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Behind The Numbers

Hayes proves value, creates trade quandary for Rangers

Forward has 37 points in 44 games, advanced statistics show how well he drives play

by Scott Cullen / NHL.com Correspondent

Behind the Numbers is a weekly series in which NHL.com examines both player and team trends with an emphasis being placed on advanced statistics. This week, we look at New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes, one of several players who could be moved before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline.

 

Kevin Hayes is a play-driving point producer who could help any team in the NHL.

At the same time, it's easy to see the appeal for the Rangers if they decide to keep the 26-year-old center, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

So should New York move Hayes before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET? Can it afford not to?

The Rangers, who announced before last season's trade deadline that they would embark on a rebuilding effort, exceeded expectations by starting this season 12-8-2.

But New York (23-22-8) is 11-14-6 in its past 31 games and is seven points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Video: BOS@NYR: Hayes scores from slot to trim deficit

One of the challenges facing a team in the Rangers' position is the course of action for a player like Hayes, who has advanced past the prospect stage but is not like veteran players traditionally traded to contending teams before the deadline.

Complicating matters is Hayes is having the best season of his NHL career with 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 44 games. His career high is 49 points (17 goals, 32 points) in 76 games in 2016-17.

Hayes, who signed a one-year contract with New York on July 30, 2018, is controlling play this season and logging a career-high 19:34 per game, a notable jump from last season's 17:21, his previous high.

During 5-on-5 play, the Rangers get 51.55 percent of shot attempts while Hayes is on the ice, which is second behind Chris Kreider (52.12). The more notable number for Hayes is how much better New York fares with him on the ice. He has a 7.23 relative SAT percentage, which ranks 14th in the NHL among players to play at least 20 games. Relative SAT percentage is an indicator of how much a team outshoots the opposition when a player is on the ice compared to when he's on the bench.

Why wouldn't a team want to keep a player with those credentials?

Though teams don't typically do it, the notion of buying low and selling high is an appealing team-building approach and, in the case of Hayes, New York would be selling him at a high point. The Rangers expended minimal capital when they signed Hayes as an unrestricted free agent from Boston College on Aug. 20, 2014.

Part of the reason his value is so high is he has been on the side of favorable percentages. His combined 5-on-5 on-ice shooting and save percentages is 1023, a number not unusual for Hayes during his five-season career. 

Video: TBL@NYR: Hayes buries Zibanejad's feed for PPG

Between New York getting consistently strong goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and Hayes having an above-average 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage, he has never had a combined shooting and save percentage below 1020. Since arriving in the NHL, he sits at 1023, which ranks 13th among skaters to play at least 200 games since 2014-15. 

Would Hayes have the same percentages in a new situation? That is something an interested team would have to determine.

Hayes (6-foot-5, 216 pounds) is versatile. He has primarily played center for the Rangers but has experience on the wing. He plays on the penalty kill and the power play and has also improved his work on face-offs, getting close to a break-even winning percentage (49.7) in the past two seasons.

Hayes has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 34 Stanley Cup Playoff games. It's a small sample, but that .29 point per game average would be part of the equation for the acquiring team, which undoubtedly would have postseason aspirations.

The question for New York is whether it would prefer to invest in a future with Hayes. 

The prime years for many players tend to range from ages 22 to 25 and the Rangers would have to understand the next contract for Hayes could be for seasons that likely won't be as productive as this one.

That is not to suggest Hayes' game will collapse, but most players are better in the early-to-mid-20s compared to their late 20s or early 30s.

Could New York benefit more in the long run by acquiring younger pieces for Hayes to help advance rebuilding efforts?

There are many contenders who could use Hayes in a top-six forward role, whether at center or on the wing, and that appeal should bring some quality. Will general manager Jeff Gorton target younger pieces that could align their career timelines more closely with the Rangers' top prospects, including Filip Chytil, a 19-year-old forward, and Brett Howden, a 20-year-old forward?

New York doesn't have to trade Hayes; it could sign him to a contract and he could be a positive contributor for years.

But, for a rebuilding club, it could make more sense to take a shot at the upside of a younger player or players, understanding it's a step back in the short term in hopes of taking a leap forward.

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