April 21, 2019

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Hayes happy to help in Cup quest

Trade acquisition excited to join Jets teammates

In a final effort to boost their lineup ahead of Monday’s 2 p.m. NHL trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets acquired Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers in a deal that sent a player and picks the other way.

Sitting atop the Central Divisions standings, the Jets (37-21-4) were pegged as major buyers heading into the day. Winnipeg had been reported for weeks to be looking to add another centreman, a position considered to be the missing piece for another long playoff run.

“I know they gave up a lot for me and I just want to help them out," Hayes, 26, said in a conference call from New York. "Everyone knows how good they are and the type of players that they have on their team. I’m excited to get going here.”

In return, the Rangers received the Jets’ first-round selection this year, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 (only if Winnipeg wins the Stanley Cup in 2019) and young winger Brendan Lemieux. The Hayes acquisition highlighted what was a busy day for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who, in total, added six players to his roster.

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Kevin Hayes has been working on the defensive side of his game. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

Kevin Hayes has been working on the defensive side of his game. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press files)

In a final effort to boost their lineup ahead of Monday’s 2 p.m. NHL trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets acquired Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers in a deal that sent a player and picks the other way.

Sitting atop the Central Divisions standings, the Jets (37-21-4) were pegged as major buyers heading into the day. Winnipeg had been reported for weeks to be looking to add another centreman, a position considered to be the missing piece for another long playoff run.

"I know they gave up a lot for me and I just want to help them out," Hayes, 26, said in a conference call from New York. "Everyone knows how good they are and the type of players that they have on their team. I’m excited to get going here."

In return, the Rangers received the Jets’ first-round selection this year, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 (only if Winnipeg wins the Stanley Cup in 2019) and young winger Brendan Lemieux. The Hayes acquisition highlighted what was a busy day for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who, in total, added six players to his roster.

"You don’t make these moves without some causalities," said Cheveldayoff. "Credit to Brendan, he went and earned his right. Tough to lose him and I wish him all the best. The fans of the Rangers are going to really enjoy him."

The Jets were rumoured to be in the hunt for Ottawa Senators centre Mark Stone, but the price for the Winnipeg native proved too steep. Stone was traded to the Las Vegas Golden Knights and is reported to have signed an eight-year extension worth north of US$9 million per season.

Hayes was the next best option for Winnipeg and, though he’s not at quite the same calibre as Stone, he still fits the Jets’ need: someone who can slide into the second-line centre role currently occupied by veteran Bryan Little. Little has been playing between Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers of late, though that could change by Tuesday night when Hayes is expected to make his Jets debut against the visiting Minnesota Wild.

"I don’t want to say exactly where I’m going to play, but I’m going to play with some good wingers who can score some goals. I’ve been in the league for five years now and definitely every year you want to take another step into your game," said Hayes. "When I first entered the league I was mainly all offence, but I’ve learned to play pretty well defensively. This year I’ve been the complete player that I’ve been trying to be for the past couple of years and I was lucky enough to get a chance to do it in New York."

Hayes, who remains a pending free agent this summer, is on pace to eclipse his previous career-high of 49 points, which he set during the 2016-17 season. He had 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points in 51 games playing on the Rangers’ second line this season, while also chipping in on both the power play and penalty kill.

Cheveldayoff would not get into particulars about the short- and long-term plans for Hayes, who, as a centre at nearly a point-per-game pace, would certainly be an ideal candidate to re-sign at the end of the year. While he said it’s be up to head coach Paul Maurice to decide where Hayes fits in the lineup, Cheveldayoff said he’s going to continue to evaluate the possibilities of beyond this season behind closed doors.

"Whatever it turns out to be, you go into it eyes wide open and with no misconceptions," the Jets GM said. "If there is something to work out down the line, we’ll look at it. If it is just a pure rental, than that’s the way it is. But they’re all Winnipeg Jets. And they’re all here to do one thing, and that’s to help us win a Stanley Cup."

There is already some built-in familiarity between Cheveldayoff and Hayes. Cheveldayoff was the assistant GM for the Chicago Blackhawks when they selected Hayes in the first round — 24th overall — in 2010. Since then, he’s only been able to watch the 6-foot-5, 216-pound power forward from afar. Hayes never played for Chicago, and Cheveldayoff looks forward to seeing him up close with the Jets as they ready for another serious playoff push.

"When I was talking to him today, I said it’s kind of come full circle in a lot of respects," said Cheveldayoff. "Everyone talks about, obviously, his size and his offensive abilities, but I really think what’s really going to shine through here is his defensive abilities as well. Penalty killer, responsible — he’s someone, over the course of his career, has grown his game… to a really mature professional game."

Hayes also has a connection with the Jets. Cousins with Jets 1.0 star Keith Tkachuk, he used to cheer for Winnipeg as a young kid, even donning a Jets jersey. In 2014, Hayes posted a picture on his Instagram account of him donning a Jets sweater.

View this post on Instagram

#tbt to the best jerseys in the league. #Winnipeg

A post shared by Kevin Hayes (@kphayes12) on

As is the case in most trades that include a player going from a team in the basement of the standings — the Rangers (27-26-9) are seventh in the Metropolitan Division — to a Stanley Cup contender, the move was bittersweet for Hayes. What made the day even more challenging was he found out about the trade from watching reports on TV. While he waited for someone from the Rangers or his agent to call, he was being flooded with messages from his teammates, family and friends congratulating him on his new home.

"It's a great feeling to feel wanted there. It's been rumoured for a little bit that this was a place that I would end up at, and I was actually hoping that it was the place that I was going to end up at," said Hayes. "Everyone knows how good the Jets are and they have a serious chance to win the Cup. I'm just happy and proud that they choose me to help them do that. It'll be a good fit, and I think I'll bring a lot to the table. It'll be a good situation."

 

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.com

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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