This past week, the Flyers signed pending UFA Kevin Hayes to a whopping 7 year contract at over $50 million dollars. So what does this mean for the Flyers heading into this season and years to come?
The Flyers have a strong group of centers and one of the deepest cores in the league. With the addition of Hayes, the Flyers now boast a top three of Couturier, Hayes, and Patrick. Giroux can obviously slot into the #1 if there is an injury or if new Flyers coach Michel Therrien wants to roll three very solid lines.
Here are two options for the Flyers and their center depth next season.
Or with Giroux at center, the Flyers’ top 3 lines could look like…
Either way, the Flyers have excellent center depth. Center depth is one of the most coveted roster formation pieces that current NHL teams want. The St. Louis Blues loaded up on this position last summer, and it paid off in their Stanley Cup Championship. Even though they were lacking a true superstar, their top 3 of Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, and Tyler Bozak proved to be the right amount of depth necessary to make a Stanley Cup run. They also had others, like Oskar Sundqvist, Robert Thomas, and Ivan Barbashev that can all play center if needed. Center depth is coveted in the NHL, and the Flyers have it.
Increase in Size and Help on the Powerplay
Kevin Hayes is a unique blend of size and skill. At 6’5″ and over 220 pounds, Hayes is a strong net-front presence and is a strong player down-low. Hayes can also play in front of the net on the powerplay and is a decent playmaker in his own right. He immediately helps the Flyers’ special teams and adds an element of size that some old school Flyers fans have been missing.
With Hayes locked up for the next seven seasons, the Flyers have guaranteed depth for the foreseeable future at the center position. With prospects in the system, the Flyers currently have Giroux, Couturier, Hayes, Patrick, Laughton (currently unsigned RFA), Vorobyov, Morgan Frost, German Rubtsov, and Tanner Laczynski who can likely play in the NHL in the nearish future. Long-term, the Flyers are loaded at this position, and Hayes helps solidify this position in the long-term.
Cap Hit and Salary
$7 million a season is a lot for a number two center, who has never been a point per game player. Let’s take a look at some #2 centers in the NHL and their salaries:
- Mikael Backlund (Calgary Flames) 6 years, $5.35 million
- Vincent Trocheck (Florida Panthers) 6 years, $4.75 million
- Kyle Turris (Nashville Predators) 6 years, $6 million
- Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) 6 years, $6 million
- Brayden Schenn (St. Louis Blues) 4 years, $5.12 million
- Nazem Kadri (Toronto Maple Leafs) 6 years, $4.5 million
If we look at these comparables, we see that Kevin Hayes makes significantly more than each of these players. While Chuck Fletcher is clearly in “win now” mode, it also appears this may also be a case of poor asset management. Centers are hard to acquire, but the Flyers have quite a few prospects that are NHL ready or almost ready. Plus, they have Nolan Patrick who still projects as a likely #2 center. There are also other potential options that are available at the position for significantly less money. The Toronto Maple Leafs are rumored to be taking calls on Nazem Kadri, a comparable center who is a bit of a better defensive player than Hayes and produces more offensively. He is also significantly cheaper at $4.5 million per season. The Flyers have the assets to make a trade like this and save on both term and cap space, but instead, opted for the more expensive Hayes.
If we look at the above comparisons of #2 centers again, we see that each player is signed to less than seven years. Brock Nelson is a similar age to Kevin Hayes, and Mikael Backlund older. However, Nazem Kadri, Brayden Schenn, and Vincent Trocheck were all significantly younger than Hayes when signing their contracts, providing their teams with more value at the position.
You would think in adding term (a 7th year) to the contract, that the Flyers would save on yearly dollars. Many projections of Hayes’ contract had him coming in on a 6-year term maximum, with a yearly salary ranging between $5.25-$6 million a season.
The way most teams are managing their cap nowadays revolves around the concept that each team will have a “core.” This means that teams have between 5-7 players that take up the majority of their salary cap structure. Take, for example, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have $50 million of an anticipated $81 million dollar cap tied up in Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, Guentzel, Hornqvist, Letang, and Schultz. This leaves only $31 million for approximately 16 players, an average of less than $2 million per player.
With the Hayes signing, the Flyers core is looking like Giroux, Voracek, J.V.R., Hayes, Couturier, Provorov, and Niskanen. Provorov is a restricted free agent and in need of a new contract. Not including him, the Flyers currently have approximately $40 million committed to this “core.” Unfortunately, most of this “core” is aging, with Giroux, Voracek, J.V.R., and Niskanen all over 30. Hayes is unlikely to repeat his best offensive season at age 27, and other than Provorov, the Flyers are lacking true young stars in their lineup. With the Hayes signing, he very clearly becomes a part of their core, but in comparison to most other teams, he wouldn’t remotely be considered in the conversation.
In conclusion, while the Flyers have some positive depth as a result of the Hayes signing, the signing doesn’t remotely move the needle for the franchise in the long-term. He adds to an aging core that’s best offensive years are likely behind them. Rather than use the cap space available to him to attempt to acquire younger, long-term impact talent, Chuck Fletcher has instead added a “stop-gap” to help the Flyers get back into the playoff picture. Like his other moves of late, the Hayes signing helps the here and now, but not the long-term picture. One can hope Hayes performs at a higher level playing on a Flyers’ team that now has offensive depth.