Rangers Have Nothing to Regret over Hayes Trade

They say that “history is written by victors.” If that’s indeed the case, ex-New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes should have treaded more lightly, hilariously arguing the Rangers trading him last season will come back to haunt them.

Rangers to Rebound Without Hayes

In Hayes’ defense, he did actually slip in a seemingly half-hearted “no hard feelings” in the interview before his Philadelphia Flyers beat the Rangers 4-1 this past weekend. Hayes even put his money where his mouth is to a certain extent by scoring in the decisive victory. However, looking at the big picture, namely games that actually count, the Rangers could realistically contend for a playoff spot, in spite of their 12th-place finish last season.

New York Rangers' Kevin Hayes
Kevin Hayes – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Wenig)

Considering where the Rangers were a year and half ago, openly declaring their intentions to rebuild, the hypothetical turnaround would be astounding. Nevertheless, looking at the roster taking shape, featuring the likes of top-free-agent Artemi Panarin, potential rookie-sensations Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov, the emerging Alexandar Georgiev and newcomer Jacob Trouba, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. The Rangers will at the least be a force with which to be reckoned.

Flyers Overpay for Hayes

Granted, that could be true of the Flyers as well. However, for all of Hayes’ pomp and trash talk, even if out of sheer gamesmanship, they finished just ahead of the Rangers in the standings last season.

Not only that, but it’s hard to see how the Flyers might have improved to a greater degree this past offseason. Their big free-agent acquisition was Hayes (albeit via trade with the Winnipeg Jets prior to July 1). By that measuring stick alone, the Rangers came out ahead. Who would you rather have? Panarin or Hayes?

Columbus Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin
Ex-Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin – (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File)

Sure, Panarin comes with an $11.6 million cap hit, but that’s kind of the point. To make space, the Rangers couldn’t possibly have kept Hayes in the fold. Not with just over $200,000 left in projected cap space. Certainly not with the by-most-accounts inflated seven-year, $50 million deal Hayes eventually signed.

Rangers Make Good on Hayes Trade

As a result, the Rangers had to make sacrifices, with Hayes and close-friend Jimmy Vesey getting dealt. That’s just the business, especially as there was never a guarantee Hayes would stay as a pending unrestricted free agent. So, the Rangers trading him for Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick? That’s not only good business, but good sense too. It was hardly one of the worst trades of last season, anyway.

Consider how the first-round pick they got actually went back to the Jets (with Neal Pionk) for Trouba. In that sense, Hayes, as a trade chip, technically helped them retool their defense, which gave up 33.8 shots per game last season, as they gained a projected top-pairing defenseman. The 33.8 shots against ranked third-highest in the NHL last season, while the Rangers scored the 24th-most goals, making the team’s offense a bit less of a priority.

That being said, Trouba’s 50 points as a rearguard last season should help the Rangers replace the offense they did lose with Hayes. He never hit that total in four full seasons as a Blueshirt. As much as the truth may sting, facts are facts.

Ex-Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s good Hayes has a chip on his shoulder. It should serve him well, because logic, at least in this specific case, is far from in his corner. He’s speaking from his heart and that’s understandable. He may feel slighted, seeing as he claims he wanted to stay with the Rangers all along. They just didn’t give him the job security he now has with the Flyers.

The job security should at least make for an exciting next seven years of inter-Metropolitan match-ups between the two teams, that’s for sure. He and his Flyers may have won the first battle, but there are many more to come in the war. And, whether he intended to or not, Hayes just put the spotlight squarely on himself. Safe to say he didn’t think this thing all the way through. Clearly, looking at just how well the trade is poised to work out for the Rangers. Hopefully his words don’t come back to haunt him.