Wednesday August 20th, 2014

After nearly a week of playing the field, free-agent winger Kevin Hayes has ended the suspense and signed on the dotted line with the New York Rangers.

It's a great deal for the Blueshirts, a team desperate for some high-end organizational depth after trading away three consecutive first rounders. But for Hayes, it's a confusing choice ... at least on the surface.

NHL
Clock ticking on Kevin Hayes' free agency decision

Hayes became August's top story when he utilized a CBA loophole to escape the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that drafted him 24th back in 2010. The assumption was he wanted a situation without an abundance of right wings (Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, etc) blocking his path to the NHL.

So it was curious that Hayes, who is coming off a breakthrough senior season in which he averaged 1.62 points per game at Boston College, would hook up with another club that has more right wingers than an Ann Coulter dinner party. Just look at the competition.

Rick Nash, with four years and $31.2 million remaining on his contract, isn't going anywhere.

There's Mats Zuccarello, New York's most effective player for much of last season, and Martin St. Louis, the forward the Rangers coughed up two first rounders and their captain to acquire at the March trade deadline. And Jesper Fast. And Lee Stempniak. And possibly even J.T. Miller.

Some of those players could slot in elsewhere in the lineup, but it could be tough for Hayes to find any room at the Broadway inn this season.

But it may be that he was looking for more than just a fast track to the NHL. And for a guy with a bit of vision, it's clear that there are opportunities on the horizon in New York.

St. Louis will turn 40 just before he goes UFA in the summer of 2015, and while he may still be a viable NHL forward at that point, it'll be tough for the cap-strapped Rangers to justify extending their relationship.

NHL
Off-season report: Retooled Rangers hard pressed to duplicate success

And Zuccarello? He's dynamite, but at his size (5'-7", 179 pounds) there will always be questions about his durability. And with his UFA asking price expected to come in north of $6 million next summer, he might value himself out of New York's range.

So maybe a little patience was a reasonable trade-off for the 22-year-old Hayes, who plays the bullish power forward game the Rangers always hoped they'd get out of Nash.

And maybe there were other factors in play here, like some residual animosity over Chicago's treatment of his older brother, Jimmy. Or maybe location helped seal the deal.

Whatever the case, the wine-and-dine segment of the program is over. Now it's time for Hayes to prove that he was worth all the attention...and maybe for some of those incumbent right wings to start looking over their shoulder.

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