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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

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.

Hertl’s contract already looking like bargain for Sharks

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Tomas Hertl has been one of the biggest stars for the San Jose Sharks this postseason, and that is helping to make him one of the biggest steals in the NHL under the salary cap.

Entering Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on Monday night (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream), Hertl finds himself near the top of the playoff leaderboards in goals and points while also scoring several season-saving goals for the Sharks, including a Game 6 overtime winner in Round 1 and two of the Sharks’ three goals during their third period Game 7 comeback.

That performance has also made him one of the current front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (though he might have a tough time surpassing his teammate, Logan Couture, if the Sharks win it all) and comes on the heels of a breakout regular season performance that saw him take a massive step forward in his development and realize pretty much all of his potential.

It also happened in the first year of a four-year, $22.5 million contract that is well below what other comparable players are pulling in right now.

First, just look at the season that Hertl had.

He finished with a career high in goals (35), total points (74), while also recording a 54 percent Corsi percentage. The Sharks not only controlled the pace of play when he was on the ice, but he helped put the puck in the back of the net. A lot. Even better, he did the bulk of that damage at even-strength, not needing to rely only on a ton of power play production to boost his numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That performance across the board put him in some pretty exclusive company among the NHL’s elite forwards.

Consider the following…

  • There were only 16 forwards in the entire NHL, including Hertl, that topped the 30-goal, 70-point, 53 percent Corsi marks this season. When you look at the salaries of those players, Hertl pretty clearly outperformed his contract.
  • Out of the 16 players in that group four of them (Sebastian Aho in Carolina, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado, Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary, and Auston Matthews in Toronto) were still on their entry-level contracts and making less than $1 million per season against the cap.
  • Among the remaining players that were beyond their entry-level deals there were only two of them that made less than $6 million per season against the cap — Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, and Hertl. The average salary cap hit for those remaining players (not including Hertl) was $6.9 million per season. Hertl counted just $5.25 million against the Sharks’ cap.
  • It is also worth pointing out that the four entry-level players are all going to see significant bumps in their pay this summer that will put them well above the $6 million mark. Matthews already signed an $11 million per year deal, while Aho, Rantanen, and Tkachuk are all in a position to demand — and get — significant money.

In hindsight it is easy to look at that and think, wow, Hertl really sold himself short on that deal. If he continues to perform at the level he has shown throughout the regular season and playoffs he is definitely going to be playing on a well below-market contract.

But it was not that easy to see at the time of the deal.

When Hertl signed that contract this past summer he had not yet seen his play — or role — blossom the way it did this season. He was obviously a talented player with a lot of upside, and a pretty productive one. He was a fairly consistent 20-goal, 45-point player, and at that level of production was probably doing fairly well for himself at $5.25 million per season.

A lot of things went right for Hertl and the Sharks since then.

For one, he saw a pretty significant increase in his ice-time and went from being what was mostly a 16 or 17 minute per might player, to a 19-minute per night player. An extra two or three minutes per game over the course of a full season adds up, especially for a skilled player that is going to get more chances as a result of it.

He was also entering his age 25 season, which is usually when scorers tend to hit their peak level of production.

And then there was the fact he absolutely shot the lights out all year, scoring on 19.9 percent of his shots during the regular season and 16.4 percent of his shots in the playoffs. That is a significant jump for a player that is usually more of a 10-12 percent shooter. That spike in shooting percentage probably added another 10-12 goals to his total for the season. That number is also probably to regress next season, but even if it does the Sharks are still going to have what should be a 25-30 goal, 60-65 point, possession driving winger in the prime of his career on what still might be a below market contract.

Getting a top-line player for a million or two below the cap isn’t a total franchise-changing move, but every additional dollar helps when building the rest of your team around them. Especially when you are a team like the Sharks that has to deal with some pretty significant free agency questions this summer with Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Jones standing out for Blue Jackets; Karlsson closer to 100 percent

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports playoff update for April 30

• Bruce Cassidy switched up his lines at Monday’s practice, putting David Pastrnak with Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. [NBC Boston]

• The Bruins sound off on that noisy Columbus cannon. [Boston.com]

• As he’s done many times before, Seth Jones stood out for the Blue Jackets in Game 2. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Though the only way for the Islanders to climb out of this hole is to first acknowledge their work through the opening two games was not sufficient before committing to improved attention to detail beginning with Wednesday’s Game 3, the team seemed to believe it had played well enough to merit a different result.” [New York Post]

Petr Mrazek is considered “day-to-day,” which is good news, according to Rod Brind’Amour. Alex Nedeljkovic has ben recalled from AHL Charlotte. [News and Observer]

Miro Heiskanen has been a star for the Dallas Stars this season. No wonder GM Jim Nill didn’t want to include him in any trade. [NHL.com]

• On Patrick Maroon, who is making his hometown proud. [Dispatch]

• Jared Bednar’s calm demeanor behind the Colorado Avalanche has had a positive affect on his players. [Denver Post]

Erik Karlsson is getting closer and closer to 100 percent. [Mercury News]

John Tavares, Sean Couturier, Matt Murray, Mark Stone, and Carter Hart are among the names who will represent Canada at next month’s IIHF World Championship. [Hockey Canada]

• Sounds like the Edmonton Oilers GM search is down to Mark Hunter, Kelly McCrimmon and Sean Burke. [Edmonton Journal]

Devante Smith-Pelly talks about his up and down season with the Washington Capitals and his future. [Japers’ Rink]

• Good read on Aito Iguchi, the young Japanese viral sensation who is heading toward his goal of playing in the NHL. [Sportsnet]

• It’s time to look forward for the Vegas Golden Knights. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• Stanley Cup playoff parity is here to stay. [Seattle Times]

• The NWHL is expected to expand its schedule for the 2019-20 season, giving teams 24 games to play. [The Ice Garden]

• Finally, here’s episode five of “Puckland” as the ECHL’s Maine Mariners make final roster changes and introduce the official team at a fan event:

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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.

Flyers turn to winner Vigneault to snap championship drought

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning team that just flamed out in the first round of the playoffs is dotted with former New York Rangers who played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final:

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller all helped the Rangers to get within three wins of their first championship since 1994. Five years later, a new team and a stunning elimination. They were used to deeper runs in New York with Alain Vigneault running the show. He led the Rangers to the Cup Final in his first season and bumped the win total by eight in his second.

After a year out of coaching, Vigneault takes over a fallen Philadelphia Flyers franchise. He seems to expect a similar quick fix.

”I was looking for was an opportunity to win; an opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup,” Vigneault said Thursday.

Vigneault also led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, is a former NHL coach of the year and will spend the summer as the head coach for Team Canada at the world championships.

”It’s unusual and difficult to find coaches like Alain,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Indeed, Vigneault has done it all on the bench except win the Stanley Cup and he joins a franchise mired in one of the longest championship droughts in the league. The Flyers haven’t won it all since 1975 or even played for the Stanley Cup since 2010. Even worse, they missed the playoffs this season and haven’t made it past the second round since 2012.

And he thinks the Flyers can win in the short term?

Maybe, because the talent is there: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier all have some heavy miles on their skates but are still productive veterans. There’s still untapped potential in a group of promising 20-somethings that include Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. All have shown flashes of stardom along with infuriating inconsistency.

”I can get them to be more consistent. The way that I prepare a team for games I believe permits a player to understand what he needs to do against that team to be successful,” Vigneault said.

Couturier will get an early peek at Vigneault’s system at next month’s world championships in Slovakia. So will Carter Hart, the 20-year-old rookie goalie who nearly carried the Flyers into the playoffs after his December call up. He won eight straight games and pushed the Flyers (37-37-8 for 82 points) to the verge of a wild card spot until they collapsed over the final two weeks.

The Flyers used a record eight goalies this season. Vigneault knows a true No. 1 should be enough to carry the load in a championship chase. Vigneault rode Henrik Lundqvist in New York to within three wins of a championship and Roberto Luongo had four playoff shutouts when the Canucks reached the Final in 2011.

”I was very fortunate to have maybe two Hall of Fame goaltenders,” Vigneault said. ”Maybe we have a young goaltender that’s got a tremendous amount of potential and might become one of the top goalies in the league.”

One thing Vigneault won’t do is ask former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol (fired in December) and former GM Ron Hextall (fired in November) for a scouting report on the team. Both men are part of his staff at worlds. Giroux, the Flyers captain, is the only player Vigneault has called.

Vigneault, who turns 58 in May, has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers. His teams made the playoffs 11 times and he was named NHL coach of the year in 2006-2007 with Vancouver.

”Players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. ”You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you.”

History suggests players will follow Vigneault. He took two teams in major hockey markets to the Final and did it in large part because of a hot goalie and an overachieving roster. The Rangers wore down because almost every series went the distance (four Game 7s) and Vigneault took them way behind their talent level.

Vigneault has an offensive superstar in Giroux (82 points) but Patrick (a former No. 2 pick) and van Riemsdyk have more name value than skill. No matter, the coach always pays the price in Philly: Vigneault is the fifth coach since the start of the 2013 season, and he’d like this commitment to last.

”You know what we have to do? We have to win,” he said.

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