Flyers trade pick to Jets for Kevin Hayes’ rights

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While the hockey world soaks in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (airing on NBC; stream here), the Philadelphia Flyers are clearly thinking about getting ahead of free agent season.

The Flyers sent their 2019 fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets to secure the negotiating rights for big center Kevin Hayes. Hayes is set to become a UFA on July 1, so the Flyers have a bit less than a month to convince him to sign with them, rather than hitting the open market.

As you can see from this amusingly matter-of-fact comment from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher.

“By gaining the rights to Kevin at this time, it provides us with an opportunity to negotiate with him prior to July 1 when he is due to become an unrestricted free agent,” said Fletcher.

Y-yes, that’s true, Chuck.

The Flyers’ side makes some sense.

They get that lengthy window to wine and dine the 27-year-old, thus getting time to lay out their plan for how he’d figure into their mix. Theoretically, negotiating with Hayes now, rather than when other teams are bidding off in an auction on July 1, might mean that Philly could save a few bucks on a deal. (That’s, of course, basically impossible to prove … but the argument is there.)

The Flyers are unable to offer Hayes an eight-year deal due to the fact that he was not on their roster at the February trade deadline. That’s the same reason why Erik Karlsson was ineligible to sign a max deal with the San Jose Sharks until after the deadline following the September trade that brought him west from Ottawa.

Naturally, the Flyers would also see this as a chance to make sure that Hayes doesn’t sign with another team, most obviously one that might hurt their chances of returning to the postseason during the 2019-20 campaign.

From the Jets’ perspective, this is a no-brainer, at least when you realize that they aren’t able to keep Hayes around.

Winnipeg receives that fifth-round pick for a player who was set to walk for nothing. The Jets gave up their 2019 first-round pick and Brendan Lemieux to the New York Rangers to land Hayes as a (solid enough) rental, so Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff recoups some of that cost.

(And, hey, it’s one other time where you can’t make a pun about taking the “dayoff.”)

Ultimately, though, this would be a loss for the Flyers if they can’t ink Hayes to a deal … or if they sign Hayes to an ill-advised contract. That remains to be seen, but credit Fletcher with aggressiveness, although the NHL probably would have preferred to see this news break, say, on Tuesday instead.

Oh yeah, and if the Flyers do sign Hayes, they’d be reuniting Hayes with former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. Cue “The Circle of Life.”

More: Flyers hire Vigneault.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.