stepan or Zibanejad. I’m merely talking elite centers.

When I reflect back on the three long playoff runs that began in 2012 when a young Kreider scored big goals before he even played an NHL regular season game, the Big Man has always been important to each postseason. Who could forget his impact against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final that’ll always be remembered fondly by the Garden Faithful? Or bitterly by some nonsensical Canadiens fans, who still blame Kreider for what happened to Carey Price, and not Alexei Emelin.

I appreciate what Kreider has done here. If it’s indeed over, he totaled 133 goals with 138 assists for 271 points over 460 games. In the playoffs, he wound up with 23 goals and 14 assists for 37 points in 77 games. Of the 23 postseason goals, nine came on the power play and six were game-winners. The other 14 coming at even strength, proving that he was an effective player, who produced a good percentage during crucial moments. Here is my favorite!

We were in the house for that emotional tying goal in a do or die Game Five against the Capitals. I’ll never forget telling my brother they needed a miracle right before Stepan pulled up and fed Kreider for that one-timer past Braden Holtby. Kreider delivered!

We all know what followed. The Stepan drop to Ryan McDonagh in overtime and a wild celebration at The Garden. Then, hanging on for dear life after building a lead that dwindled in a crazy third period in DC. Lundqvist was unbelievable that night. He was still at his peak in besting Holtby in an amazing Conference Semifinal that felt like a different round.

Maybe it hurt them against Tampa. Given how many defensemen played hurt in the mind numbing third round, it definitely had an affect. That was the year to win too.

If the organization decides it’s in their best interest to move on from Kreider due to the increasing price on an extension, I can’t blame them. Unless he’s willing to take a little less to stay, I have a sinking feeling he’s gone.

It could come quick. Maybe as soon as the vaunted first round in two days at Vancouver. This is a deep draft. The Rangers traded away two of their draft picks to improve their blueline with the additions of Adam Fox and now Trouba. Would it really shock anyone if they dangled Kreider to trade back into the first round and get a center?

Maybe they wait until after this weekend. It probably makes more sense. The two sides have to be holding discussions. It’s critical. If they decide to move on from Kreider, that could free up enough room to go after Panarin. Even if I believe they can use a center instead.

Unless Jack Hughes falls into their lap, they’re a center short. As good as Kaapo Kakko is, I would prefer him play on the right wing where he can use his size, skill and strength to score goals. His tools are similar to Jaromir Jagr. It’s that impressive watching him control play. I’m not saying he’s in the same league as the legendary No. 68. Just that Kakko has a lot to offer if he’s a Blueshirt.

What Hughes would offer is a legit franchise center who can become a superstar. The likes of which we haven’t seen since Mark Messier came over from Edmonton. Only this would be an 18-year old first round pick at the very beginning. That doesn’t happen here. Neither does Kakko. This is unchartered territory for this fan base.

But before anyone goes overboard, they’re not ready to compete for the playoffs. It will depend on the maturation of young players including Hughes or Kakko, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov, Fox, Libor Hajek, Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin.

That doesn’t include K’Andre Miller, who’s at least a year away from the NHL. Nils Lundkvist is also another young defenseman the team grabbed in last year’s first round. There’s a lot to like, but quite a few faces and name plates will change by the time this team is finally ready to return to the postseason.

I don’t know what’ll happen the next few days. I do know Gorton will be busy working the phones. It’s gonna be hectic. Look at what’s happened already in other places. Here’s hoping they don’t deviate from the long-term game plan.

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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