The New York Rangers decided that it was more beneficial for their “rebuild” plan to move on from Kevin Hayes as opposed to re-signing him to a long-term contract. Whether you think it was a smart move by management to part ways with one of the best second-line centers in the league or not, it has now impacted the overall outlook of the 2018-19 season.
In his first four seasons with New York he averaged 43.5 points, 18 goals and logged a 7.5 +/- rating. This season he is on pace for nearly 60 points (career high) and has been one of the best players for the Rangers throughout this new learning curve. Sure, they were nowhere a playoff spot, but what he brought to this young roster was a veteran presence and consistency night in and night out.
I still cannot believe Jeff Gorton opted to not pony-up and sign Hayes to a long-term deal, and quite frankly, it was not a “smart” move as many analysts think. They traded him to the Jets for a first-round pick in 2019 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 (which they will get if the Jets win the Stanley Cup), plus 22-year-old winger Brendan Lemieux. So the reality of it is that by looking at this current team from top to bottom, management believes that an extra first-rounder and a prospect that hasn’t fit in well on an offensively loaded team will be better suited than a player who has proven his worth for nearly five years. One is a guaranteed NHLer, while the other option weighs in the balance of an unknown pick in the draft. Interesting…let’s see how this one plays out, cotton.
The former Boston College alum has been playing at a dominant level in 2019 and brings tremendous depth to a stacked Jets franchise. Not only does does he make Winnipeg legitimate Cup contenders, but his style of play fits in nicely with the current core already in place. He is a solid penalty killer and can chip in with the man-advantage, while also playing a full 200-foot game. With Josh Morrissey sidelined with an upper-body injury, Hayes will have to step in and be a factor right out of the gate.
The Hayes trade not only impacts the Central Division, but it has ripple effects across the rest of the Western Conference as well. Las Vegas and Nashville both felt pressure to get significant deals done at the deadline buzzer after seeing Winnipeg pull the trigger earlier in the day.
The Golden Knights won the Mark Stone sweepstakes and inked him to an 8-year deal worth $9.5 million annually. Vegas was a heavy favorite in the preseason to get back to the Finals, and after an up and down month of February they are positioned right back in the thick of things. The Predators made a play for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmondsand added another big, physical forward to their roster, while also trading for Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund.
If the season ended today, the Central Division would have five representatives (the most a division can have) and the top two seeds are separated by a single point, with the third place team just 5 points back. Oh, and that third team is the St. Louis Blues who have won 12 out of their last 14 games and are catching fire at the right time. Talk about a playoff race HEATING up!
San Jose added Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist to make an impact on the third line, while Calgary stayed quiet and decided to keep their roster intact just as the Presidents Trophy run-away Tampa Bay Lighting did out East. Was it smart? Well, that remains to be seen, but as the old saying goes–“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Now, if I had a gun to my head and was forced to pick a team this minute to represent the East, I’m taking the Bolts. They have the league’s leading scorer and rank first overall in power play percentage (29.7%) and penalty kill percentage (85.7%), and they have the soon-to-be Vezina Trophy winner shutting the door in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Their track record in the postseason isn’t great, but their experiences losing the past four years will finally pave the way for them to get over the hump in 2019. I mean, how else can you look at it…they have lost in Game 7 of the Conference Final to the eventual Stanley Cup winners in both 2016 and 2018. This has to be the year, right?
As far as the West goes, I actually don’t know. At the beginning of the year I picked Winnipeg to be the representative, but they have looked shaky at times. Patrik Laine has had one of the strangest seasons out of any superstar, but looks like he might have regained his scoring touch heading into the final stretch of the year. With Dustin Byfuglienin the lineup they have a steady back-end and rank fourth in the league in PP% (25.3%).
Calgary doesn’t have the overall experience in my opinion to get it done, and their goaltending could be the difference between a deep run or a one-and-done finish in April. San Jose is the type of team that on paper they should be a lock, but have yet to really take that extra step, while Vegas has taken a step in the wrong direction in February after a dominating month of January to open the 2019 calendar year.
I already mentioned St. Louis’ hot hand, but I truly believe that the Western representative will come out of the Central Division, and will ultimately come down to another hard-nosed, Game 7 series between the Jets and Predators. Both team’s have loaded up and added depth to positions in need, and the final 20 games of the year will dictate who gets home ice advantage in the second round.
The Hayes trade not only impacted the Jets, but it likely gives them the upper hand come playoff time. The Rangers loan is the Jets’ biggest deadline acquisition in franchise history and the Boston native will look to guide the city of Winnipeg to their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.