Flyers Overpay to Keep Hayes in Fold

The desperation in the move on the part of the Philadelphia Flyers to sign Kevin Hayes was almost palpable. The question is why, though?

Flyers Get and Sign Hayes

After securing exclusive negotiating power with the pending unrestricted free agent, the Flyers tried their best not to let the fifth-round pick they traded to the Winnipeg Jets go to waste. They tried maybe a little too hard, signing Hayes to seven-year deal worth $7.14 million per season.

Justin Williams, Kevin Hayes
Ex-Winnipeg Jets forward Kevin Hayes – (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

True, when you’re paying the likes of an in-his-prime Sean Couturier, who now has two consecutive 76-point seasons, just $4.33 million on average, you can afford to overpay a little. In fact, with Shayne Gostisbehere also earning a hit of just $4.5 million for the next four seasons, it’s not like the Flyers are in trouble from a salary-cap perspective, even amid rumors it won’t be increasing nearly as much as initially anticipated.

However those moves were made by general manager Chuck Fletcher’s predecessor, Ron Hextall. What Fletcher has done over the course of the last few days is:

  • Make a 32-year-old Matt Niskanen his highest-paid defenseman,
  • Trade two picks for a 32-year-old Justin Braun, whose just halved his point total and
  • Sign Hayes, who has scored over 20 goals once, to his current deal

Hayes Still Has a Lot to Offer

No one is suggesting Hayes, who is just 27, isn’t capable of producing. What is plainly obvious at this juncture is he’s good for about 50 points if he’s at his peak. His value as a two-way forward is undeniable, but the wisdom in paying a glorified third-line center, however capable at both ends of the ice, over $7 million per season is debatable.

It’s almost as if Fletcher is trying to replicate the success the St. Louis Blues just had with Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly makes an average of $7.5 million and just won the Conn Smythe Trophy as an elite two-way forward, but Hayes is nowhere close to being the same kind of impact player.

Gary Bettman Ryan O'Reilly Conn Smythe Trophy
St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly – (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

What’s worse is he’s being reunited with head-coach Alain Vigneault. When he was with the Rangers, Hayes enjoyed significantly more offensive success under David Quinn, with 42 points in 51 games last season in New York. Under Vigneault, Hayes never had more than 49 points total.

Hayes Reunites with Vigneault

Of course, signing with the Flyers was Hayes’ decision and he knew heading in who would be in charge. That he still decided to sign is at least some kind of indication he likes Vigneault. The counterpoint to that argument would be $7 million per year for seven seasons guaranteed is a lot of money to say no to, especially when coaches hardly have that long of a life span in this league. Hayes could just be willing to wait it out.

Alain Vigneault
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Slocum)

Fletcher is obviously banking on Hayes producing at a similar rate with the Flyers as he did under Quinn. Hayes very well may, but he had better be getting around the same career-high ~20 minutes of ice time per game (with 2:30 on the power play). The most he got under Vigneault was 1:30, and that was in 2015-16, when he scored a career-low 36 points.

The hypothetical 2:30 on the power play would still rank below other Flyers forwards. Claude Giroux got (3:31), while Jakub Voracek (3:15), Couturier (3:06) and James van Riemsdyk (2:46) could also earn more power-play time based on how they had just been deployed. Throw Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny into the mix and time could get scarce.

Fletcher Leaves His Mark

All this to say, the Flyers do have weapons. Hayes is poised to help get the Flyers back into the postseason, but when they just ranked No. 18 in terms of goals scored, No. 29 in terms of goals against and No. 22 in terms of shots against, maybe Fletcher should have devoted more money at the other end of the ice… you know, more wisely than he just did to Braun and Niskanen.

Both Braun and Niskanen can be useful additions, but the general consensus is they themselves are overpaid based on what they bring to the fold. One of the benefits is their respective contracts don’t have that much term left on them, with Braun scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and Niskanen the year after that.

If Braun and/ or Niskanen prove to be bad fits, the Flyers can easily move on from either one of them. They don’t have that same luxury with Hayes, though. Especially not with the no-movement clause Fletcher gave Hayes.

Philadelphia Flyers general manger Chuck Fletcher
Philadelphia Flyers general manger Chuck Fletcher – (Jose F. Morena/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Obviously, teams need to overpay to lure free agents. It’s typical of the market, unfortunately. However, because of the Jets trade, the Flyers were technically only competing against themselves to sign Hayes, before the June 23 interview period opens. Appearances can be deceiving, but it looks like they lost, if not free agency than the general-manager sweepstakes instead.