Flyers lock up Kevin Hayes before free agency

Forward Kevin Hayes has avoided unrestricted free agency by agreeing to a seven-year, $50 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, the team announced Wednesday.

Chuck Fletcher has been the busiest general manager of the offseason. Along with the Hayes deal, Fletcher traded defenseman Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Matt Niskanen, and he also traded two draft picks to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman Justin Braun.

"Niskanen and Braun, it just shows that they're in a win-now mentality," Hayes said on a conference call Wednesday. "With the three moves they made in the last couple weeks, it just shows their fans and shows the team and the organization that they want to win right now, and that factored into my decision, as well -- being able to win."

The Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1975, now the fourth-longest drought in the NHL, and they have missed the playoffs four out of the past seven seasons.

Hayes' $7.14 million cap hit will rank 18th among all NHL centers, and it will be the third highest on the Flyers, behind captain Claude Giroux ($8.275 million) and winger Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million).

Hayes made $3.75 million annually on his last contract.

The Flyers acquired the negotiating rights for Hayes from the Winnipeg Jets on June 3 for Philadelphia's fifth-round pick in this week's NHL draft. Hayes had a career-high 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games while playing for the Jets and the New York Rangers last season.

"He checks a lot of boxes we were looking for," Fletcher said. "We like his size, we like his skill, we like his 200-foot game. We like his age: He's just entering the prime of his career, and he plays a premium position at center. So, we think he rounds out our forward group and will give our coaching staff a lot of options going forward."

The 6-foot-5 Hayes was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 24 overall in 2010, but he never played for them. He signed as a free agent with the Rangers in 2014, and he played five seasons with the Blueshirts before a deadline trade to Winnipeg.

In 381 career games, Hayes has 92 goals and 137 assists.

The trade reunites him with coach Alain Vigneault, who was behind the Rangers' bench for four of Hayes' five years in New York. The Flyers named Vigneault head coach in April.

"We had a great relationship on and off the ice," Hayes said. "He demands hard work, and if you play the correct way, he kind of lets you play freely offensively, and that was a huge factor in the decision. Being comfortable with him just made the decision a lot easier."

Hayes is known as a versatile forward, playing both center and wing. But in speaking about him before the signing, Fletcher appeared to cast him as a center.

"You need depth, as we're seeing now in the Stanley Cup Final," Fletcher said. "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.

"When you go on the road, you don't have last change, so several centers that can be on the ice for the faceoff 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."

Hayes got a full no-movement clause in the first three years of the contract to protect against Seattle expansion. He'll be able to submit a 12-team no-trade list in the final four years.

Hayes could have waited until Sunday to talk to any interested club and pick his destination July 1. Instead, he said the familiarity with the Flyers, what he thought his role could be and his belief they can win sooner than later led him to forgo unrestricted free agency.

"It was kind of a no-brainer," Hayes said. "I think Chuck and [president Paul Holmgren] are putting together a team that can do some damage and ultimately win the Stanley Cup."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.