The Philadelphia Flyers tried to get a jumpstart on free agency when they sent a fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets to acquire the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes earlier this month.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said “preliminary conversations” with Hayes and his representation have taken place as the team aims to persuade the centre to sign in Philadelphia before free agency opens in three weeks.
“I expect to follow up with Kevin and his camp this week and we will see how it goes,” Fletcher told Adam Kimelman of NHL.com. “I don’t know how to characterize it other than we’ve had good conversation and we are hopeful we can make something work. I don’t have a vibe, other than he’s certainly open-minded. You have to remember he’s two weeks away from getting to July 1, so that’s a nice status to obtain in this league. Certainly, he’s earned that right and we are respectful of that.
“I think we have a lot to offer in Philly. So we will continue to speak to him and I think he’s open-minded to conversations, at least that is what his camp has said to us, and obviously we have strong interest in him.”
Hayes joined the Jets in February ahead of the trade deadline after being dealt by the New York Rangers in exchange for Brendan Lemieux and a 2019 first-round pick. Hayes had five goals and eight assists in 20 regular-season games with the Jets but his output and ice-time dwindled during the team’s brief playoff run.
Hayes’s slightly disappointing stint with the Jets doesn’t reflect the Dorchester, Mass., native’s overall ability and Fletcher knows this.
“[Hayes] brings a solid 200-foot game. He has been a very good penalty killer in this league. That’s a scenario we would like to improve,” Fletcher said referencing his team’s 26th-ranked PK. “He plays well away from the puck. He understands the game. He has hockey sense. He can contribute offensively. We gave up 281 goals [this season], we have to get better.”
Adding a player of Hayes’s calibre would strengthen Philly’s depth down the middle – impressive considering they already boast Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
Flyers new head coach Alain Vigneault is quite familiar with what Hayes is capable of, having coached him for four seasons with the Rangers.
“If he signs, that will help. There shouldn’t be any learning curve. He should step in seamlessly if we’re able to sign him,” Fletcher added. “I know Alain has a lot of respect for him and I know in speaking to Kevin that he enjoyed playing for him. I’m sure that will help, but I don’t know that it’s fair for me to characterize how much it will help.”
Hayes inked a one-year, $5.175-million last summer with the Rangers but the 27-year-old is seeking a long-term contract this time around.