One of the most popular guys in hockey this weekend is newly-minted unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes. The former Boston College standout became a UFA after deciding against signing with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him 24th overall in 2010. When the Aug. 15 deadline passed, Hayes was free to speak with other teams.
Hayes and his agent, Robert Murray, reportedly spoke with multiple teams from Murray's office on Saturday. According to Mark Divver of The Providence Journal, the Hayes camp is taking some time Sunday to whittle that list down.
Hearing that Kevin Hayes camp will spend Sunday narrowing list of NHL suitors, then speak with 4 to 5 finalists on Mon.— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) August 17, 2014
It is believed that a good portion of the teams in the NHL not named the Blackhawks have been involved in pitching to Hayes this weekend. The 22-year-old had a strong four-year career at Boston College. Last year, he posted 65 points as a senior. That was the second highest total in the country.
The Blackhawks addressed their side of the proceedings in a statement issued by general manager Stan Bowman on Saturday.
"We offered Kevin what we believed was a generous and fair contract,” Bowman said. “Unfortunately, he felt it was in his best interests to become a free agent. We are looking forward to the compensatory draft pick we are receiving and are focused on the excitement surrounding the start of training camp next month.”
That compensatory pick is expected to fall in the second round of next year's NHL Entry Draft.
There have been plenty of rumored destinations for Hayes, and undoubtedly a lot of teams can see use for a player at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds with some serious scoring potential.
Among those rumored and reported to be in the hunt for Hayes leading up to this weekend are the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.
In spurning the Blackhawks, a team where Hayes would have likely been further down on the depth chart, it would appear that an organization that needs immediate help or one that will have a spot clearing in the near future will have the best chance to land Hayes.
There are plenty of organizations that have various ties to Hayes that can aid them in recruiting.
The Flames currently count both of Hayes' BC linemates – Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold -- among their prospects. Hayes' older brother, Jimmy Hayes is a forward for the Florida Panthers. The Bruins are Hayes' hometown club as he hails from Dorchester, Mass. Meanwhile, Tom Fitzgerald an assistant general manager for the Penguins, is Hayes' cousin. Former BC teammate Chris Kreider plays for the New York Rangers.
It seems that a lot of the teams that have the rumored inside track on Hayes are those with close personal ties, but Joe Haggerty of CSN New England has previously reported that the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators were among the favoirtes.
The Avalanche recently received the dubious distinction from respected prospects writer Corey Pronman of ESPN as having the NHL's worst prospect system. A player like Hayes would certainly help boost that. Additionally, he could fight for a roster spot as early as this season.
The Predators are an interesting team to be rumored in the mix for Hayes considering that they've really done a nice job building up their prospect system. Hayes might not find immediate playing time there either after the club signed many veteran free agents to fill some roster gaps.
If the reports and rumors are true, Hayes is going to have a lot of good choices when it comes to plotting out his NHL future.
It's important to manage expectations, however. The reason Hayes is so attractive to so many teams has as much to do with price as it does his potential. The fact that he can be signed to no more than the maximum under the entry-level system, which would include a maximum base salary of $925,000, is a big part of what makes him so valuable.
He may not make an instant impact for any NHL team this year, but after his stellar senior campaign, his size and the way his game has progressed in the four years since he was drafted makes him an extremely attractive option for so many teams. And it sounds like we'll have an answer on where he goes next very soon.