Kevin Hayes became one of the de facto faces of the franchise upon his arrival, so much so that it seems roster moves were made specifically to cater to Hayes like signing Keith Yandle and trading for Cam Atkinson. Though a string of unfortunate luck and injuries post-2020 playoff bubble has seen him fall out of favor with the fans, and his inability to get on the same page as John Tortorella has thrown his future with the club into question.
The problem is, he’s still got three years left on his current contract at a $7.1 million cap hit and he’ll tun 31 years old in May. considering the salary cap isn’t going to increase much, partnered with the fact that the front office showed hesitancy to move money last summer, it has led to plenty of speculation as to what comes next for the $50 million forward.
The Flyers have a history of making some pretty dumb moves, so it’s not completely surprising there are rumors circulating of a buyout, but it’s about the worst thing the Flyers could do.
Hayes has three years left on his current contract at a $7,142,857 cap hit, to be specific, and a buyout breaks down as such according to CapFriendly-
The Flyers would save just shy of $4.9 million in 2023-24, but that number would dip to just $2.38 million from 2024 to 2026, then it’d cost the Flyers $1.6 million against the cap for three additional seasons from 2026 to 2029.
The $1.6 mil from 2026 to 2029 should be negligible as the salary cap should be on the up and up in three year’s time, but the $4.7 million during 2024 to 2026 is going to be a real ugly number when it comes to dead cap during two years when the Flyers should theoretically be making additions and the salary cap’s unpredictable state over the next few seasons.
Sometimes, buyouts make financial sense, as we saw with Oskar Lindblom last summer. But in the case of Kevin Hayes, it is far more of a hinderance than a positive. Freeing up almost $5 million going into 2023 would be a much needed breathing room, but less than $2.5 million of space from 2024 to 2026 just isn’t worth it in the short or long term for a team as tight against the cap as the Flyers. In other words, it’s a short-sighted move that could bit them pretty badly in just a few years, again, painfully on-brand for the current front office.
Thanks to the salary cap remaining relatively flat stemming from the corona virus pandemic, trades, especially salary dumps, are becoming harder and harder to accomplish in the NHL. The Flyers witnessed this first hand last season when then tried to trade James Van Riemsdyk to no avail. Now the Flyers are going to deal with the same thing this summer with Kevin Hayes, but the contract in question will be much more difficult to move.
Hayes, who is still hovering around a point-per-game 35 games into the season, is having one of the best offensive outputs of his career. By season’s end he’ll undoubtedly record a new high in points (49) and is on pace to come close to pass his personal best in goals (25) as well. His overall play is pretty hit-or-miss, and his very public feud with head coach John Tortorella aren’t doing his trade value any favors, but a career year in points should help balance that out.
Any team looking for a middle-six center will probably sniff around Hayes. Even of the Flyers are forced to retain $1-2 million of his AAV, it is a better option than a buyout. At this point, it’d be all about clearing cap and not necessarily about securing the best return. If there’s a team that wants him and is willing to take on his full cap, the Flyers should thank their lucky stars, even if they get just a late round draft pick in return.
Even retaining half of his cap would be $3,571,429, which certainly isn’t ideal, but it is overall better for the Flyers’ cap situation than a buyout would be.
They could just keep the guy. He was a fan favorite upon his arrival in 2019, but injuries and mediocre play ever since has forced many to turn on the 30-year-old forward. Though, from an offensive production standpoint, considering all the problems, he really hasn’t been all that bad. Hayes scored 31 points in 55 games during the 2020-21 season, 31 points in 48 games during 2020-21, and he’s got 30 points in 35 games to start the 2022-23 campaign.
Now, one of the things that built into the fan favoritism was his borderline elite two-way ability during the 2019-20 outing, and that is one aspect of his game that just hasn’t recovered. His work ethic issues and lazy tendencies in the defensive zone are the main reason he’s been butting heads with Tortorella and got moved away from the center position despite the team’s lack of players down the middle.
The main reason behind dealing Hayes would be to clear his cap to enter the free agent market looking for an upgrade at center, but if they can’t part with the guy without being hampered by a decent chunk of his remaining cap, then they may not even have the funds to find an upgrade, but rather sign a player almost identical to Hayes, which doesn’t solve the team’s lack of talent and now they’re paying two players for the same lackluster production.
We’re only half way through the 2022-23 campaign, but it sure feels like this will be Hayes’ last season in Philadelphia one way or another. A buyout has been the hot rumor lately, but taking into consideration the fact that Chuck Fletcher is an idiot, even he has to recognize that it’s a really bad idea. Though, after a summer where they failed to trade one year of James Van Riemsdyk’s contract, it’s hard to imagine there will be a market for Hayes without paying up or retaining an amount that doesn’t register as a net positive for the club. Though keeping him feels more and more unlikely unless he can smooth out his relationship with his head coach over the next few months, which is a 50/50 chance right now.
Though if his heat with Tortorella bubbles over, the Flyers may have no choice but to move him in the name of creating a cooperative locker room. He’d the the guy they’d make an example out of. If that’s the case, you better hope Hayes continues his offensively impressive season to make it as painless as possible to move him.
This is a situation where there isn’t a perfect option. If the trade market isn’t there naturally, there’s only so far the Flyers can force one before it doesn’t make sense for them to move him. A buyout is an option on the table, and would create a semi-decent amount of space heading into the 2023 offseason of they’re intent on making additions, but without a plan to clear even more money either this or next offseason, it just tightens the financial screws even worse.
Hayes was once a big fish in a tiny free agent pond and the Flyers sure seemed like winners with his early play, but just like that of JVR before him, the contract quickly turns into a big problem when the initial shine wears off. Hopefully the Flyers will be desperate for change during the offseason, and if that’s the case Hayes has to go, but it also possesses the possibility of completely blowing back in their faces and compounds the mounting problems even further.
Welcome to the land of the Philadelphia Flyers.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com