Thanks to the harsh nature of rebuilding under a hard salary cap, the New York Rangers may have to say goodbye to either Kevin Hayes or Mats Zuccarello.
This is more than just moving up in the NHL Draft for the New York Rangers.
The organization still has some tough decisions to make as they embark on a tricky 2018-2019 season. General manager Jeff Gorton and his team are suddenly forced to address two players that could make or break the reconstruction of this franchise.
Left wing Mats Zuccarello, the 30-year-old veteran of eight seasons, and 26-year-old Kevin Hayes, who will be entering his fifth season with the Rangers, represent those two hockey individuals of the moment.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post mentioned in his Slapshots article this past week that it seems more teams are looking at Kevin Hayes as opposed to Mats Zuccarello. For the Rangers, Hayes might be more expendable with their current depth at the center position.
The team currently employs a logjam at center. Hayes, Mika Zibanejad, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Boo Nieves and Brett Howden are all battling for four center positions.
The team is most likely going with Zibanejad, Andersson, Chytil and Hayes, for now. The question then must be asked if Hayes remains with New York, is it smart to place Andersson or Chytil as the fourth line center? Is that the best use for either of the first-round draft picks from last season?
This scenario alone would make Hayes a valued commodity in the trade market.
Hayes experienced a career year last season. Appearing in 76 games, the center scored 25 goals with 44 points. At the faceoff-dot, Hayes won 50.5 percent of all the draws he took. The impending Group II restricted free-agent center would bring the Rangers a solid defenseman or a scoring forward.
Mats Zuccarello drew plenty of interest as the trade deadline came and went last season. One rumor had him set to go to the Colorado Avalanche.
Zucc will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-2019 season which is the reason the interest in him has swayed some. The interest in him should pick up again once this season’s trade deadline comes around.
Having Zuccarello on the team can only help the Rangers as he is an excellent role model and teacher for the younger players on the team. In 80 games last season, Zuccarello scored 16 goals with 53 points. He is a fierce competitor on the ice who demonstrates incredible passing skills.
He is the face of the franchise next to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Fans tend to lean on their loyalties and respect instead of contracts and stats. In a poll I took earlier in the week, I asked who would fans rather see traded, Hayes or Zuccarello? By a 2-1 margin, everyone who voted chose Kevin Hayes.
#NYR As trade rumors continue, if you had to choose only one player, would you trade Kevin Hayes or Mats Zuccarello? @BleedBlueShow @drennaESNY @DonLagreca @BrandonMSprecks @nealbird @EliteSportsNY @BlueshirtBanter @NYRangers_BSN @RonDuguay10 @VallysView
— RangerProud (@RangerProud) June 20, 2018
The Rangers could trade Hayes to either move up in the draft or during the summer to improve the lineup. That may not help the Zuccarello situation, though.
Should the Rangers and Zucc’s camp not come to an agreeable contract extension, he, too, could be traded or worse. He could walk away at season’s end with no compensation coming back to New York.
The Rangers could be without both Hayes and Zuccarello when the dust settles. Talk about a major overhaul if they don’t have either player on the team at year’s end.
The decisions made now will affect the team over the next few years. Kevin Hayes may hold greater return value than Zuccarello, but his scoring and overall skill-set is higher. The Rangers have invested a lot in both players, but Hayes has finally put together a season to be proud of and one that can be built upon.
Should the decision need to be made, Hayes is a better fit, younger and possesses more scoring talent—stuff that favors a hockey rebuild
Zuccarello has our loyalty and respect, but that may not be enough for the Rangers.
We will have a better idea of what the organization is planning once Friday evening comes in the form of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas.