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Should the New Jersey Devils Re-Sign John Hayden?

John Hayden is a restricted free agent. Therefore, the Devils have the rights to his next contract.

Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils Photo by Adam Hunger/NHLI via Getty Images

John Hayden played 43 games with the New Jersey Devils in 2019-20. In those games, the Devils were surprisingly only outscored by two goals at even strength (11 oiGF, 13 oiGA). So while the Devils seemed to be massively outplayed while John Hayden was on the ice, the full truth is at least somewhat more complicated than that. For the past few days, we at All About the Jersey have been reviewing the restricted free agents of the team. And today, John Hayden gets his in-depth look.

John Hayden’s Performance with the Devils and Years Prior

In 156 NHL games, John Hayden has 11 goals, 15 assists, and 162 penalty minutes. His career high in points came in the 2017-18 season, where he had 13 points in 47 games. In his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Hayden scored points at a rate of 0.19 per game - just over double his rate with the Devils in 2019-20 (0.09). Coupled with his decent defensive ability, Hayden would have seemed a good pickup for the Devils given his performance in Chicago and the disappointment of John Quenneville. From Evolving-Hockey, here is Hayden’s RAPM chart for the years 2016-2019:


Hayden might not have been great offensively with the Blackhawks, especially given his poor 2018-19 performance of five points in 54 games - but he did not totally doom his team’s offense at even strength. His impact on expected goals against made him about an average fourth liner or 13th forward. However, Hayden’s already below-average offensive output fell apart in the 2019-20 season with the Devils.

In 2019-20, John Hayden had three goals and an assist in 43 games, with 42 shots on goal and 77 penalty minutes. When he was on the ice, Hayden performed dreadfully in possession with a 37.6 CF% (-10.7 relative) according to his Hockey-Reference page. But the issue with Hayden goes beyond a simple decrease in shot attempts. When John Hayden is on the ice, the Devils do not even get nearly as close to the net as they do normally. From Micah McCurdy’s HockeyViz, here’s John Hayden’s isolated impact chart from the 2019-20 season.


The question for whether the Devils should re-sign John Hayden ultimately boils down to whether Hayden’s impact on offense is the mere result of bad coaching or if 2019-20 can be considered a fluke of a year (none of his other seasons even came close to having as negative of an offensive impact). Regardless, the Devils need to know whether they can expect Hayden to play better than he did this season - an offensive output of Krys Barch or Cam Janssen proportions.

John Hayden’s statistics look much better when placed on the same line as Kevin Rooney. However, even Rooney suffers compared to his time with other linemates when he is with Hayden. From Natural Stat Trick, I took some statistics from their line tool to display how they work together and how well Hayden fares on his own.

Hayden with and without Rooney
Natural Stat Trick

John Hayden’s line with Kevin Rooney did not perform well offensively, but it was not nearly as bad in terms of overall performance as when Hayden played without Rooney. Notably from these few statistics, Hayden massively benefited from outstanding goaltending when he was on the ice with Kevin Rooney. They seem to have benefited so much from the performance of the goalies that Hynes and Nasreddine gave Hayden more games than he probably deserved - since the result of their appearance on the ice never aligned with their xG performances. Given the number of players who are waiting for an extended chance with the New Jersey Devils (I would consider Janne Kuokkanen, Joey Anderson, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian possible candidates), I do not think that it is warranted for the Devils to move forward as if John Hayden has an NHL roster spot when play resumes for them. Kevin Rooney should surely get an NHL roster spot before Hayden. But this does not necessarily mean that the Devils need to cast him out.

The Other Option: The AHL

John Hayden has only been given one season to play in the AHL - 24 games in the 2017-18 season. In those games, Hayden scored five goals and 12 assists with the Rockford IceHogs with just seven penalty minutes. I am somewhat astounded that the Chicago Blackhawks did not see it fit to send him to the AHL for development more often - as he made the jump directly from Yale to the Blackhawks at the end of the 2016-17 season. If the New Jersey Devils were to re-sign John Hayden, I would hope that they sign him to a two-way deal that has him seeing ice-time in Binghamton rather than New Jersey. At age 25, it might be too late to fix his offensive ineptitude, but the Devils might be able to get something out of his above-average defensive ability. He should be given a chance to play more minutes than the Blackhawks and Devils have let him for the past two years, in which he has averaged 9:24 of ice time per game in 97 games, with no appearances in the AHL. When Devils hockey returns, I hope they make a good decision by letting Hayden see more ice time in Binghamton.

What John Hayden’s Next Contract Will Look Like

I do not think that John Hayden’s contract will look much different regardless of if he signs with the New Jersey Devils or with another team. He previously signed a two-year extension off of his ELC that came out to $1.5 million over two years. CapFriendly shows that his minors salary was no different than his base NHL salary, and if he is signed to play in the AHL I would expect a slight decrease in that part of his contract. A quick look at the Devils’ AHL signings last season of players with some NHL experience (Matt Tennyson, Ben Street) had them giving minors salaries at a rate just above half the NHL base salary.

Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections show for Hayden that his most likely contract if he were to remain with the Devils is one-year and a cap hit just over $842,300. Their contract projection tool also gives Hayden a 35% chance of getting two years of term, which projects his cap hit for the second season at $887,500. In all likelihood, Hayden will only get one to two years of term regardless of if he signs with the New Jersey Devils or someone else. Ultimately, who he signs with is still mostly up to the Devils. A two year contract using Evolving-Hockey’s salary projection would come out to an annual average value of $864,900 - just over a 15% raise from his first extension from Chicago. John Hayden is also eligible for arbitration - though I cannot imagine that that route would be particularly kind to him given his 9 points in his last 97 games (two seasons).

Should the Devils Re-Sign Hayden?

The New Jersey Devils traded a 23 year old former first round pick for John Hayden. Frankly, I don’t think they should just give up Hayden to whoever wants him in free agency. As long as they have the rights to John Hayden, they should seek to keep him and see if he can grow in Binghamton for the majority of the season and perhaps a few games (not 43 of 69) under Lindy Ruff. If the Devils were to not offer Hayden anything and let him walk, they would be totally giving up on the only return we got for our entire 2014 NHL Draft Class (unless Joshua Jacobs suddenly made the NHL roster). There is little harm in letting a player take time to work on his game in the AHL - especially when it is more than likely at least two of Binghamton’s scorers will make the NHL when Devils hockey resumes.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about John Hayden? How did you feel watching him play nearly two-thirds of the Devils’ game in 2019-20? Do you think Tom Fitzgerald can be trusted to have him play in Binghamton rather than the NHL? Do you think the Devils should keep him or let him go? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Credit to Hockey-Reference for basic statistics, Natural Stat Trick for their line tool, Evolving-Hockey for their RAPM charts and contract projection tool, and HockeyViz for isolated impact charts.