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Flyers’ ‘win-now’ offseason continues with Hayes signing

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Kevin Hayes watched with significant interest as the Philadelphia Flyers made moves to get better right away.

Then he signed on the dotted line for the long term to add to those efforts.

Hayes signed a $50 million, seven-year contract with the Flyers on Wednesday that’s worth $7.14 million a season. The 27-year-old is Philadelphia’s third major addition this offseason after trading for defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun and is the most prominent sign yet that the franchise has shifted from building to trying to contend for a title.

”(Acquiring) Niskanen and Braun, it just shows that they’re in a win-now mentality,” Hayes said on a conference call Wednesday. ”With the three moves they made in the last couple weeks, it just shows their fans and shows the team and the organization that they want to win right now and that factored into my decision, as well – being able to win.”

The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1975, now the fourth-longest drought in the NHL, and missed the playoffs four out of the past seven years. Former general manager Ron Hextall’s regime was about drafting and developing, and now Chuck Fletcher is turning his attention to making Philadelphia a playoff contender again.

Committing this substantial price to Hayes shows that. The Flyers sent a fifth-round pick to Winnipeg for his exclusive negotiating rights and also traded defenseman Radko Gudas and second- and third-round picks to get Niskanen and Braun.

This was all part of the plan.

”We’re stronger, we’re deeper and we filled a lot of the holes we identified coming into the summer,” Fletcher said. ”Certainly our expectation is we’re a more competitive hockey club, but there’s a lot of work to be done to take this collection of individuals and make it into a strong team.”

Hayes becomes the Flyers’ third-highest paid player behind captain Claude Giroux and winger Jakub Voracek and should step in as their new No. 2 center behind Sean Couturier. He’s coming off a recording a career-high 55 points last season with the Rangers and Jets and has 92 goals and 137 assists in 381 regular-season NHL games.

”He checks a lot of boxes we were looking for,” Fletcher said. ”We like his size, we like his skill, we like his 200-foot game. We like his age: He’s just entering the prime of his career and he plays a premium position at center. So we think he rounds out our forward group out and will give our coaching staff a lot of options going forward.”

That coaching staff has a lot to do with why Hayes and the Flyers identified each other as a good fit. Hayes played under new Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault for four seasons in New York, something that will ease his adjustment.

”We had a great relationship on and off the ice,” Hayes said. ”He demands hard work and if you play the correct way, he kinds of lets you play freely offensively, and that was a huge factor in the decision. Being comfortable with him just made the decision a lot easier.”

The money doesn’t hurt, either, and Hayes got a full no-movement clause in the first three years of the contract to protect against Seattle expansion. He’ll be able to submit a 12-team no-trade list in the final four years.

Hayes could have waited until Sunday to talk to any interested club and pick his destination July 1. Instead, he said the familiarity with the Flyers, what he thought his role could be and his belief they can win sooner than later led him to forego unrestricted free agency.

”It was kind of a no-brainer,” Hayes said. ”I think Chuck and (president Paul Holmgren) are putting together a team that can do some damage and ultimately win the Stanley Cup.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Are the Flyers reverting to old ways?

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Chuck Fletcher is going at things at a speed more familiar to Philadelphia Flyers fans.

The team’s general manager has been a bit feisty over the past several days, aggressively seeking out additions to his roster, including trading a fifth-round pick for the rights to negotiate early with Kevin Hayes — a move that paid of with a massive contract on Tuesday.

Fletcher also took advantage of a cash-strapped San Jose Sharks team to bring in 32-year-old defenseman Justin Braun and flipped the unpredictable Radko Gudas (well, 70 percent of him) for 32-year-old Matt Niskanen, too.

That ‘win-now’ mentality that has been so prevalent throughout the history of the Flyers is back. But is it a good thing? Historically, speaking, the Flyers have little to show for it.

The Hayes signing improves the Flyers, although the price tag to do business will certainly be debated. Hayes is a big center that many teams would have coveted if he hit the open market on July 1.

But what about the others?

Braun’s play hasn’t exactly been earth-shattering over the last little while. He’s aging and his ability to play the game is as well, at least according to the numbers.

Niskanen’s play has followed the same sort of declining arch, and it’s possible that Gudas is still the better defenseman.

But let’s rewind for a moment.

Ron Hextall’s slow-and-steady approach seemingly cost him his job last November (along with sticking with Dave Hakstol, who didn’t seem to be developing that talent all that well).

When he was hired in 2014, Hextall told reporters that it wasn’t his vision to trade the farm to acquire older players. The late Ed Snider concurred: “I think Ron has established a philosophy that is probably long overdue.”

Build through the draft, a model that’s done wonders for teams like Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, was Hextall’s preferred method of choice.

And his fingerprints are all over the current roster’s crop of youth, including Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart and Nolan Patrick.

Fletcher has no such aspirations, it seems.

To get Braun, a veteran of 600-plus NHL games, Fletcher parted ways with two picks, a second and third rounder in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

And Fletcher said over the weekend that he may still be looking to find a top-pairing defenseman for Provorov to play with. Those don’t come cheap, whether through trade (assets) or through free agency (money).

The more Fletcher adds on the backend, the more he likely has to subtract, even if they carry seven defensemen into the season (they currently have eight). And we can only assume that he would then subtract a defenseman that was born and bred through the organization, through the draft — reversing some of the good work Hextall did (or Paul Holmgren, if a guy like Sam Morin or Robert Hagg is moved).

The Flyers have nearly $23 million in cap space to play with but still have to sign restricted free agents in Provorov, Konecny and Sanheim among others. That may not leave them with that much room to maneuver in the end.

Perhaps most worrying though circles back to the beginning of this, with Fletcher’s aggressive approach to acquiring older talent at the cost of assets. While Hextall’s approach may have been flawed, the essence of it has made other teams perennial contenders.

Fletcher’s been busy, certainly. But is his team any better for his efforts?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Follow the money: Salary cap could spawn NHL trade frenzy

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Matt Niskanen wasn’t totally shocked when the Washington Capitals traded him to Philadelphia last week.

One look at their salary cap picture explained it.

”I know what kind of situation Washington was in, so I knew there was a possibility,” he said.

General managers say there is more trade chatter now than at any time in recent years, and much of it has to do with a wide gap between the haves and have-nots across the NHL: A handful of teams know they will be up against the salary cap ceiling and many others have plenty of room and can use it to take on bad contracts to get better.

The salary cap was $79.5 million this past season, and there are fears that the new cap, which takes effect July 1, will be under the $83 million initial projection.

Still, the NHL trade market is heating up. Follow the money to see where it goes.

”One thing I think is really apparent is that there’s a commodity out there called the cap,” Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. ”I think that a lot of people are talking around those things as well. It’s an interesting dynamic this summer, so we’ll kind of see.”

Cheveldayoff’s Jets are on the selling side because they need to get new contracts done for budding star forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, and already have an established core signed to big-ticket deals. They traded defenseman Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers on Monday and aren’t done dealing.

The rebuilding Rangers are closer to the other end of the spectrum with almost $19 million in cap space to play with. They might be able to accelerate the climb back to the playoffs with some shrewd moves at the draft this weekend and beyond because they can spend to the cap and don’t need to win this year.

”Having cap space affords you conversations you couldn’t have before,” New York GM Jeff Gorton said. ”We’re in conversations and we’re talking to teams about things that maybe three or four years ago we weren’t able to do. There’s a lot of different avenues to do this, and there’s a lot of conversations that go into it as far as eating money or spending money or what you have to do. But definitely having cap space … it’s a big weapon to have as we move forward in our rebuild.”

The New Jersey Devils are in a similar spot. They are expected to take American center Jack Hughes with the first overall pick Friday – leaving Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko for the Rangers second – and might be a No. 1 defenseman and a few other additions away from being playoff contenders again.

Might a trade for Nashville’s P.K. Subban fit for New Jersey? The Devils not only have more than $30 million in cap space but a surplus of young forwards and prospects that could make for an intriguing offer to the Predators, who look poised to shake things up after back-to-back early playoff exits.

Pittsburgh is among the contending teams that need to shed salary to be under the cap. The Penguins began that process by sending defenseman Olli Maatta to Chicago for young forward Dominik Kahun and a draft pick , and winger Phil Kessel would have been on the move to Minnesota had he not vetoed the trade.

GM Jim Rutherford said he’s ”trying to retool” on the fly and won’t rule out trading someone like center Evgeni Malkin or defenseman Kris Letang.

”There’s been great players traded in this league, and if somebody comes along with a package that makes sense for the Penguins, we have to look at it,” Rutherford told 93.7-FM in Pittsburgh. ”We’re not finished making changes. I would expect that there will be a couple more before training camp starts.”

The same goes for San Jose, which re-signed two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson to a $92 million, 11-year contract and already cleared some room by dealing veteran blue liner Justin Braun to Philadelphia . The Sharks still have to re-sign impressive young forward Timo Meier and would love to bring back Joe Thornton and captain Joe Pavelski.

Of course, there’s only so much money to go around, which may force the Sharks to deal.

”Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” GM Doug Wilson said.

The Flyers, on the other hand, took advantage of their vast cap space by acquiring Niskanen, Braun and the rights to center Kevin Hayes, who was signed Wednesday to a $50 million, seven-year contract . It was the next step in their evolution from a building team to a contender.

”The past few years, the staff has worked hard to acquire as many young assets as possible and rebuild the foundation of the club,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. ”And at the right time, the idea has always been to more aggressively add some veteran pieces, and we feel we’ve done that now.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million deal

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The Philadelphia Flyers took a calculated gamble, trading a late-round pick for the rights to negotiate with center Kevin Hayes. It appears that move is now paying off, for both team and player.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Tuesday night that Hayes, a pending unrestricted free agent, are closing in on a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.14 million annual average value), taking one more big name free agent off the board long before the free agency window opens on July 1.

The Flyers put the official stamp on the deal on Wednesday.

“We are very happy to sign Kevin to a long-term contract,” Fletcher said in a release by the team. “He plays a smart, two-way game and is just entering the prime of his career. Kevin will add size and skill to our lineup.”

A day normally referred to as a ‘frenzy’ will be merely a whimper at the pace big names are being erased off the list.

The Flyers really wanted their guy, so much so that they’re paying a guy who’s only broken the 20-goal mark once and has only surpassed 50 points once, too — this year, with 55 points in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.

But teams will pay big money for a top-six center who is large in stature and has a knack for using that frame to drive to the net. At 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds, Hayes is a formidable figure on the ice and at 27, is coming into the prime of his career.

Hayes becomes the 18th highest paid center in the NHL, making more than Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado and Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg — all three players who are top-line centers on their respective teams and with significantly more success in the production department.

CapFriendly has the nearest comparable to Hayes’ contract listed as Ryan O'Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, who won the Conn Smythe a few nights ago.

The Flyers acquired the rights to court Hayes last week when they sent a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Jets, who brought Hayes in from the Rangers at the trade deadline.

Hayes didn’t impress in Winnipeg, but came into a team that was on a downward trajectory and couldn’t rectify it himself.

Initially, it was reported that Philly wasn’t No. 1 on Hayes’ list. We can suppose that changed as the AAV rose in negotiations.

A couple thoughts:

  • Matt Duchene must be licking his chops at this point. Duchene, a UFA himself, is going to be signing T-Pain’s ‘I’m so Paid’ for years to come.
  • It would appear the dollar figure for William Karlsson would come in around this mark.
  • The Flyers are doing big things this offseason.

Earlier on Tuesday, they added defenseman Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks, taking advantage of a team that needed to shed some salary.

The Hayes signing just highlights further the aggressive off-season by Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is undertaking, vastly different than Ron Hextall’s slow-and-steady plan.

Over the last week, they added Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals by shipping Radko Gudas the other way and bought out Andrew MacDonald‘s contract.

And they still have nearly $23 million to work with and restricted free agents in Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov they still need to sign.

The Flyers are that darkhorse team for next year. They’ve appeared to find a capable starter in Carter Hart, have re-tooled their blue line and still have names such as Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek to go along with the Hayes addition.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Trade: Flyers add Braun to blue line as Sharks shed salary

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One day after the San Jose Sharks handed Erik Karlsson $92 million over the next eight years, they shipped defenseman Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick (No. 41 overall) and a third-round selection in 2020.

“Justin has been an important part of our organization since we drafted him in 2007 and over that time, we have seen him develop not only as a player on the ice but as a man,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He has played a large role in our team’s success since joining the Sharks roster, including appearing in three Conference Finals and competing for the Stanley Cup in 2016. I want to thank Justin and his wife, Jessie, for their commitment to the Sharks organization and wish them all the best in their future.”

In the wake of the Karlsson extension Wilson needed to shed some salary off the Sharks’ cap. This trade does that, freeing up $3.8M from their books for the 2019-20 NHL season. Braun has one year left on his deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Wilson and the Sharks now have a little over $16M in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to try and re-sign some of the team’s restricted free agents like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc, and figure out what to do with UFAs Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist.

“Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” Wilson said on Monday. “I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything. There’s many ways to accomplish different things.”

The Braun acquisition continues an aggressive off-season by Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. In the span of a week he’s acquired the negotiating rights to pending UFA Kevin Hayes, swapped defensemen with the Washington Capitals by shipping Radko Gudas in exchange for Matt Niskanen, bought out Andrew MacDonald‘s contract, and now added Braun.

This now gives the Flyers a blue line with a left side featuring Ivan Provorov (RFA), Shayne Gostisbehere, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim (RFA). Who will be on the move out of that group? Judging by how some NHL GMs are talking this week, it could be a very busy summer of player movement.

“I think there’s been more conversation, more communication between the GMs in the last month than maybe ever since I’ve been a GM,” Wilson said. “There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”

MORE:
Sharks set to sweat salary cap after Karlsson extension
Teams looking for defense should seek trades, not free agents
Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.