Chuck Fletcher fills Flyers’ second-line center need with Kevin Hayes trade

Just days after saying that he would be “very aggressive” this offseason in the trade and free-agent market, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher made a move that dipped into both of those markets. The Flyers traded for the rights to free-agent forward Kevin Hayes on Monday night, which is an aggressive move for the GM in his first summer at the helm.

While the Flyers technically only acquired the rights to Hayes, as they now have negotiating rights with the forward prior to the open period on June 23, there have been reports that the two sides are close to a contract. Hayes plays a position of need for the Flyers and the Flyers have the cap room to spend on Hayes, so the two sides should be able to agree. The terms of the contract, however, may change how some feel about Hayes (and Fletcher).

Hayes isn’t a huge name and he won’t be able to save this team on his own — like say Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, or Erik Karlsson — but it’s a great start to the offseason for the Flyers.

In Hayes, the Flyers have significantly strengthened their top-six forward group, and in turn, their top-nine forward group. They entered the offseason with Sean Couturier as the top-line center and Nolan Patrick as the second-line center, with Scott Laughton on the third line. Now, with Hayes, he can fill in on the second line, shifting Patrick down to the third line and Laughton to the fourth. Now that’s a solid group of centermen.

New head coach Alain Vigneault is familiar with Hayes, as the two were in New York from 2014 to 2018 for four full seasons, but the forward didn’t exactly thrive under AV. While he may have become a more well-rounded player that can play a better two-way game, Hayes had more offensive potential than he showed in those years.

That showed this past year, when he played an elevated role for David Quinn and nearly matched his 2017-18 point total (44 in 76 games) before being traded, compiling 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in just 51 games.Hopefully that increase in points can stick with a second-line role for the Flyers. It seems like it should, as Hayes is a strong forward at even strength and should be playing with some complementary wingers.

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.

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.

The Flyers aren’t guaranteed to sign Hayes, but Fletcher’s willingness to go out and make a move to try to fill one of the team’s biggest needs is a great sign for this offseason. Hell, even before the 2018-19 NHL season is officially over, as the Stanley Cup Final is still ongoing, Fletcher is already making moves to be aggressive and take this team to the next level.

Fletcher got the right coach to take the Flyers to the next level, and checked another box off his checklist with Kevin Hayes as a top-six forward target. He may need to make a few more moves to upgrade this roster, but Fletcher’s first offseason in Philadelphia is off to a strong start.

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