Death, Taxes, and Libor Hajek’s Place in the New York Rangers Organization; the three guarantees in life.
The 2022 NHL trade deadline has passed and Libor Hajek is still a New York Ranger. The young Czech defender continues to defy the odds and survive countless moves and turnovers in the Rangers line-up.
While Rangers general manager Chris Drury accomplished the task he set himself before Monday’s deadline, the one move that continues to baffle fans and beat the writers is Libor Hajek’s presence in the organization.
It’s not a well-kept secret that Hajek struggled during his tenure at Rangers. His first five-game audition in the 2018-19 NHL season yielded promising results, but a shoulder injury consequently resulted in an early exit for the 24-year-old.
Unfortunately for Hajek and the Blueshirts, it’s been a downward spiral ever since.
Hajek’s season in numbers
Hajek, from Smrcek, Czech Republic, had a consummate season with time in the press box; and rightly so, as the emergence of solid 20-year-old defender Braden Schneider, along with the recent return to form of veteran defender Patrik Nemeth, has pushed Hajek further down the depth chart.
During the brief time that Hajek adapted, that is 16 games to be precise, Hajek recorded just one point; that lone point was an assist in a loss to the Florida Panthers on Dec. 29.
While point totals aren’t everything, and certainly shouldn’t be the determining factor in deciding a defender’s usefulness, it’s abundantly clear that Hajek lacks the characteristics necessary to contribute offensively.
Diving deeper into the numbers shows Corsi’s percentage below Hajek’s standards of 39.0 in the 16 games he has played.
While Corsi doesn’t go too in depth on one stat, as novelist Jules Verne could surely dig deeper, it does provide enough information to show Hajek’s poor on-ice performance this year. Other underlying stats, both offensive and defensive, have been equally commendable.
Well, Libor Hajek didn’t budge on the deadline. That would have been great content. pic.twitter.com/3PaF2Oyyq2
— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) March 21, 2022
Additionally, Hajek has been on the ice for 12 goals against in those 16 games and just four of four in the same span.
Continuing the trend of poorly-kept secrets, this is an insufficient total, which is likely one of the reasons the No. 25 continues to watch from the press box above.
Which raises 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 answer to such a riddle is based on Hajek having to authorize waivers to be awarded to the AHL.
Although he did spend some time with the Wolf Pack earlier this season, the thing is, it was on a brief conditioning stint, so Hajek didn’t have to go through the waiver process.
If Rangers attempt to assign Hajek to AHL Hartford, they must accept the risk of losing Hajek to waivers, and therefore receive nothing from his departure.
Would another team try the young defender, despite his inferior game? Hajek’s low cap, $874,125 on a one-year contract, may suggest that a struggling team with a questionable decision-making history like the Ottawa Senators could potentially pull Hajek off the waiver wire.
Poor commerce and high expectations
Ultimately, Hajek’s place on the roster appears to be solidified by the trade disaster that brought him to New York in the first place.
On February 26, 2018, then Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton made a big move by star defender and team captain Ryan McDonagh with JT Miller at 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 didn’t win the Stanley Cup, 58th overall – Karl Henriksson ).
By then, around 3 p.m. at the time, Libor Hajek’s place on the list was set in stone. No matter how poor the on-ice product was, it would play.
Gorton had emphasized acquiring Libor Hajek in the deal, as Hajek was seen as a potential replacement for McDonagh later on.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and this trade is well known to be an albatross. The acquisition and insistence on making the young Czech defender the centerpiece of such a massive trade was always going to place high expectations on Hajek.
As unfair as that may be, it’s a natural fact of professional sports. So, here we are.
Hajek hasn’t played well but the insistence on justifying this particular trade and ensuring 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 significant value.
So it looks like Rangers are caught between a rock and a hard place.
It’s a new regime, but the idea remains. Rather than a curious case, it was perhaps an unfortunate case of high expectations and hype that resulted in the ongoing Hajek experiment.