Kevin Hayes

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Trade: Rangers land Trouba, Jets get Pionk and first-rounder

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The New York Rangers signaled that they were rebuilding at the end of the 2017-18 season, but they didn’t necessarily indicate that it would be a long one. Acquiring Jacob Trouba‘s RFA rights from the Winnipeg Jets goes a long way in accelerating that process.

The Rangers sent the Jets a first-round pick (20th overall, which the Jets sent to the Rangers for a few months of Kevin Hayes‘ services) and defenseman Neal Pionk for Trouba’s rights.

To emphasize: the picture isn’t yet complete, as to fully judge this deal, we’ll need to find out how much Trouba, 25, receives from the Rangers. One would assume that it would be a pretty hard sell to imagine Trouba actually not signing at all with the Rangers … but it’s still not a guarantee that he’ll ink a deal with New York until he does it.

What the Rangers get in Trouba

As discussed in this post about how NHL teams are more likely to improve their defense through trades than free agency this offseason, it’s my opinion that – for as impressive as Trouba has already been – it’s possible that the defenseman could show more.

Honestly, it feels like PHT’s been wondering about Trouba’s future with Winnipeg for ages. Back in August 2016, it was noted that Trouba rescinded his trade request during frosty negotiations on a “bridge” contract, one we thought might backfire for Winnipeg down the line when discussing it in 2017.

It wasn’t just about money, either. Trouba wanted a prominent role as a right-handed defensemen, yet he sometimes saw his opportunities go to Dustin Byfuglien (reasonable, but debatable) or Tyler Myers (not so reasonable) instead. None of this is to say that Trouba was “buried” in the lineup, yet there was sort of a start-and-stop element. Consider that, after peaking with 24:58 TOI per game in 2016-17, Trouba’s minutes plummeted to 21:54 per game in 2017-18, and only went up to 22:53 on average this past season.

Trouba erupted in 2018-19, nonetheless, setting easily a career-high with 50 points (his previous high mark was 33).

Now, you can get carried away by over-projecting Trouba to the point that you get out of control. Maybe he’s not a superstar in the making, but he’s very, very, good, and instantly becomes the Rangers’ best defenseman, and one of their best overall assets alongside underrated center Mika Zibanejad, and the second pick of the 2019 NHL Draft.

The question for the Rangers isn’t if Trouba is good, but just how good. It also brings up interesting questions about what’s next, beyond drafting the second pick, whether that be Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes.

Beyond that, though, does Trouba make the Rangers a more interesting consideration for Artemi Panarin, or some other free agent? Trouba’s young enough that, if the Rangers don’t get the greatest luck in accelerating this rebuild really fast, they can still succeed with a slower approach.

Either way … goodness, are the Rangers ever doing a deft job lately. It’s OK for fans to just “chef’s kiss” endlessly.

The Jets’ side, on the other hand, is more fraught.

Jets upsetting

It will probably help the sanity of Jets fans to look at the first-rounder as merely a first-rounder, and the 20th pick at that, and not as an alternate view: that the Rangers basically kept that pick warm while Hayes was a Jet, and then sent it back to Winnipeg.

(Seriously, Jets fans, try to look at it as positively as you can.)

It’s up to debate if a) the Rangers successfully pulled off a “pump and dump” with Neal Pionk or b) the Jets are actually realistic about Pionk’s limited potential, and will hope he can merely be a contributor.

Pionk, 23, just completed his second NHL season, but it was essentially his first full one (28 games in 2017-18; 73 games in 2018-19). He’s shown some flashes of brilliance on the offensive side, managing to score 40 points over his first 101 regular-season games. Heck, if Jets fans want to soothe and delude themselves, they merely need to watch the memorable goal the defenseman scored against the Montreal Canadiens back in November:

*fans self*

But, yeah, the bigger picture with Pionk is … less than ideal, as he was under water possession-wise.

It wouldn’t be shocking if a lot of those tough numbers come from being in over his head (even a defense-poor team like the Rangers were putting Pionk in a tough spot, as he averaged 21:30 TOI per game through two seasons), so maybe Pionk can help out in a less pronounced role.

Again, some of this comes down to public vs. private. Perhaps the Jets can spin it publicly by trumpeting Pionk’s face-value numbers (and the first-rounder), while privately realizing that Pionk is closer than a bit part than to a savvy Trouba replacement. Under almost all circumstances, any Pionk vs. Trouba comparisons would be unflattering, and unfair.

Jets fueled their own mistake

Of course, the biggest key is to remember the bind the Jets found themselves in. If they knew they couldn’t afford to keep Trouba, what with the salary cap crunch coming with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor as prominent RFAs, then they needed to do something.

Personally, I would have been desperate to try to bribe a different rebuilder to soak up problem contracts like that of Dmitry Kulikov and/or Bryan Little, if at all possible, but that either wasn’t a conversation that worked out, or the Jets simply didn’t want to have the conversation at all.

But, again, it’s not as though this situation just popped out of thin air.

The Jets have been putting off a long-term deal with Trouba for some time now, and eventually it ended his tenure. We’ve seen certain “bridge” situations turn untenable before, with P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens (and also Ryan O'Reilly with the Colorado Avalanche) coming to mind. Those two situations obviously backfired, and it’s another lesson to other teams: lock up your core pieces for term, then see if you can keep the Littles and add the Kulikovs.

Maybe the Jets simply never believed that Trouba is a “core” guy, which would honestly be baffling. For plenty of Jets fans, it could be a nauseating experience to see Trouba answer those questions, one way or another, as a member of the New York Rangers.

MORE:  Trouba was one of the headliners of this potential trade targets list, but he wasn’t alone.

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.

Flyers on Hayes talks, NHL Draft approach

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With the 2019 NHL Draft and free agency approaching, the Philadelphia Flyers have their hands full. The team addressed contract negotiations with Kevin Hayes, their approach to the 2019 NHL Draft, and more on Monday.

Hayes situation still hazy

Back on June 3, the Flyers sent their 2019 fifth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Hayes’ negotiating rights. The Flyers bought themselves a window to try to hash out a contract with Hayes, 27, before the big center can hit the free agent market on July 1.

Via a transcription by NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher indicates that not a whole lot has been discussed yet, but Fletcher expects to have face-to-face time by the 2019 NHL Draft (June 21-22), and also believes that Hayes is “open-minded” about signing with Philly.

“I don’t have a vibe, other than he’s certainly open-minded,” Fletcher said. “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.”

Fletcher notes that he hopes that Hayes can help the Flyers with his defensive game, not just with scoring.

Broad Street Hockey also lays out the benefits of a potential ripple effect if the Flyers can sign Hayes.

Most prominently, Hayes solidifying the second center spot could allow Claude Giroux to stay at a more comfortable spot on the wing, allow Nolan Patrick to draw easier matchups as a 3C, and also open up the possibility that the Flyers could earn the depth to have one of the best fourth lines in hockey.

Interesting stuff all around, even if it isn’t earth-shattering. Of course, all of that would hinge on Hayes wanting to play for the Flyers, and reunite with former Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.

On the 2019 NHL Draft

NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall provides an account of the Flyers’ discussions regarding the 11th pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, as Monday’s press conference didn’t just include GM Chuck Fletcher, but also assistant GM Brent Flahr.

It’s basically a trope to wonder if a team might trade its first-rounder, and while Fletcher didn’t totally disregard the possibility, it sounds pretty remote, as Fletcher admitted that there “hasn’t really been a big push for the pick at this point.”

To be fair to those wondering about that possibility, the Flyers are likely in a spot where they’d be more interested in chasing immediate gains, rather than developing more prospects. They made great strides in that area under Ron Hextall’s watch, and one of the hopes of hiring Fletcher seems to be making aggressive strides for the present.

So, the lure might be there, but the demand might not.

Flahr grades the 2019 NHL Draft as a “B+,” and Flahr indicated that the team is leaning more toward drafting a defenseman.

“We have a couple of defensemen in our top 10 that we like,” Flahr said.

“We’ve identified probably five or six guys that we think have a chance to be there at 11 and probably some of the other teams in front of us will dictate that. But we’re really confident we’re going to get a good player.”

To an extent, the Flyers are playing the waiting game right now. They need to do their best to entice Hayes to sign, rather than burning a fifth-round pick for nothing. They also must prepare for multiple scenarios, as the 11th pick is late enough where things can play out in a number of ways, while there’s also the chance that a really promising prospect falls that far.

That all might feel a bit unnerving, but with a nice core already in place and a ton of cap space on hand, the Flyers could also make some waves during the summer. If nothing else, they’ve already shown that they’re willing to be proactive, if not outright aggressive, to get things done.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: McAvoy’s emotional roller coaster; Hayes open-minded to Flyers deal

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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.

• Bruins set to lean on experience, consistency heading into Game 7. (Associated Press)

• Bruins’ McAvoy on an emotional roller coaster. (Boston Globe)

• Who has the ‘Hall of Fame’ advantage ahead of Game 7. (The Hockey News)

• Who’s to blame: Blues’ dismal power play laid another egg in Game 6. (Yahoo Sports)

• They traded for the right to negotiate with him, and the Philadelphia Flyers are looking to sign Kevin Hayes before July 1. (NHL.com)

• Stick with the former New York Rangers forward, the Flyers feel Hayes is open-minded about signing in Philly. (Sportsnet)

• Are the NHL rules broken? Is it ruining hockey? These folks believe so. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Because we’re not enamored enough by the playoffs, here’s six teams who could be Cup contenders over the next 36 months. (Sportsnet)

• The one where someone tries to make the case that trading for Milan Lucic would be a good idea. (The Canuck Way)

Logan Couture could still finish the playoffs as the top goal scorer. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Three teams that could look vastly different after this offseason. (Puck Prose)

• Statistics about who is watching the Cup Final (and the NBA Finals). (YouGov)

• An ownership change in Arizona seems to be imminent. (Yard Barker)


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 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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Blues rally back against Jets; Sharks extend series vs. Golden Knights

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Although none of Thursday’s games were especially high-scoring affairs, they all started off with early goals. San Jose’s Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 minutes into his contest, Carolina’s Warren Foegele netted his goal 17 seconds in, and Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry was the quickest at just 12 seconds.

So far the road team has won every game of the St. Louis-Winnipeg series. It took a comeback win from the Blues in Winnipeg in Game 5 to keep that run going.

After getting off to a 2-0 series lead, the Washington Capitals have dropped two straight to Carolina. The Capitals aren’t truly in trouble yet, but it’s possible that we’ll see both Wild Card teams advance in the Eastern Conference.

Facing elimination, the Sharks were strong in Game 5. From the moment Hertl found the back of the net at 1:16, San Jose led for the rest of the game en route to a 5-2 victory.

Hurricanes 2, Capitals 1 (Series tied at 2-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes made a statement with their 5-0 win in Game 3, but that contest was the exception rather than the rule in what has been a series of tight games. As noted above, Carolina jumped to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Foegele, but Alex Ovechkin tied the contest on the power play at 10:35 of the second period. Teuvo Teravainen scored his first goal of the series in the final minute of the second to re-establish the lead. Despite the Capitals playing from behind in the third period, they only narrowly edged the Hurricanes in shots 8-7 in the final frame.

Blues 3, Jets 2 (St. Louis leads series 3-2)

Winnipeg had a 2-0 lead after one thanks to goals by Lowry and Kevin Hayes, but that first period could have gone much worse for the Blues. St. Louis forward Robert Thomas took a double minor for high-sticking at 9:31, but the Blues successfully killed it off. The Blues’ comeback took place entirely in the third period. Ryan O'Reilly capitalized on a power-play opportunity at 1:29 of the final period. Brayden Schenn tied it on a goal that needed to be reviewed due to the net coming off at the same time. Jaden Schwartz completed the comeback by scoring the winner with just 15 seconds left in the game.

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2 (Vegas leads series 3-2)

After dropping three straight, this was a literal must-win game for San Jose and the Sharks answered the call. Hertl and Logan Couture established a 2-0 lead for the Sharks by 11:00 and San Jose also enjoyed 3-1 and 4-2 leads. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, who had been horrendous over the last three games, held his own in this one, stopping 30 of 32 shots.

Suspension Coming?

Washington’s T.J. Oshie was injured on a hit by Foegele late in the third period and is expected to miss some time. Foegele only got a boarding minor, which angered Ovechkin.

UPDATE: No.

Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek

Mrazek stopped 30 of 31 shots with his lone blemish being Ovechkin’s power-play goal. He’s now allowed just one goal over his last two starts after surrendering seven goals in the first two games.

2. Jordan Binnington

Binnington continues to be the driving force of the St. Louis Blues. He shook off an early goal in Thursday’s contest to help the Blues pull off their comeback win. Binnington turned aside 29 of 31 shots in Game 5.

3. Tomas Hertl

Hertl was the only player to have a multi-goal game on Thursday. He accounted for the Sharks’ opening goal at 1:16 and gave them some breathing room with his power-play marker at 14:45 of the third period.

Highlight of the Night

Let’s take another look at this close call that changed the course of the Jets-Blues game.

Factoids

Schwartz’s game-winning goal was the second latest scored in regulation time in St. Louis’ postseason history. The record holder is Gino Cavallini, who netted his goal at 19:51 of the third period in 1990. (NHL PR)

Mrazek has surrendered five goals on 83 shots since allowing three goals on his first eight shots of the 2019 playoffs. (Stephen Whyno)

With the two opening goals scored in the first minute of Thursday’s games, we’re up to five in Round 1. That puts us in a four-way tie for the most in an opening round with the other years being 1981, 2012, and 2016. (NHL PR)

Friday’s Games
Game 5: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Series tied at 2-2) (7:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)
Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (Avalanche lead 3-1) (10:00 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live Stream)

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.