Flyers Acquire UFA Rights of Center Kevin Hayes
We have all heard about Chuck Fletcher's "bias for action." Over the first six months of his tenure as Flyers GM, Fletcher has focused more on evaluation than action. Only one move, trading Wayne Simmonds to Nashville, can be viewed as truly significant, and even that was largely inevitable.
Monday's news does not qualify as game-changing (at least not yet), but it is potentially the first significant addition Fletcher will make to his Flyers. The club announced they have acquired the rights to pending UFA center Kevin Hayes in exchange for a 5th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The key point to understand is that Hayes is not a Flyer yet. Well, officially he is. But Hayes is not under contract for next season, and if the two sides are unable to negotiate a deal by July 1, Hayes could walk for nothing, with the organization essentially throwing away a 5th round pick. Not the end of the world, but not a great look.
But that's worse case scenario. Even after trading the 5th, the Flyers, who still have nine picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, get a twenty-day head start in negotiations with Hayes (the UFA speaking period begins June 23rd, at which point other clubs can talk to Hayes if he is still unsigned). Acquiring Hayes this early shows the Flyers have a lot of interest in the 27-year old center.
Another reason to be optimistic about Hayes signing is that he has a previous relationship with the Flyers new head coach, Alain Vigneault. Vigneault coached Hayes for his first four years in the NHL. Under AV, Hayes averaged 43.5 points a season, with his role on the Rangers growing as his career progressed (under 14:00 TOI his first two years with Vigneault, over 16:00 his final two). He only has a career 48.1 Corsi For%, but did post a career-high 50.7% this past campaign.
Earlier today I wrote about all of the free agents I thought the Flyers should take a look at, and Hayes was one of them. Hayes is coming off a career-high 55-point campaign split between the Rangers and Jets (though he did struggle a bit after being traded to Winnipeg). He is a power-forward, a player not afraid to go to the dirty areas and the front of the net. The 2010 1st round pick (#24 to Chicago) also averaged 1:47 of short-handed time per night.
If he were to sign, Hayes would fill two of the biggest of the Flyers biggest needs - second line center, and penalty killer. Having Hayes would take some pressure off Nolan Patrick, who was unable to run with the second-line center role this past season. Hayes would be an instant boost to the Flyers top-six, which is in need of at least one addition between now and puck drop.
Finally, much like the JVR signing a year ago, signing Hayes would send a message that the Flyers expect to win. While expectations do not always mirror reality, as we saw last season, Hayes would be the first major, definitive example that Chuck Fletcher is building the Flyers to win, and win now. Regardless of your thoughts on Hayes and his potential deal, that is something we can all celebrate.
*All Stats Courtesy of Hockey-Reference