First off, some of you may be asking – who on Earth is Kevin Hayes? Sit tight, I’ll tell you. Kevin Hayes is a 22 year old right wing from Boston, Massachusetts who is set to become an NHL free agent on August 16 (tomorrow for those with calendar-phobia). Hayes has good size at 6’3, 205 pounds, although he is currently known as more of a playmaker than a bruising power forward.
Hayes was a 2010 first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, 24th overall to be exact. He spent four years playing college puck at Boston College. During his first three seasons as a Boston College Eagle, Hayes struggled to find his wings, tallying 67 points through 102 games. However, during his senior campaign, Hayes showed why the Blackhawks spent a first-rounder on him. Hayes scored 27 goals and dished out 38 helpers en route to a 65 point season over 40 games, nearly matching his point total from his first three years combined. He also was a Hobey Baker finalist, an honor which his line-mate “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau took home as the best player in college hockey.
How does a player like Hayes hit the open market? Under the current NHL collective bargaining agreement, a team is given four years to sign a draftee to an entry-level contract. If this is not done, that player becomes a free agent within the league. Chicago is yet to sign Hayes, and indications are that Hayes doesn’t plan on signing with the Blackhawks.
This wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. Ducks and Coyotes fans probably have some hard feelings toward Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler, respectively, for blowing off the teams that drafted them. It is interesting that Hayes seems so eager to move on from an elite franchise. Speculation is Hayes may feel there is too much roster competition in Chicago, or he may have some hard feelings toward the Hawks since they traded his older brother Jimmy to the Florida Panthers.
Chicago’s loss will be a huge gain for another team. Kevin Hayes will be a hot commodity due to his youth, talent, and availability to be signed to a cheap entry-level contract. Colorado figures to be in the mix, with various reports even mentioning the Avs as the favorite to land him. Other possible destinations for Hayes include his hometown Boston Bruins, who could use a cheap winger given their salary cap issues. The Florida Panthers have some young talented players, and would allow Kevin to play with his older brother Jimmy. The Calgary Flames are rebuilding, but signing there would give Hayes the opportunity to re-unite with his college running mate Johnny Gaudreau. Many more teams are sure to make a run at acquiring Hayes.
So, what are the Avs chances of actually landing Hayes? It’s hard to really put a number on it, because this won’t come down to money (all teams will be offering the max $925K entry-level wage or close to it), but I’d give us an optimistic 20% chance. What the Avs can offer is a young, promising core of talent that Hayes can be a part of. I would have captain Gabriel Landeskog and perhaps a few other youthful Avs play a large role in recruiting if the team is serious about Hayes lacing up his skates in the Mile High City anytime soon. Where Hayes chooses to sign will ultimately come down to the spot he feels most comfortable beginning his career, and the current players could help convince him that Colorado is the ideal place.
NHL playing time will also be a likely factor for Hayes. The Avs have plenty of talented forwards, but lack the overall depth that Chicago has. This gives Hayes a great opportunity to make the team out of camp. If Hayes is expecting top line minutes, A) he’s delusional or B) he’s going to end up in Buffalo. The Avs certainly don’t have room for him on their scoring lines, but could easily find a way to squeeze him onto their third or fourth line if they really wanted to make it happen.
I definitely think the Avs should take a chance on Hayes. They shouldn’t promise him anything, he’d have to earn a roster spot, but Hayes is a talented prospect, and adding players like him without giving up an asset is a rare opportunity. Hayes may choose to play elsewhere, but it shouldn’t be because they Avs didn’t aggressively pursue him.