Over the next week to 10 days, there should be more clarity on both sides on the prospects for the Flyers being able to sign pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes.
The Flyers acquired the 27-year-old center's rights from the Winnipeg Jets on June 3. If unsigned by June 23, agent Bob Murray can entertain offers for Hayes from other teams. He can become a UFA on July 1.
According to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, discussions thus far with the Hayes camp have been positive but preliminary in nature.
"I don't know how to characterize it, other than we've had good conversation and we are hopeful we can make something work," Fletcher said. "I don't have a vibe, other than he's certainly open minded. 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."
Hockey-wise, there is a fit on both the Flyers side and, conceivably, from Hayes'. Playing behind Sean Couturier, Hayes would get beneficial matchups and, in turn, might help create advantageous matchups for Nolan Patrick. Hayes could be a useful piece of a puzzle that fits into a sort of 2a/2b depth chart down the middle.
Hayes has a rep for offensive streakiness, shoots left, and has become very sound defensively. The 20-year-old Patrick has thus far been streaky, shoots right, as is also pretty solid defensively. Depending on the opponent and/or which player has been recently faring better at a given time, the "2nd line" an "3rd line" center designations could be fluid and mutually beneficial.
"I don't get caught up as much in the labels," said Fletcher. "I know we love talking about second line center or third line center. I've got to admit as the years have go on, I've become more confused on who's a second line center and who's a third line center. You need depth as we're seeing now in the Stanley Cup Finals. You need players that can play. You certainly need all four lines to contribute, but you need certainly three lines that can score and defend."
Added Fletcher: "Trying to sign Kevin Hayes really has nothing to do with Nolan Patrick. We are just trying to improve our team and improve our depth. Be a team that when we go on the road we have multiple lines. When you go on the road, you don't have last change, so several centers that can be one the ice for the face-off and to not worry about it. They can defend that shift. They can compete that shift. They have a chance to if not win that shift, at least tie it and live to fight another day. That's our goal. Depth is everything."
Over the next week or so, the Flyers' plan is to bring Hayes to town in person. He will tour the Flyers' training facilities in Voorhees, see the city a bit, and meet with management. Hayes is already very familiar with new Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, under whom Hayes played for four seasons with the New York Rangers.
It is no secret that Vigneault sometimes gave tough-love coaching to Hayes in his first two seasons in the NHL, but the player took it in stride and ultimately benefited from it. By Hayes' third season, he had gained full trust from Vigneault and his role expanded accordingly, including regular duty on the penalty kill and placement as the center of a regular line with J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner.
"I know Alain has a lot of respect for him and I know in speaking to Kevin that he enjoyed playing for him. I'm sure that will help [in negotiations], but I don't know that it's fair for me to characterize how much it will help," Fletcher said.
The Hayes acquisition marked the fourth time in Flyers history that the team has acquired an impending unrestricted free agent with hopes of signing him before he hit the open market.
The Flyers acquired the negotiating rights to Mark Streit on June 12, 2013 and officially signed him on June 28, 2013; a 16-day process between acquisition and signing. With Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011, there was also a 16-day process (rights acquired on June 7, deal finalized and announced on June 23).
In the case of the dual acquisitions of Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville in 2007, their six-year contracts with Philadelphia were announced the same day as their negotiating rights were officially acquired. However, the exploratory parameters had already been worked out and the Flyers already knew that Hartnell (who was instantly enthusiastic) and Timonen (who had a few reservations at first with Philly coming off the worst season in franchise history but soon came around when he realized the team was poised for a quick turnaround and that best friend Hartnell would also be going) were interested in signing with the organization if they received market value offers.
In the case of the failed 2010 negotiation with Dan Hamhuis -- who already had his heart set on going to the Vancouver Canucks -- there was a seven-day process. His rights were acquired from Nashville on June 12, 2010. When it became clear-cut that Hamhuis had no interest in coming to the team despite Philly coming off a run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, his rights were traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins seven days later (June 19, 2010).