New York Rangers centerman Kevin Hayes was one of the most dangerous players on the roster throughout the regular season. His coach’s efforts to shift his style of play has had an impact on his production.
The New York Rangers have not had much trouble scoring in games during their postseason run. They have seen goals from all four lines and have seen a point from every skater on the roster but Marc Staal.
However, Hayes who tied a career-high 17 goals, and reached a career-high 32 assists and 49 points is on the low end with just two assists in the Rangers 10 playoff games this postseason.
Vigneault choosing to shift Hayes’s role to a more defensive style has both its positives and negatives. This decision means that the Rangers need to be willing to accept a less productive Hayes and raises questions about the future of one of their most vital point sources.
New York Rangers
In a recent interview with the New York Post Hayes said that he is comfortable serving a more defensive role and is happy with the way he’s been playing, but he does feel he needs to make more of an impact on the stat sheet.
“I feel good where I’m at,” Hayes said. “I think I’ve taken more of a defensive role here… Defensively I’ve been where I want to be, and I want to help out offensively and I think I’ve generated chances.”
He has played strong defensively, from winning important faceoffs to blocking pucks in front of the net.
The Positive Side
Hayes has always had a tense relationship with his coach, but seeing Vigneault put Hayes into take faceoffs in important defensive zone faceoffs means there is a certain level of trust.
Throughout his career, and especially last season, Hayes has had a history of being benched by Vigneault. But in 2016-17, Hayes has turned his game around and gained the trust of his coach. This can not just be seen in the increased playing time and faceoffs taken by Hayes this season, but you can especially see it in Vigneault’s willingness to put his right winger in for important defensive zone faceoffs.
According to puckbase.com, Hayes’s faceoff percentage (FO%) during the regular season jumped from 36.0% last year to 45.7% in 2016-17. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that Hayes took almost three times the number of faceoffs this season as he did the last.
Hayes’s faceoff jumped from 372 in 2015-16 to 968, the second highest after Derek Stepan (1,522), this season.
In the playoffs, his numbers are even stronger. Hayes has won 99 of his 191 faceoffs for a FO% of 51.8%. However, statistics also show that he has a higher success rate in the defensive zone. Hayes has had 48 offensive zone starts and his FO% sits at 47.9%, sixth on the roster.
Compare this to holding the highest defensive zone FO% on the roster (57.1%) while taking almost twice as many defensive zone starts (92).
Putting Hayes in for these defensive zone faceoffs shows that Vigneault trusts not only his ability to win faceoffs in important moments but also that he trusts the work that his right winger will put in on defense to clear pucks and generate offensive zone opportunities.
The Negative Side
While it’s great that Vigneault has shown a level of trust in Hayes, using a player that was so dangerous in the offensive end throughout the regular season primarily for situations on the Rangers own end means he has to work twice as hard to get chances on net.
Yes, Hayes can still generate opportunity out of the defensive end, but this switch has clearly impacted the success of one of the Rangers most vital offensive pieces throughout the regular season.
In this interview with The Post, Vigneault mentioned that he would like to see Hayes take more attempts on net, but by playing him in a more defensive role, it seems at this point that he may be spreading right winger too thin.
By playing Hayes in these situations, Vigneault is effectively saying that this is the role he feels he needs him to fill right now. By making this decision he needs to acknowledge that he is effectively taking him out of important offensive moments, which are moments he thrived in throughout the regular season.
Vigneault’s choice to dismantle Hayes’s line with Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller in favor of a fourth line with a little more depth has had some impact on the defensive shift. Adding a player like Jesper Fast to the line with Hayes and Grabner begs for them to serve a more defensive role as this is one of Fast’s greatest strengths on the ice.
Yes, Hayes hasn’t been taking enough shots on net. But it is a result of increased defensive zone starts and responsibility. He is arguably one of the best defensive forwards this postseason.
Hayes has by no means disappeared in the playoffs, he has worked extremely hard on both ends of the ice. His limited offensive zone faceoffs, alongside a tendency to pass first, have directly impacted his numbers.
The major concern here is what this means for Hayes in his future on the Rangers roster. There needs to be some decision or balance between where Hayes spends his time and energy.
So long as the rest of the team keeps producing through the playoffs, Hayes can take a secondary defensive role.
But when you lose a few close games in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is it worth it to have one of your most dangerous forwards locked up on the defensive end of the ice?