Hayes Trade Could Be First of Many Aggressive Moves for Flyers
Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason as Flyers GM is one of the most anticipated in a while in Philadelphia. For a change, it’s not about building a foundation and following a long-term blueprint to success. He is tasked with making the Flyers better immediately.
Fletcher said he was going to be aggressive. Then he made the first big move of the offseason.
The Flyers acquired the rights to free-agent forward Kevin Hayes from the Winnipeg Jets for a fifth-round pick on Monday night, giving them the chance to start their offseason pursuit of a new face early.
Hayes was arguably the second-best option on the free-agent market to fill the second-line center role behind Matt Duchene. Outside of that, options were very limited beyond exploring the trade market or filling the role internally.
Rather than wait until after the NHL Draft to join the other 30 teams in negotiations for the top free agents and compete in a bidding war, the Flyers got aggressive and acquired the rights to a player that they see fitting with the team next season and beyond.
Of course, the Flyers do still have to sign him.
This is not the first time the Flyers have taken this path to improve the team and each time in recent history has yielded the three possible outcomes.
In 2007, following the worst regular-season points total in franchise history, the Flyers traded a first-round pick to acquire the rights to forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Both Hartnell and Timonen re-signed with the Flyers. Hartnell played with the Flyers for the next seven seasons, scoring 157 goals and 326 points. Timonen played with the Flyers for the next seven seasons as well, and re-signed for an eighth in 2014-15 before blood clots threatened his career. When he was cleared to play, the Flyers made a deadline deal sending him to Chicago, where he closed his career by winning the Stanley Cup. In his seven seasons with the Flyers, Timonen scored 38 goals and had 270 points.
In 2010, the Flyers acquired the rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis from Nashville for defenseman Ryan Parent. Hamhuis wanted to test the free agent market when July 1 hit, and the Flyers ultimately traded his rights to Pittsburgh when it became apparent a deal would not be reached. Hamhuis signed a six-year deal with Vancouver that offseason.
In 2011, the Flyers acquired the rights to goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and signed him to a nine-year, $51 million contract. Bryzgalov played for two seasons in Philadelphia before having his contract bought out.
In 2013, the Flyers made a trade with the Islanders to acquire the rights to defenseman Mark Streit. Streit signed a four-year, $21 million deal that offseason and spent the next three and a half seasons with the Flyers before being traded at the deadline to Tampa Bay and then Pittsburgh.
So there are different ways this can go, though it seems teams usually make these moves knowing that they are likely to obtain the player long-term, as the Flyers did with four of the five players listed above. The Flyers have already had an introductory chat with Hayes’ camp, according to Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic, and with 20 days to exclusively negotiate with Hayes, the Flyers have some time to get a deal done.
The cost of the rights for Hayes is minimal. A fifth-round pick, especially for how well-stocked the Flyers prospect cupboard is already, is not a loss. The Flyers are fine without the pick and could gain one of the better free agents at his position as a result. That’s only the beginning of Fletcher’s aggressive approach.
Making a trade like this now, with the rest of the hockey world locked into the Stanley Cup Final and waiting for the offseason to really get underway, shows that Fletcher is committed to making this team better immediately. Should Hayes sign, this will not be the last new addition. It may not be the last trade.
All of this also happens without the Flyers locking up any of their pending free agents. There really aren’t any unrestricted free agents that the Flyers need to lock up outside of Hayes and a backup goalie -- both Cam Talbot and Brian Elliott are under the Flyers control until July 1. But Fletcher is essentially throwing caution to the wind by making this move now and being in the possible position to have to complete a new deal for Hayes before he completes deals for any of the restricted free agents.
It was thought that the Flyers would have new deals done with the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Scott Laughton to see what they had left to spend under the salary cap before tackling free agency and trades.
Fletcher said he was going to be aggressive. But we were left to wonder what they really meant. You can be aggressive in pursuit and strike out completely, leaving things mostly status quo with a roster. Fletcher went out and acquired the rights to Hayes in an attempt to make sure he doesn’t.
It’s the opposite of the approach seen when Ron Hextall was in the GM chair. There may have been an aggressive pursuit of top free agents and potential trades, but never any acquisitions. It didn’t take long for Fletcher to make his presence known and make an acquisition, his first in an aggressive offseason to come.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.