The Philadelphia Flyers are in the news again as GM Chuck Fletcher inked pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes to a big seven-year deal with an average annual value of $7.1 million. That’s a good chunk of change for a second-line center and though the Flyers did have the cap space to make it happen, it’s worth asking whether this deal will make sense in the long run.
Hayes is coming off a so-so playoffs with the Winnipeg Jets, where he put up three points in six games before an eventual loss to the St. Louis Blues. Perhaps most concerning is the fact Hayes averaged just 12 minutes of ice time per game.
The upshot was that the 6-foot-5, 216-pounder had a very nice regular season, split between the Jets and the New York Rangers. Hayes had a career-high 55 points this past year in 71 appearances.
Clearly, the Flyers are banking on Hayes being more of that player than the playoff version. If he can be that two-way forward (Hayes can also slot on the wing if necessary), then he certainly makes Philadelphia deeper up front. The Flyers offense runs through captain Claude Giroux, who found amazing chemistry with center Sean Couturier once Giroux switched to the left wing. The Flyers also have young Nolan Patrick, who is coming off his sophomore NHL campaign after being selected second overall in the 2017 draft. Patrick’s first two seasons were fine, but not spectacular. Bringing in Hayes will give the youngster more cover next year, which hopefully frees him up to increase his offensive production. Patrick had 31 points this past season after tallying 30 in his rookie year.
So Hayes fits a need, but the price tag was hefty. Timing is everything, but consider that Hayes is now getting paid more than Patrice Bergeron, Nathan MacKinnon and Mark Scheifele. At 27, he still has a lot of good hockey in front of him, so the term itself isn’t too scary - it’s just a matter of what kind of impact he can make.
Was this an overpay? Probably. But Fletcher and the Flyers are in a unique position where cap space is not an issue, even though many key pieces are locked in long-term. Giroux, Couturier, Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk are all under contract for at least the next three seasons, as is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. So there’s a lot of certainty there.
As it is now, the Flyers won’t have too many major contracts to deal with in the coming years. Defenseman Ivan Provorov is one, but that should be manageable. Patrick’s entry-level deal expires in the summer of 2020, and even if he doubles his point production next season, he’ll most likely go in for a bridge deal at a very reasonable rate. That buys Fletcher and his crew plenty of time.
Philadelphia acquired Hayes’ rights from Winnipeg earlier this month for a 2019 fifth-rounder in order to get a jump on negotiations and in the end the gambit paid off. So now the question becomes one of upside. If these are the Flyers we will know for the next three years or so, can they contend in the East? Philadelphia certainly looks like a playoff team at this point, but they don’t look like they could hang with the Tampas, Bostons, Washingtons or Torontos. While Hayes is a nice addition, he’s not going to put a team over the top - just ask Winnipeg.