One day out from the NHL draft, Danny Briere made another trade for the rebuilding Flyers.
The club on Tuesday sent Kevin Hayes to the Blues in exchange for a 2024 sixth-round draft pick. The Flyers will retain 50 percent of Hayes' remaining salary.
Hayes was a first-time All-Star in 2022-23 but saw his role diminish down the stretch as the Flyers shifted focus to a rebuild. The 31-year-old center has three years left on a seven-year, $50 million deal, which included a modified no-trade clause. His annual cap hit for the Flyers will be $3,571,428 over the next three seasons.
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At his end-of-the-season press conference, Hayes said he "picked up the message that was sent months ago" about whether he was wanted in the Flyers' rebuilding direction.
“Their decisions have probably already been made,” he said in April. “We don't know them yet. I'm sure I'll find out around the draft.”
Three weeks ago, Briere started the Flyers' offseason of subtraction by moving Ivan Provorov to the Blue Jackets.
It's no secret the Flyers did not make out well on the Hayes trade. A future sixth-round pick and half salary retention for a 6-foot-5 center coming off arguably the best season of his career is not great value in return. But Briere had his hands tied, especially when it became clear Hayes was not viewed as a piece to the future under head coach John Tortorella.
"In Kevin's case, I know I saw the report that he doesn't know where he stands. We can't forget that Kevin is a 6-foot-5 centerman that can put up a lot of points," Briere, the Flyers' general manager, said in April. "They're not easy to find. There are lots of teams that would love to have players like him. He's got a lot of value."
It's difficult to move bigger contracts in today's NHL. Hayes had term (three more years) and top dollars ($7-plus million cap hit) remaining on his deal, while other clubs had leverage knowing the Flyers were ready to part ways.
St. Louis has three first-round picks for Wednesday night and didn't have to shed any of them. Last weekend, the Flyers were reportedly working on a larger, more complex trade with the Blues involving Hayes and Travis Sanheim. But it reportedly never reached the finish line because it included St. Louis' veteran defenseman Torey Krug, who has a no-trade clause.
This season, Hayes finished a point shy from matching his career high of 55 set in 2018-19. He led the Flyers in assists with 36 and scored 18 goals.
But the season was far from roses and a red carpet.
Tortorella, who was hired by the Flyers last June, never really clicked with Hayes. The coach highlighted defensive struggles for why he moved Hayes from center to winger at the end of November. He benched him for a full third period twice and a full game once. And Hayes didn't kill penalties this year like he had in past seasons with the Flyers.
"Ups and downs, for sure," Hayes said in April. "It's weird, I had almost a career year and I was an All-Star. Never really felt like that throughout the whole season, to be honest."
Ahead of the March 3 trade deadline, Tortorella was honest about where Hayes stood as the Flyers turned their plans to the future.
"When players are getting up in the 30s and we're in this process here — trying to get younger, but also try to stay competitive while we're doing that — his name has to be brought up, has to be talked about," Tortorella said.
Over four seasons with the Flyers, Hayes recorded 157 points (63 goals, 94 assists) and a minus-50 rating in 253 games. He was acquired by former general manager Chuck Fletcher in June 2019. The Flyers came a win shy of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2020 bubbled playoffs and Hayes led the team in postseason scoring (16 points in 13 games) and plus-minus (plus-7).
In the following three seasons, the Flyers dropped off considerably and have gone through major change.
Hayes battled an adversity-filled year in 2021-22. His life changed forever that summer when his brother and mentor Jimmy Hayes died tragically on Aug. 23 at the age of 31.
Just about a month later and two days before training camp, Hayes suddenly had to undergo abdominal surgery, his second procedure of its kind in fewer than four months.
"It's been a tough month," Hayes said in September 2021. "Life is fragile, honestly. It's never fun to lose someone who's your best friend, someone you've looked up to and been paired with your whole entire life."
Hayes made his season debut in November and was forced out one game later. He returned Dec. 1 and played through pain until mid-January, when he came back out. He had to undergo a third procedure. It was discovered that he had developed an infection in his groin area.
"It was difficult this year trying to come back and play and not really knowing why I wasn't getting better," Hayes said in April 2022. "When you get three surgeries, you should start feeling better. That point was never really happening for me. I'd feel better for a couple of days and then right back to square one. Ultimately we figured out that I had an infection in my blood. Thankfully we figured that out and once that settled down, that's when I started feeling a lot better."
In 2022-23, Hayes went to his first All-Star Game and played his last game with the Flyers.