The Blackhawks are among three teams interested in signing pending unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet in his “31 Thoughts” column.
The Blackhawks drafted Hayes with the 24th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, but he never played for them. After playing four years at Boston College, Hayes elected not to sign with Chicago before his draft rights expired Aug. 15, 2014, and became an unrestricted free agent then four days later signed with the New York Rangers.
As a result of Hayes not signing with the Blackhawks they received a second-round compensation pick in the 2015 NHL draft, which was used on winger Graham Knott. The now 22-year-old Knott has played the past two seasons with Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford and has yet to make his NHL debut.
After five seasons in New York, the Rangers traded Hayes to the Jets last February in exchange for a 2019 first-round pick, Brendan Lemieux and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022. Hayes, who had 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games last season with the Rangers, added 12 points (five goals, seven assists) with the Jets in 20 regular-season games. The 6-foot-5, 216-pound center chipped in two goals and an assist in Winnipeg’s six-game first-round playoff series loss to the Blues.
Hayes has scored 92 goals, including 72 at even strength, and 229 points in 381 NHL games. He also holds a 45.4 career faceoff percentage and 48.1 Corsi-For rating.
The Blackhawks are projected to have around $15-17 million in salary cap space to spend, but of course general manager Stan Bowman can’t spend it all this summer. He’ll need to stack some into a Folgers coffee can, so he can re-sign winger Alex DeBrincat and center Dylan Strome in 2020 and potentially defenseman Erik Gustafsson and winger Dominik Kahun. Evolving-Hockey estimates Hayes will sign for six years at around $5.877 million annually, a contract that would run until he turns 33 years old.
Signing Hayes would signal the end of Artem Anisimov’s tenure with Chicago. The 31-year-old Anisimov has two years left on his contract that carries a $4.55 million annual salary cap hit. The modified no-trade clause which consist of 10 teams will be wiped clean in July and the Blackhawks can trade him to any team they can make a deal with.
Pending UFAs can start meeting with new teams at 11:01 p.m. Central time June 23, but may not sign until the opening signing period begins July 1.