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Jimmy Hayes signs one-year deal with Panthers, avoids arbitration

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Jimmy Hayes and the Panthers reached a last-minute agreement on a one-year deal. (USATSI)
Jimmy Hayes and the Panthers reached a last-minute agreement on a one-year deal.(USATSI)

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It appeared the Florida Panthers and restricted free agent forward Jimmy Hayes were destined for arbitration, but a last minute deal was struck between the two sides to avoid the hearing. Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel reports that the club signed Hayes to a one-year pact that will pay him $925,000 and is also a one-way deal. Hayes and the Panthers were due for an arbitration hearing in Toronto Tuesday morning.

Hayes came to Florida along with defenseman Dylan Olsen via trade from the Chicago Blackhawks last season. Kris Versteeg went the other way in the deal.

The big forward, formerly a second-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, long was held back by Chicago's depth and never got much of a shot with the big club. He appeared in just 43 games over parts of three seasons in Chicago. Upon his arrival in Florida, Hayes was handed more responsibility and appeared in 53 games with the club.

In those 53 appearances, Hayes posted 11 goals and 18 points. He averaged just shy of 11 minutes a night, but managed to put 72 shots on net. The 24-year-old comes in at 6-6, 221 pounds and can pay a hard, physical game.

The one-year deal will help the Panthers see more of Hayes at the NHL level and see how he works under the tutelage of new head coach Gerard Gallant. At less than a million dollars, it leaves Hayes plenty to prove in an effort to earn a multi-year contract with the club. He'll remain a restricted free agent upon the conclusion of his one-year deal.

After all the big spending from the club this offseason, Hayes will still have to fight for ice time on this revamped roster, but he should be given a fair shake to see what he can do.

There's still a lot of promise in Hayes, who came out of the vaunted Boston College hockey program. Giving him a full year to see what he's got as part of a very young group with the Panthers should be a good thing for both sides at low-risk for the team.

Re-signing Hayes also leaves the door open a little wider should the Panthers have interest in his younger brother Kevin, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent on August 16, if not signed by the Blackhawks, the team that drafted him in 2010.

The Panthers have been tied to Kevin Hayes mainly because of Jimmy, but there will be interest from several teams as the younger Hayes was the second leading scorer in college hockey last year. Having his older brother under contract may help the recruitment process, if the Panthers even feel the need to pursue the other Hayes brother.

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