The Calgary Flames need to upgrade their forward depth.
What they have right now is passable. They have a number of high caliber young players, a couple of reliable two-way veterans, and enough players of, at minimum, decent talent to round out most of the rest of the lineup. It’s a lineup that’s, well, good enough to make it to the playoffs – but not quite good enough to be depended on to make any meaningful noise.
At least another impact forward is needed, and there are a number of options to consider, made possible by either the expansion draft or other teams’ cap struggles. Nino Niederreiter, specifically, has been brought up as potential trade bait.
Kevin Hayes has not – not this year, anyway – but he’s been connected to the Flames courtesy of one Johnny Gaudreau.
Back to their college days
The best season of Hayes’ collegiate career came during his senior year at Boston College. In 2013-14, he scored 65 points in 40 games: good for second in the entire NCAA. The only player who scored more than him was his linemate, Gaudreau, who scored 80 in 40. Since then, Hayes has scored 45, 36, and 49 points over his three seasons in the NHL, so his success clearly wasn’t all Gaudreau’s doing. (Their third linemate, Bill Arnold, is out of hockey already.)
Calgary was rumoured to be a destination spot for Hayes once he completed his senior year at Boston College. A first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, he decided to forego signing with them and make himself a free agent. With his two linemates already with the Flames, Calgary would have been a logical choice; instead, Hayes went to New York.
He’s generally been successful with the Rangers. In his first two seasons, he was seventh in team scoring; this past season, he was fifth. Could he produce stronger results if reunited with his old linemate, though?
Hayes only just turned 25, so he fits right in the Flames’ age group. It’s also worth noting he’s 6’5 and 215 lbs., which brings those elements of size and scoring that pretty much every NHL team is after. He’s a centre, but we know he’s played right wing in the past, and had success there.
But the only reason the Hayes-to-Flames narrative exists is because of Gaudreau, and the IIHF World Championships proved that chemistry remains.
Hayes, a late addition, played just three games with Team USA as they were shut out 2-0 by Finland in the quarterfinals. Through the round robin, though, Gaudreau’s 11 points in seven games not only led the Americans in scoring, but was tied for fourth in tournament scoring. Hayes, in two round robin games, put up four points: two goals and two assists. Gaudreau had the primary assist on his second goal; Hayes’ two assists were both the only assists on two Gaudreau goals. They were reunited and it was clearly working, if only for a moment.
And hey, who knows… maybe there’s an appetite for it?
(Obviously that doesn’t mean Hayes is going to come to Calgary, but it’s nice to know Gaudreau appears to be in favour of the idea.)
Who is Hayes?
Via OwnThePuck’s HERO charts, we can get a clearer picture of just what kind of player Hayes has been over his three years with the Rangers.
Hayes does have some issues when it comes to his underlying numbers. Aggregated over the past three seasons, he’s posted a 5v5 CF of 47.73%, which is towards the lower end for the Rangers; this past season, he was easily the worst Rangers regular. (Only Josh Jooris had a worse CF, and he spent most of his year playing on the not-great Coyotes.)
But he’s scoring at a first line rate. And really, what would Hayes’ purpose here be other than to score? You have to think he’d end up on a line with Gaudreau (and presumably Sean Monahan, too): a line that’s going to be fed offensive zone starts because their job is to score. Hayes’ role wouldn’t be to play defensively and drive play north like Mikael Backlund; he would be here to round out the top line and help increase scoring. Combine those offensive statistics with a reunion with possibly the best forward he’s ever played with (his most common linemate in New York, by far, has been J.T. Miller) and, well…
Hayes has his faults, but his chemistry with Gaudreau would appear to be undeniable at this point. He’s also a big NHL-caliber player who can regularly score. He’s not as enticing as Niederreiter may be – but that also means he would probably cost less to acquire.
If anything, the World Championships gave us reason to at least consider what could be once again.