Saturday, July 19, 2014

Triple Eagle: A Review of the Variables Involved in the Pursuit of Kevin Hayes

For ardent Calgary Flames supporters, Kevin Hayes is a fellow that needs no introduction.

Having spent the past four years at Boston College with Bill Arnold and the last three years as a teammate of Johnny Gaudreau, Hayes really climbed onto everyone's radar starting in December last year when longtime Eagles coach Jerry York decided to take his three top players and put them together on the same line.

It began as an experiment in the third period of BC's home game against Holy Cross on Nov. 29. Trailing 5-1 at the time, and coming off a 5-1 drubbing to Maine the previous weekend, York decided he needed to shake things up. It worked as the Eagles scored three unanswered goals in the third and although they still lost 5-4, York saw enough to keep the line together for the following Saturday's game versus New Hampshire and the magic began at that point.

BC's 6-2 victory that day kicked off a 19-game unbeaten streak for the school that would last nearly three months. Leading them the whole way was the trio of Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes, which remained a line for the remainder of the season and man, did they ever put up some gaudy numbers. In their 26 games together, they racked up a combined 54 goals and 134 points.
  • LW Johnny Gaudreau - 24 g, 31 a, 55 pts
  • C Bill Arnold - 11 g, 24 a, 35 pts
  • RW Kevin Hayes - 19 g, 25 a, 44 pts

Overall, Hayes finished the year with 65 points in 40 games (27 goals, 38 assists), good for second in NCAA Division One scoring behind Gaudreau's 80 points. Hayes was also named one of the finalists for the Hobey Baker, which of course was eventually won by Gaudreau.


Why Kevin Hayes is in the News

Hayes was drafted in the first round, 24th overall, by Chicago in the 2010 NHL Draft. At the time, he had just completed his second and final year of high school hockey at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts. Bound for Boston College, it was quite a grade 12 year. Hayes had 25 goals and 67 points in just 28 games.

Fast forward four years and here we are today. Hayes has graduated from Boston College and now is on the clock to sign with the Blackhawks by 11:59 pm ET on August 15 or he will automatically become a unrestricted free agent and be free to sign with any NHL team.

So, who and what is Kevin Hayes?

For one, he's huge at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds and as you know -- with special thanks to the Los Angeles Kings, 'big' is in style right now in the NHL.

There have been question marks about his skating but how big of a red flag is it? I've heard and read a range of opinions. Keep in mind that recently hired Troy Crowder, who is working in a player development role with the Flames, is a guy who specializes in improving a player's skating.

Are Hayes' goal and point totals misleading and more a byproduct of spending two-thirds of the season alongside the offensively-gifted Gaudreau? Certainly playing with the best college player in the country by far is going to inflate your stats. However, if you look back, what's reassuring is he made huge strides offensively every year -- even when not skating with Gaudreau, so his bust-out fourth year can also be viewed as merely a natural, continuing progression.

Worth pointing out is one can't get caught up in the raw goals and assist totals. Hayes suffered a freak quadriceps muscle injury two years ago that required three separate surgeries and cost him the final couple months of the season. As a result, he only played 27 games. In fact, it's been speculated he may have left school and signed with Chicago after that third year had it not been for that injury.

Recapping his four seasons at Boston College:

  • 2010-11: 31 gm, 4-10-14 (0.45 points per game)
  • 2011-12: 44 gm, 7-21-28 (0.62 points per game)
  • 2012-13: 27 gm, 6-19-25 (0.93 points per game)
  • 2013-14: 40 gm, 27-38-65 (1.63 points per game)


Why Hayes is a Good Fit for the Flames

There are three reasons.

First, the past connection with Gaudreau and Arnold speaks for itself. That line had tremendous chemistry and even though it's highly unlikely they'd remain a line in the NHL, it's nonetheless a fun possibility for fans to dream about. Being a line together in Adirondack this upcoming season would be a far more realistic possibility.

Secondly, his size is obviously something Calgary would covet. A point reiterated ad nauseum by Flames management is the desire to be a bigger and more physical team. You do that by adding guys, who are 6-foot-4. Remember that in the most recent draft, the Flames did not select anyone shorter than six-foot and at their recent development camp, only three of the 36 skaters were under 6-foot. In fact, of the 18 players invited on a try-out, all of them were 6-foot or taller with a majority of them 6-foot-2 or bigger.

Thirdly, you have the Flames lack of natural right wings. The team seems less concerned about this than fans, claiming many of their left wingers and some of the centres can play on the right side, but it's clearly the position on the club with the least depth right now and the left-hand shooting Hayes would be a really nice add in that regard.


Evaluating and Understanding Chicago's Options

There are a few different ways the Blackhawks can proceed on the Hayes situation. Here's a quick review of their three options:

1. Sign Him - There have been reports earlier that Hayes will not sign with Chicago. This speculation grew when he did not attend the team's development camp this July. However, bear in mind there's always rumours and conjecture with these things. Just yesterday, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Chicago Tribune that the team remains "hopeful" that they can sign Hayes.

2. Let Him Become a Free Agent - This isn't as bad of an outcome for Chicago as you might think. Because Hayes was a first round pick (and this caveat in the CBA only applies to first rounders), the Blackhawks would receive compensation from the NHL if they cannot sign him in the form of a second round draft pick in the 2015 draft. That pick is relative to where he was originally taken in the first round so would be pick No. 24 in round two or 54th overall.

3. Trade His Rights - Calgary's dealing away of Tim Erixon on June 1, 2011, is the best comparable here. Had then GM Jay Feaster let the 2009 first round pick just walk away, the Flames would have received compensation from the NHL in the form of the No. 23 pick in the second round (No. 53 overall) in the 2011 draft. Instead, the Flames got more than that by dealing the rights to the Swedish defenceman to the New York Rangers, who offered up two second round picks -- No. 45 and No. 57 along with Roman Horak (Calgary also sent a fifth round pick to New York). In hindsight, that would turn out to be quite a shrewd move by Feaster, who used those two picks to select Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon, two of Calgary's top prospects, who look like they're both on their way to long NHL careers.

Revisiting that situation, the Rangers were taking a chance but they were confident they could sign Erixon. Plus, if they didn't, they would have been the team that received the second round compensatory pick so they were essentially willing to deal one second round pick and Horak for the chance to have exclusive negotiating rights. It worked out in the sense that Erixon signed with New York, although Erixon the player did not work out.

The other example that comes up but is not an apples-to-apples comparison is the Corban Knight situation from last summer. When Calgary traded a fourth round pick to Florida to get the rights to Knight, who the Panthers had drafted in the fifth round in 2009, there was no fall-back compensation option. In the current CBA and it was the same in the previous 2005 CBA also, there is no compensation for not being able to sign draft picks from rounds two through seven.

In that situation, the Flames took a calculated gamble but given Knight's High River upbringing, they made the trade fairly confident they could sign him and sure enough they did. In that case, Florida was highly motivated to deal his rights because at least that way, they got something for him.


Other NHL Teams Hayes May be Eyeing

In addition to Calgary, there are a few other teams you would think would be near the front of the pack when it comes to courting Hayes:
  • Florida Panthers - This is where Kevin's older brother Jimmy now plays, after being traded away by the Blackhawks last year in a trade for Kris Versteeg. Jimmy, also a right-winger, is two-and-a-half years older than Kevin and is two inches taller. The two got to play together for Team USA at the most recent World Hockey Championships in Belarus. It was their first time together on the same team since a one year overlap in their careers at Boston College.
  • New York Rangers - The Rangers are short on cap space but in need of position players and could offer Hayes something the Flames cannot, which is not only a shot to step right into the NHL but also to do so on a team that just went to the Stanley Cup final so is clearly a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The other New York connection is Chris Kreider, who played two seasons with Hayes at Boston College. 
  • Boston Bruins - He's a local kid born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The idea of playing for the hometown Bruins would have to be pretty appealing you would think. Around Calgary, one can relate to that desire considering the number of southern Alberta kids that so excitedly have come home to play for the Flames -- Mason Raymond, Corban Knight, etc.

Will Hayes be Hard to Sign?

The hardest part is being a team he wants to sign with as at this point, Hayes is very much in the driver's seat of his own destiny. The actual contract terms will not be that hard to agree to given the term (must be two years) and his maximum base salary ($900,000) are all dictated by the CBA.

The negotiations would revolve around signing and performance bonuses but even at that, there are guidelines in the CBA to what those performances bonus options can be be and there are also limitations to how much in bonuses can be offered.

In Calgary's situation, they certainly have the cap space and if they see a fit, they would surely be willing to ante up as necessary to get a deal done.


Crystal Ball: Speculating on Mark Jankowski

A question that came up recently while talking about Chicago's situation with Hayes was would Calgary, in two years time, potentially choose to not sign 2012 first round pick Mark Jankowski and instead take a second round draft pick from the NHL as compensation.

Good thinking but it's not that simple.

In order to receive compensation, the team holding the player's rights must make the player a bona fide contract offer. You can't just choose to not sign a guy and be compensated. The spirit of it is to be compensated only when you try to sign a player but are unable to.

What "bona fide" means, and this phrase is a common one that appears 108 times in the CBA, is that the team make a legitimate contract offer that meets the minimum requirements for salary and term as set out in the CBA.

Typically, when team is making a bona fide contract offer out of necessity -- like the Flames just did with 2013 draft pick Eric Roy to retain his rights for another season, that offer can be viewed as essentially a minimum wage offer by NHL standards with no signing bonus, no performance bonus, nothing extra. Roy rejected it, and so do most players when they get such offers -- assuming they're of the ilk that the player feels a better offer will be forthcoming.

Depending on Jankowski's progression -- and at this moment he's still very much in the Flames picture as Wes Gilbertson from the Calgary Sun covered off here, if he does tumble off Calgary's prospect radar, the Flames could find themselves in a position in two years of deciding between two options:

  • Not signing him (and not even offering him a contract) and ending up with no compensation.
  • Offering Jankowski the mandatory two-year deal. With that, if he takes it, working with him in the AHL for a couple seasons, or if he rejects it for some reason, then taking that compensatory pick, which would be 51st overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.


However, that's a long, long way away. For now, Flames fans should hope Jankowski builds off last year and has a breakout third year for Providence College, which is supposed to be one of the best teams in college hockey this season.


Conclusion: So, What Do the Flames Do?

In my eyes, Calgary should wait until August 16 and hope Hayes also makes it to that date and doesn't sign before that with either Chicago or another team the Blackhawks might trade his rights to.

I would not trade for Hayes' rights because if you're Calgary, what are you prepared to give up? There's a good possibility the Flames finish in the bottom three in the NHL this season so would you trade a second round pick for Hayes' rights knowing it might turn out to be the 33rd overall pick? Is the reward of potentially signing him big enough to mitigate the risk of falling back to the compensatory 53rd pick if you're unable to sign him? Not in my eyes.

Could Calgary flip Chicago a prospect?  It would have to be a good enough prospect for the Blackhawks to be interested in giving up that second round pick fall-back and is that too much to surrender if you're the Flames? The bigger question, what prospect are we talking about? Patrick Sieloff? Granlund? Risky.

There has not been any indication to what Calgary's interest level is in Hayes and that's expected considering his rights do belong to Chicago still and you get into tampering if you start commenting on such matters publicly.

Many feel the chance to reunite with Arnold and Gaudreau is a huge attraction but that's maybe being oversold considering how unlikely it would be they'd actually play on a line together anyway. The reality is they only played together for 26 games last year and it was NCAA hockey that they dominated. Where they slot in at the NHL level could be very different roles.

Gaudreau would be the first one ready you'd think and is a top-six guy. Is Hayes with his size more suited to being a third line player, at least initially? Arnold with his defensive prowess, tracks to be more of a Matt Stajan-type in my books so if he ascends to the NHL and he may be a couple years away, would it be as Gaudreau's centre? Perhaps, and that's sure fun to think about that dynamic duo playing together again but putting away the rose-coloured glasses, I'm not sure that's a long-term fit.

The good news is we won't have to wait long for an ending to this story as August 15 is not that far away. If you're a Flames fan, keep your fingers crossed. Soon we'll know what Kevin Hayes feels about all this and at this point, that's all that matters.

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Related Flames Reading
  • The Ben Hanowski Barometer - The recent re-signing of forward Ben Hanowski provides a window into how quickly the Flames have improved the depth in the organization.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 2 - Eight observations from a wild and woolly 30-minute scrimmage at Flames Development camp, a game in which many prospects stood out and in a good way.
  • Flames Scrimmage No. 1 - Five players that looked good in the first of two Flames scrimmages planned for development camp. In short, Calgary's best prospects -- Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett -- were their best players.

3 comments:

  1. Why did the Flames pass on Roland McKeowan and take the goalie when they have lots of goal-tenders and no skilled right-hand shot defensemen? Furthermore, it would have given Sam Bennett the opportunity to play with his minor hockey and junior hockey team-mate in the NHL.

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  2. If the Flames can sign Kevin Hayes, that will make up for their second-round miss at this past draft when they passed on d-man Roland McKeowan who was ranked as a first-rounder by NHL Central Scouting (26th)!

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    1. It's impossible to judge drafts immediately after. Ultimately, we'll have to wait three-to-five years to really get a read on what shook down. There will always be NHL stars that end up being passed over (they could have taken...), but less talked about are the other duds teams also could have taken but thankfully didn't.

      As I wrote on the blog back on June 30, I understand why the Flames took a goaltender when it got to their first pick in the second round. I disagree with your assessment that they have "lots of goaltenders" as they have three right now and there's no certainty any of them are a long term solution. It's such a pivotal position that you need to continually replenish and Jon Gillies, soon turning 21, is the youngest of the trio. The Flames absolutely had to draft an 18-year-old goaltender this draft and do they wait and take someone they're not high on or do they take the guy No. 1 on their list?

      Your point is valid on the glaring absence of right-handed shooting d-men in the organization and maybe they'll regret passing on McKeowan at a later point but that won't be known for quite a while and in the mean time, it will be a frequent, polarizing conversation topic.

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