Kevin Hayes will be one of the top centers available in free agency in July. With that in mind, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports in his latest 31 Thoughts column that several teams have already started doing their due diligence on the 27-year-old, including the Blackhawks, Avalanche, and Flyers.
Hayes is coming off of a career year offensively with 55 points in 71 games between the Rangers and Jets, who acquired him at the trade deadline. However, he didn’t have the type of impact in the postseason that Winnipeg was hoping for as he was dropped to the fourth line in their first-round loss to St. Louis.
Despite that, he slots in as arguably the second-best option down the middle behind Matt Duchene so he will undoubtedly have plenty of suitors.
Seeing Chicago among that group is certainly interesting. They actually drafted him in the first round (24th overall) back in 2010 but he opted to play out his college eligibility and become an unrestricted free agent where he joined the Rangers in 2014. To further add to their frustration, the player they drafted with the compensation pick for not signing him (Graham Knott) has only been a depth player in the AHL for the past two seasons. The Blackhawks are in good shape down the middle with Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome both coming off career years and adding Hayes to that group would really make that position an organizational strength.
Colorado GM Joe Sakic indicated earlier this month that the team would be more aggressive in its pursuit of free agents this summer. While Nathan MacKinnon is entrenched as their top pivot, they have several young players behind him (along with veteran Carl Soderberg) that aren’t quite ready to take on the number two role on a full-time basis. At the very least, Hayes would serve as a reasonable bridge player until one of Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, or J.T. Compher jumps into that spot while giving them some extra depth down the middle.
Philadelphia is in a similar situation. Sean Couturier is their top center and Nolan Patrick, the number two pick in 2017, isn’t quite ready to play on the second line just yet. Claude Giroux, a natural center, has fared quite well on the wing so moving him back down the middle probably isn’t their preference for next season. Hayes would fit in well on the second line and could flip spots with Patrick a couple of years from now.
Last summer, Hayes signed a one-year, $5.175MM deal with New York to avoid salary arbitration. Given the year he had and the dearth of top-six centers available on the open market, it’s quite likely that he will earn considerably more than that on the open market in July. Teams will be eligible to speak to Hayes once the UFA interview period opens up on June 23rd.