Could Kevin Hayes Help Fix the Center Position for the Blue Jackets?

After the trade deadline flew past us, rumors popped up that the Columbus Blue Jackets were having “soft talks” with the Philadelphia Flyers about center Kevin Hayes. With both teams well out of the playoff race this year, it didn’t make a ton of sense to force this trade before the deadline – it’s more of an offseason move. But could Kevin Hayes help fix the center position for the Blue Jackets?

Short answer: yes, I think he would help. But there are some “ifs” on the subject, not the least of which is his contract. Hayes is signed for three more years after this one, at a whopping $7.14m AAV. The Flyers are paying him like a #1 center, and frankly, on a good team, he’s not a #1 center.

He’s overpaid by probably $1.5-$2 million per year, but this contract was front-loaded and his actual dollars after this season drop off. Next year he’s due $6.5 million, and then $5.25 million per year in the final two years of his deal. If the Jackets could get him for secondary pieces and simply help the Flyers offload this ugly cap hit, I don’t think it would be all bad. But, if they can get the Flyers to retain some of this money, this kind of deal has the potential to be a home run.

If you look past that contract, Hayes is capable of being a second line center in this league. At 6′-5″ and over 215 pounds, he fits the size bill and is a very strong passer. This year he’s poised to have the most productive season of his career; already matching career highs in assists (32) and points (49) through 62 games – still with 19 games remaining in the season.

He’s putting up solid numbers while playing for John Tortorella, which isn’t an easy feat. He was the Flyers’ lone representative at the All-Star game last month, and at 30 years old he should have at least a few productive years left in him.

SUNRISE, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 04: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Kevin Hayes #13 of the Philadelphia Flyers pose during the 2023 NHL All-Star Game at FLA Live Arena on February 04, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Most importantly, the best sell job I can give here: he and Johnny Gaudreau are close friends. They were teammates at Boston College, and in Gaudreau’s 36 goal, 80 point Hobey Baker season, Hayes was his center; posting 38 assists and 65 points of his own. For this reason alone, it may be worth picking Hayes up if the cost isn’t astronomical, to see if some of that magic is still there.

With Dmitry Voronkov supposedly coming over – and the anticipated return of Alexandre Texier, there is certainly help on the way for the Blue Jackets, who sorely need center depth. But acquiring a player like Hayes could help stem the tide until some of the prospects are ready to make a difference. Does picking up a player like this make them a playoff team? I doubt it. But, it would make them harder to play against, and with improvements elsewhere to the lineup, it certainly helps.

Jan 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Jack Roslovic (96) looks to pass against the New York Rangers during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

As far as a trade goes, I wouldn’t expect the Jackets to have to ship off a huge package including first round picks and prospects for this player. I could see a swap of Hayes for someone like Jack Roslovic, maybe with some other minor pieces involved. The Flyers are entering a tough stretch of their rebuild, and may be happy just to offload this contract.

It will be an interesting story to follow as the season ends and the draft approaches. I don’t think the Jackets will come back next season without making improvements at center and on defense – these are the positions that have killed this team all year.