On June 3, The Philadelphia Flyers traded a fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for 27-year-old center Kevin Hayes’s exclusive negotiating rights. Hayes would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if a pact was not agreed to beforehand.
Two weeks later, the orange and black got their guy.
Hayes inked a 7-year, $50 million contract. The deal, which includes a no-movement clause for the first three years and a 12-team no trade list for the final four seasons, keeps Hayes in Philly through 2025-26. At a little over $7 million per year, the Boston native is the third-highest paid Flyer, behind Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million cap hit) and franchise legend Claude Giroux ($8.275 million cap hit).
The big price tag put an early spotlight on Hayes, not to mention the franchise that gave him basically the same contract a previous regime had given Danny Briere (8 years, $52 million- good!) and Ilya Bryzgalov (9 years, $51 million- LOL). In fact, Hayes signed one of the richest free agent contracts in franchise history.
Jeremy Roenick got 5 years, $37.5 million. Chris Gratton’s offer sheet gave him $10 million up front but was worth “only” $16.5 million over five years. Vinny Lecavalier’s deal was dumb, but still worth less than half of Kevin’s. Just last summer, James van Riemsdyk inked a deal worth $35 million. When Paul Holmgren acquired Kimmo Timonen’s and Scott Hartnell’s rights as Chuck Fletcher did with Hayes, they were signed for $37.8 million and $25.2 million, respectively.
However you want to quantify it, signing Hayes represented the biggest splash Philly has made in quite some time.
Immediately, there were reports that the Flyers “overpaid” Hayes, and suddenly the cushy cap situation former general manager Ron Hextall had set up was no more. The Flyers were up against the cap with youngsters still due to be paid and there was just no way the 2010 24th overall draft pick was going to be worth the investment.
Well, so far, Hayes has been damn well worth it.
Through ten games, Hayes has provided the production at the center position the team had been missing behind Sean Couturier, and previously, Claude Giroux. Hayes has notched four goals and three assists, and the math per game couldn’t be easier- 0.70 points/game, which pretty much matches his 0.60 career average.
Has has displayed a variety of skill sets in his short time with his new club. His size, reach, and strength are evident in the way he protects the puck and gets himself to the net. But his speed has been underrated, having already scored twice on breakaways.
But his hockey sense and defensive play have also stood out early in his Philadelphia tenure, and that strong defensive play has created offensive opportunities for Hayes and his linemates.
In all even strength situations, Hayes has been on the ice for 8.69 expected goals for (leads all Philly forwards), controlling 58.65% of the expected goals (second behind JVR among Flyers forwards). His 55.8 Corsi-For percentage, so far, is the best of his career.
But it isn’t just volume shooting. Scoring chances have occurred at an incredible rate for the Flyers while their big acquisition has been on the ice. Philly has accounted for 57.93% of the scoring chances and 64.79% of the high-danger chances while Hayes is playing at even strength (according to Natural Stat Trick). These are great numbers, and over the course of the season should translate to way more goals for than against.
Last year, Philly gave up 3.41 goals per game, third worst in the league. So far they’ve given up 3 goals per game.
Alain Vigneault talked about dropping a whole goal off of their GAA, and so far they’re on the right track, especially if the goaltending improves (right now, reaching the goal of improving the GAA by one whole goal would put them at 2.41. That would be good enough for fifth best in the league- better than Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders).
While even strength is the most important situation for evaluations because it’s how the game is typically played, in the quest to eliminate a full goal from last year’s average, the penalty kill had to improve.
The Flyers had the 26th ranked penalty kill in 2018-19, operating at 78.5%. And this has been a long-term problem.
Over the last five seasons combined, Philadelphia killed 78.4% of the penalties called against them, 30th in the league. Only the Edmonton Oilers have been worse. The Edmonton freakin’ Oilers. Philly’s best league rank in that time was 20th (80.5% in 2015-16).
This year has seen a huge turnaround so far, and Hayes has been a major contributor.
The Flyers penalty kill is currently ranked ninth in hockey at 83.9%. When Hayes has been on the ice on the PK (17 total minutes short-handed, leading all Flyers forwards), Philadelphia has allowed four high-danger chances and have recorded three of their own. The Flyers aren’t conceding the most vulnerable parts of the ice when they’re down a man, and the aggression is resulting in not only kills, but pressure the other way.
Philly has only given up two power play goals with Hayes on the ice, and have scored one short-handed goal of their own, courtesy of Hayes pulling a Mike Richards-special.
The team is outplaying their opponents at even strength and the PK has improved since Hayes has joined the lineup. Alain Vigneault, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and the recently recalled Joel Farabee have all played a part in that, as have the goalies at different points.
But it’s not really going out on a limb to say the most effective new Flyer has been Kevin Hayes.
While the 5-4-1 record is only about a 90-point pace, it’s pretty obvious the team is playing a much better brand of hockey and the results should improve as the lineup stabilizes, Carter Hart begins playing like Carter Hart again, and the overall chemistry improves over time.
Hayes doesn’t need to be any better though. If he continues this level of play when Nolan Patrick returns to the lineup, the Flyers just might be a very good team. I’m not saying the Hayes acquisition has made them an instant Stanley Cup contended, because I’m not a lunatic, but I am saying he is doing his part. If the other “ifs” start to work out, we’ll be talking a lot more about the Hayes signing helping to turn this organization around.
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