The curious case of Libor Hajek

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Libor Hajek #25 of the New York Rangers looks to pass in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on April 22, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 22: Libor Hajek #25 of the New York Rangers looks to pass in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on April 22, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Death, taxes, and Libor Hajek’s spot in the New York Rangers organization; the three guarantees in life.

The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and Libor Hajek is still a New York Ranger. The young Czech defenseman continues to defy the odds and survive countless roster moves and turnover in the Rangers’ lineup.

While Rangers General Manager Chris Drury accomplished the task he set out to accomplish prior to Monday’s deadline, the one move that continues to puzzle fans and beat writers alike is Libor Hajek’s presence in the organization.

It is no well kept secret that Hajek has struggled during his Rangers tenure. His first five-game audition back in the 2018-19 NHL season yielded some promising results, however a shoulder injury consequently led to an early exit for the now 24-year-old

Unfortunately for both Hajek and the Blueshirts, it has been a downhill spiral since then.

Hajek’s season by the numbers

Hajek, a native of Smrcek, Czech Republic, has had a season consumed with time spent in the press box; and rightfully so, as the emergence of the stout, 20-year-old defenseman Braden Schneider accompanied by the recent return to form of veteran blueliner Patrik Nemeth have pushed Hajek further down the depth chart.

During the brief amount of time Hajek has suited up, that is 16 games to be precise, Hajek has recorded a single point; that lonely point was an assist in a loss to the Florida Panthers back on December 29th.

While point totals are not everything, and certainly should not be the determining factor in deciding a defensemans usefulness, it is quite clear that Hajek does not possess the necessary skill traits to contribute offensively.

Diving deeper into the numbers shows Hajek’s substandard Corsi percentage of 39.0 during the 16 games he has participated in.

While Corsi is not too in depth of a statistic, as novelist Jules Verne could surely search deeper, it provides enough insight to display Hajek’s poor on-ice performance this year. Other underlying stats, both offensively and defensively, have been equally cringeworthy.

Furthermore, Hajek has been present on the ice for 12 goals against in those 16 games and a mere four goals four in that same time frame.

Continuing the trend of poorly kept secrets, that is an inadequate total which is likely one of the reasons why No. 25 remains watching from the press box above.

Which begs the necessary question, why is Libor Hajek still a New York Ranger? Or at the very least, why is he on the active roster rather than playing in the Rangers farm system with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack?

The correct response to such a conundrum is based around the fact that Hajek must clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL.

While he did spend some time with the Wolf Pack earlier this season, the fact of the matter is that it was on a brief conditioning stint, thus Hajek did not have to proceed through the waiver process.

Should the Rangers attempt to assign Hajek to AHL Hartford, they must accept the risk of losing Hajek to waivers, and thus receiving nothing from his departure.

Would another team take a chance on the young defender, despite his inferior play? Hajek’s low cap hit, $874,125 on a one year deal, may suggest that a struggling team with a history of questionable decision making such as the Ottawa Senators could potentially pluck Hajek off the waiver wire.

A poor trade and high expectations

Ultimately, Hajek’s roster spot seems to be solidified by the disaster of a trade that brought him to New York in the first place.

February 26th, 2018, then Rangers GM Jeff Gorton made a big move by star defenseman and team captain Ryan McDonagh along with J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lighting in exchange for Vladislov Namestnikov, prospects Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall- Nils Lundkvist) and a 2019 conditional first round pick (became a second round pick because Tampa did not win the Stanley Cup, 58th overall- Karl Henriksson).

At this moment, around 3 p.m. at the time, was when Libor Hajek’s spot on the roster was set in stone. No matter how poor the on-ice product was, he would play.

Gorton had placed an emphasis on acquiring Libor Hajek in the deal, as Hajek was seen as a potential replacement for McDonagh later on down the line.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and that trade is well known to be an albatross. The acquisition and insistence of making the young Czech defenseman the centerpiece of such a massive trade was always going to place high expectations on Hajek.

However unfair as that may be, it is the natural occurrence of professional sports. Thus, here we are.

Hajek has not played well, but the insistence on justifying that particular trade and ensuring the Rangers receive some sort of value from the move will mean Hajek has a home on the Rangers roster, barring a potential trade for something of any meaningful value.

So it seems as though the Rangers are caught between a rock and a hard place.

It is a new regime, but the idea still remains. Rather than a curious case, perhaps it was an unfortunate case of high expectations and overhype that has resulted in the ongoing Hajek experiment.

Must Read. A very big win. light