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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

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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.

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.

Sharks re-signing Karlsson sets table for busy NHL offseason

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Erik Karlsson had no wanderlust to test the free agent market before re-signing in San Jose.

”I never thought outside that box,” Karlsson said. ”I’m happy that it didn’t get to that.”

A handful of other teams aren’t so happy because the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman would have been the best unrestricted free agent available. Karlsson signing a $92 million, eight-year contract with the Sharks is the first big off-ice development since St. Louis won the Stanley Cup because of all the ramifications it could have on the NHL offseason.

With Karlsson off the board, any team looking for a No. 1 defenseman has to either hope veteran Alexander Edler doesn’t re-sign with the Canucks and win that bidding war or go the trade route. Salary-cap concerns for San Jose, Washington and a handful of other Cup contenders could open the door to some significant player movement even before free agency starts July 1.

”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,” San Jose’s Doug Wilson said Monday. ”There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”

Less than 24 hours after Karlsson signed, the dominoes began to fall.

Karlsson was linked to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and it took less than 24 hours for the first direct responses to him re-signing with the Sharks. New York on Monday night acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Jets, and Tampa Bay on Tuesday re-signed veteran Braydon Coburn to a $3.4 million, two-year deal – cap space it likely would have needed for Karlsson if he was available.

San Jose needed to clear room and did some of that by trading defenseman Justin Braun and his $3.8 million cap hit to Philadelphia for a 2019 second- and 2020 third-round draft pick.

The trade talk is just heating up ahead of the draft Friday and Saturday in Vancouver. Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang and Nashville’s P.K. Subban are among the high-profile players who could be on the move.

”There’s lots of things on the go,” Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. ”It’s probably an unprecedented time of conversation.”

Many of the moves that come from those conversations will set the table for free agency, where Columbus winger Artemi Panarin, center Matt Duchene and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky are the top three players available.

Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner, Dallas winger Mats Zuccarello, Islanders winger Anders Lee, Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, Bruins winger Marcus Johansson and Hurricanes winger Micheal Ferland are among the other possibilities. The salary cap is expected to increase by $3.5 million to roughly $83 million, and money will be spent.

”It’s a pretty good class this year,” Colorado GM Joe Sakic said. ”(We) already have targeted players in mind if they become available that we’ll want to talk to about joining our club. We see positions of need, of what we’re looking to do. There’s a few guys we’re going to want to talk to if they become available. We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody.”

Sakic’s Avalanche have the most projected cap space in the league with $36 million, according to PuckPedia . The Flyers and rival New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Islanders will also have cap space to burn and a need for an elite defenseman or two.

”They’re not easy to find,” Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said. ”Certainly, if we can find a guy that can play in our top four that we’d have the ability to acquire, we’ll certainly look at it.”

BUT FIRST, THE DRAFT: New Jersey is widely expected to select American center Jack Hughes first overall, leaving Finnish winger Kaappo Kakko for the Rangers.

”Obviously one team’s going to indicate to us exactly how it might go for the rest of the draft,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. ”I think we’re in a good spot. We know that we’re going to get a really good player no matter what happens to us.”

Chicago picks third and will get a nice boost to aid its turnaround after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.

BITE OUT OF SHARKS: Committing $11.5 million a year to Karlsson cuts significantly into San Jose’s offseason maneuvering with Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi set to be unrestricted free agents and emerging star Timo Meier needing a new contract as a restricted free agent.

”Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” Wilson said, not ruling out bringing back Pavelski and others. ”I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything. There’s many ways to accomplish different things.”

RUSSIAN PACKAGE DEAL: Panarin and Bobrovsky played together with the Blue Jackets for two seasons and are hitting free agency at the same time. When Panarin switched agents to be represented by Bobrovsky’s agent, Paul Theofanus, it raised eyebrows that the Russian countrymen might want to go to the same team.

With some creative roster work, the Florida Panthers could be the ideal landing spot for Panarin and Bobrovsky and go from close to the playoffs to real contenders.

CAPITALS CONCERNS: Even though Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are no longer reigning Cup champions, winger Carl Hagelin insisted he wouldn’t have signed an $11 million, four-year contract with them if he didn’t think they could win it again over that time. To do so, GM Brian MacLellan will have to navigate a difficult cap situation around pending free agent winger Brett Connolly and restricted free agent Andre Burakovsky and knowing deals with center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby expire next summer.

”I hope (Connolly and Burakovsky are) still here,” Hagelin said. ”But at the end of the day, Conno, he’s a UFA so it’s up to him what he wants. You understand if a guy tests the market to see what’s out there. But I hope both of those guys come back.”

AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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