New York Rangers: Kevin Hayes deserves his long-term deal now

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 17: Kevin Hayes
ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 17: Kevin Hayes /

I’ll make it plain and simple to understand why Kevin Hayes deserves his pay day from the New York Rangers this summer.

If there is one thing that is certainly clear in reflecting on this foggy New York Rangers season, it is that forward Kevin Hayes deserves to be resigned to a long-term contract.

His two-year deal from 2016 expires this summer and he will become a restricted free agent.

If you are a Rangers fan that does not see this guy as a solid piece of the team’s future, I think that is absolute blasphemy and I’ll tell you why.

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I have written quite a few times about Kevin Hayes at this point and as for anyone who knows me, they know how much of a supporter I am of him as a player.

In the early years of his career when the team was crowded with popular vets, a lot of people would ask me “of all players, why Hayes?”

Well I’ve always believed in this guy, and if you were enough of a fan to stick it out until the very last game of the season this year, then you know Kevin Hayes stuck it out more than anyone.

This last month or so has served to be sort of like a tryout for next year, as general manager Jeff Gorton stated following the trade deadline that those games would tell who wants to be a part of the future.

Since the February 26 deadline, Kevin Hayes has answered that challenge as he posted the second most points on the club along with Chris Kreider in that span with 15 in 19 games. He tied Mika Zibanejad for most goals scored with ten a piece in that span.

He ended the year on a solid note posting five points in the last six games.

Overall, Hayes finishes his fourth NHL season with a career high in goals eclipsing 20 for the first time and reaching a satisfying 25, second on the team. He ends the season with 44 points, which is ironically not a career high for him as that was last season’s 49.

He played a little more selfishly this season as he learned to start shooting the puck more and although his assist total (19) suffered as it was a career low, his prolific shot paid off.

The 44 points makes him the third highest point scorer on the team (not counting Namestnikov’s points for the Lightning).

That is a progressive climb from being the fifth most the season prior and the eighth most the year before that.

Yes, there have been times where Hayes is a ghost for some spans which makes him streaky, but his end of the season impression and other contributions aside from offense make him worth the investment.

I have always stressed that the combination of his size and his set of hands is quite valuable and it makes him a fun player to watch. Add his evident shooting and play making abilities and his love for being a New York Ranger and how do you not love to have this guy?

I do understand that there is a surplus of players at the center position and some decisions will probably need to be made.

With Hayes, Spooner and Namestnikov all as restricted free agents this offseason, Zibanejad signed through another few seasons and a lot of future investment in Andersson and Chytil,  likely someone will have to be moved to address the issue.

If we are judging off of the play since February 26, there is an obvious choice to give the boot as I have made my case for Hayes and Spooner just tallied an impressive 16 points in 20 games as a Ranger.

Namestnikov’s 19 games as a Ranger was underwhelming to say the very least. He came from scoring 44 points on the Lightning to 4 with the Rangers in the last month and a half.

Say, that wouldn’t have anything to do with him being on the same line as two of the best players in the game in Tampa and benefiting his production would it?

Not to say he should definitely go, he is a talented player with so much potential, but it is clear he had a rough adjustment in New York and it could be a gamble to resign him to a long-term deal when the team doesn’t know if he’ll ever adjust.

Hayes and Spooner are also versatile players who can play either center or wing, whereas Namestnikov is only comfortable at center.

I’d like to keep all of them but that may not happen, and if someone has to go, it’s Namestnikov. He might just make a better fit elsewhere before the Rangers commit to him.

While Hayes can play either or, he is best off used as a center anyway, coming off a career high in face off win percentage at 50.54% on the year. He’s parks himself in front of the net and he’s shown he’s a problem there for opponents.

Ideally, I think the four centers next year should go Zibanejad, Hayes, Chytil, Andersson and have Spooner on the wing somewhere while figuring out a solution for Namestnikov.

I may be beating a dead horse here, but if this last month of Rangers hockey has served as a tryout, next to defenseman Brady Skjei, Hayes has earned his right to return more than any other RFA.

The speed and the defensive side of his game has improved drastically over his NHL career. He’s also growing into more of a leader in this locker room, which is something needed right now. As a critical Rangers fan, I have zero complaints about this guy. He’s given it everything.

If you’re still not convinced, he also finished the year at third in the league at scoring the first goal of the game which is an asset the Rangers can afford to have. He averaged third on the team behind Zuccarello and Zibanejad in time on ice/ games played amongst forwards.

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Hayes has stated that he wants to be a lifelong Ranger and when asked by John Giannone about his successful goal scoring season during an intermission on Thursday, he humbly disregarded his personal milestones and kept the focus on the team’s shortcomings.

This is a player I have believed in since his rookie year in 2015 and getting to see him develop more each season that I support him almost feels rewarding in itself as a fan.

Let’s not waste time deliberating and ensure that Kevin Hayes stays in blue on broadway.