In a letter addressed to fans back in February, New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton was transparent about the impending departures of potential fan favorites.
True to his word, Gorton traded Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, then-captain Ryan McDonagh, and J.T. Miller. The Rangers acquired a surplus of draft capital in exchange, something that the Rangers have not had for years.
Now, the question is whether forward and Dorchester, Massachusetts native Kevin Hayes will be sent packing. Hayes, who is currently in the midst of a nine-game point streak, has solidified himself as an effective, defensive-oriented player with a rare combination of size and speed, and is on pace to finish with 73 points. An asset on both the power play and penalty kill, Hayes has gained the adulation of scouts all throughout the season.
With a career-best season underway and free agency looming, Jeff Gorton has to decide whether to acquire assets in exchange for the services of Hayes, or to re-sign and retain him for the duration of the rebuild, and beyond. Hayes will easily be able to command a deal with an AAV north of $6 million.
Teams, especially those on the precipice of winning the Stanley Cup (Tampa Bay and Toronto in particular), will easily deal high draft picks to acquire fifth-year forward, even first-rounders.
Jeff Gorton really cannot go wrong either way. Hayes possesses a unique skill set and has his prime years ahead of him. On the other hand, the Rangers can attempt to develop their own homegrown stars. The last homegrown star not named Henrik Lundqvist who has donned a Blueshirts jersey is Brian Leetch, the Hall of Fame defenseman and two-time Norris winner whose final game as a Ranger was March 2nd of 2004.
Since then, the last true superstar forward the Rangers have had is Jaromir Jagr, who also has been out of town for a long time.
Despite the infinitesimally low chances of this alternative scenario, what if the Rangers traded Hayes for draft picks, and then signed him during the summer? Granted, they will have about $25 million in cap space during free agency, enough to sign one marquee free agent. Whether Hayes is to be a part of the team’s future or not will be discovered by February 25th.