The Philadelphia Flyers got their man.
Kevin Hayes officially signed with the Flyers on Wednesday after they acquired his rights for a fifth-round pick two weeks prior. Two weeks and $50 million was all it took to reel in the second-line center.
Chuck Fletcher started his aggressive fury of moves with that trade for Hayes’ rights, and ended it by signing the center to a seven-year, $50 million contract. In between he made a few moves on the blue line to improve the defense. He was a man on a mission and it took him less than a week to get his ducks in a row.
Last Thursday, Hayes was unsigned, and Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald were still Flyers. Now, Hayes can be cemented into the Flyers’ lineup for the next seven years, and Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun have replaced Gudas and MacDonald on the blue line.
Fletcher’s aggression has paid off in recent weeks, but did he end up paying too much for Hayes?
At first glance, Hayes’ contract jumps off the page at you. A seven-year contract worth $50 million is bound to get your attention. However, it’s not too uncommon to see top-six — or even middle-six — forwards garner that type of money nowadays.
In fact, if you compare Hayes’ contract to some others signed by centers in recent years, it doesn’t look bad at all for the Flyers — it even looks a lot better than some other contracts. The cap is going up, a new TV deal is a few years away, and contracts like this are becoming more commonplace.
That’s not to say that the Flyers couldn’t have filled the gap for cheaper. Sure, they could’ve signed a stop-gap third-line center that can play on the second line if Nolan Patrick struggles, but that’s not what the Flyers are going for right now. They want to win, and they want to win now.
To do that, sometimes you have to go out and pay players what they’re worth to get them in the fold. If it takes an extra $1 million or half-a-million, so be it. That’s not going to break the bank for the Orange and Black. Hayes’ contract would’ve ideally been a year shorter and a million or so less per year (which sounds like something we said about James van Riemsdyk last summer, and something that many fans say about their team’s contracts), but the Flyers aren’t in a position to wait around for the right deal.
To get good players in the NHL, teams are going to have to overpay. If it’s between overpaying a free agent or having to sell the farm in a trade, it’s easier to swallow a slight overpay of a free agent.
Hayes’ contract is in line with what other similar forwards have signed recently. Per Cap Friendly, the best comparable deals for Hayes actually show that Hayes’ deal is almost par for the course.
One of the closest comparables we can look at is Brock Nelson. Less than a month ago, Nelson signed a six-year, $36 million contract extension with the New York Islanders. That’s the ideal length and price that many hoped for Hayes, but a look at the stats shows why that wasn’t likely.
Nelson is coming off of the best season in his career. He had a career-high 53 points (25 goals, 28 assists) in 82 games and added four goals in eight playoff games. However, that was the first time he topped 45 points in a season, and just the second time he had more than 20 goals. He has played 81 or 82 games in each of the past five seasons, making him reliable, but not a top-tier forward. He turns 28 in October and has scored 0.50 points per game in his career.
Like Nelson, Hayes is also coming off of a career year. Hayes had 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games between the Rangers and Jets, adding three points (two goals, one assist) in six playoff games. It was the first time he reached the 50-point plateau, reaching 49 (in 76 games) in 2016-17. Hayes has also only reached the 20-goal mark once, with 25 in 2017-18, though he had 19 (in 71 games) this past season. Hayes turns 28 next May and has a career points per game of 0.60.
Nelson got a 6×6 deal with a 0.50 career points per game, which is a 41-point pace per 82 games. The Flyers gave Hayes an extra year and extra $1 million per year to a center that is one year younger for a 49-point pace per 82 games.
Furthermore, Hayes has a career 38.52 even-strength-points-per-82, Nelson has averaged 32.46 even-strength points per 82 games in his career.. For a little bit extra, which comes with the potential of an open market, the Flyers got a solid two-way center that has produced more in his career.
Broadening the scope a bit, there have been 16 other centers signed to similar (>50% match) contracts in the past six years.
For my money, I’d rather have Hayes on his deal than most of the other names above on their deals.
Hayes’ cap-hit percentage of 8.98% is the sixth-most on that list. Above him are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan O’Reilly, Logan Couturer and Ryan Kesler. Travis Zajac, who signed six years ago, has the most-similar cap-hit percentage of 8.94%.
To go along with being the sixth-highest paid, Hayes’ has the sixth-highest points per game at time of signing, and fourth-highest even-strength points per game. That even-strength scoring should not be overlooked.
Some other contracts that are worth looking at include Ryan Kesler’s six-year, $6.875 million
AAV deal signed in 2015. He had scoring numbers similar to Hayes overall, and much less at even strength, but still got nearly the same cap-hit percentage despite being four years older. That has not held up well for the Ducks.
Hayes’ cap hit is the highest since Couture’s $8 million signed last offseason, and there’s a pretty significant gap between the two in terms of overall scoring. Couture averaged 12 more points per 82 games than Hayes, but the two have very similar even-strength scoring rates. Couture scored 39.87 EV points per 82 at time of signing last year, while Hayes has scored 38.52 EV points per 82 games in his career.
Now, I’m not saying to expect Couture-like numbers or talent out of Hayes, but Hayes’ even-strength scoring is extremely valuable. Let’s move from the contracts to Hayes’ impact on the team.
The Flyers have some top-level talent that should (theoretically) do damage on the power play, which will let Hayes settle in to the second unit (or the slot on the first unit) to help out. An early projection of JVR and Jake Voracek as his wingers means he’ll also be a driving force on a heavy second line for the Flyers that should be a trio to be reckoned with.
Here’s what we wrote back when the trade was made and it fits in nicely here:
“The large majority of Hayes’ career points, 69.87% to be exact, have come during 5-on-5 play: 65 of 92 goals and 95 of 137 assists for 160 of 229 points. He has averaged 32 5v5 points per season over his five-year career, bookending his five-years with a career-high of 36 5v5 points in 2014-15 and 2018-19.
That total of 36 5v5 points tied him for 79th in the league this past season with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Gabriel Landeskog and our very own Jake Voracek.
For team-specific reference, only Claude Giroux (50), Couturier (43), Travis Konecny (38) and Voracek (36) had 36 or more 5v5 points last season — James van Riemsdyk would have came close to that mark over a full season with 27 in 66 games, a 33.5 point pace. Those first three guys – Giroux, Couturier, and Konecny — will likely make up the Flyers’ top line next season. Those next two names are who we should key in on here with Hayes as they could be his second-line wingers to start the season.
In Hayes, the Flyers are getting another solid two-way center to pair with Sean Couturier as a one-two punch down the middle. It moves Nolan Patrick down to the third line for the time being, which will allow him to develop without the pressures or difficult matchups of the second line. If Patrick continues to progress and develop into the player that he can be, the Flyers will have a three-headed monster down the middle.
Here’s an early projection of what the Flyers lines could look like in 2019-20, if no further moves are made.
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk – Kevin Hayes – Jake Voracek
Oskar Lindblom – Nolan Patrick – Michael Raffl
Ryan Hartman – Scott Laughton – Justin Bailey*
Bailey is simply a placeholder, and could easily be replaced by a similar forward on the fourth line. Another option would be Morgan Frost, who would likely slot in on the third line, moving Raffl down to the fourth line. No matter what, that would be a pretty solid group of forwards, particularly on the top three lines.”
If Hayes continues his solid play and Patrick’s play improves, the young gun could eventually take that second-line center role from Hayes. Or the Flyers could have two lines that are interchangeable behind the terrific trio at the top depending on the night and matchup. Especially with Lindblom by his side, the third line could quickly become the second line if things line up right.
Fletcher targeted Hayes at the beginning of the offseason and got the deal done with the two-way center. He has now made several moves to help the Flyers win now and that’s what he was brought in to do.