This offseason could possibly be the most important one in the history of the Florida Panthers. They have a wealth of developing talent that looks to finally be ready to push the team to make the jump from underachieving to legitimate playoff contender. One key development this summer will be signing free agents, both unrestricted free agents that can fill holes in the depth chart, and restricted free agents, the Panthers' very own drafted talent that will hopefully make up the core of the lineup as they push for playoff contention. With that in mind, we'll take a look at all of the restricted free agents the Panthers have this year, and whether or not their play has earned a contract renewal, and if so, how lucrative of a contract they should receive. For the first three RFAs in the series, check our looks into Erik Gudbranson and how he should be signed, what the Cats should do with the offensively-gifted Dmitry Kulikov and what to do with the other piece of the Kris Versteeg trade, Dylan Olsen.
The fourth restricted free agent we look at in this series is big Jimmy Hayes, the 6'6, 221-pound winger who Dale Tallon traded for when he sent the stagnant Kris Versteeg back to Chicago. Hayes had been languishing in Chicago's farm system before being acquired by the Panthers, where he immediately began to see consistent NHL ice time. He has always been considered a player with a lot of upside, as his size, shot, and hands have given him the skill set to succeed at the NHL level. He wasn't able to translate those skills into success with the Blackhawks, however, which led to his long stints at AHL Rockford before he was finally being traded to Florida. As a 24-year-old, Hayes is very close to the year where he will become an unrestricted free agent. The most likely contract for him to receive, then, would be one that locks him up through those years, without overpaying him, especially if Tallon sees Hayes as key to the success of the Panthers.
Is Hayes worth that type of contract? Chicago is a very talented team that has been the most dominant so far in the salary cap era of the NHL. Was the young forward traded because he just doesn't have what it takes to be a player on a high caliber, playoff team, or was he just stuck behind an extremely talented roster that didn't allow him the playing time he needed to develop?
Hayes started his season with the Cats slow, only recording 4 goals and 1 assist for 5 points in his first 22 games with the team, and was a healthy scratch in early January. After the Olympic break, however, he was given more power play time with the job to quite simply park himself in front of the net and screen the goalie, as well as use his hands to work on tips and rebounds in front of the net. The new position for Hayes really seemed to pay off, as in the month of March he had 6 goals and 4 assists for 10 points, with a plus/minus rating of +1 in 17 games. He would finish the season with 11 goals and 7 assists for 18 points, in 55 games, which is impressive considering he only averaged 10:56 TOI a game with the Panthers. Overall, Hayes' play looked solid, especially in the latter half of the season, and his usage on the power play added a sparkto a unit that had been lifeless and in last place in the league for far too long. It seems that Hayes will be a good third line player, who can contribute from that spot and also step into a top-6 role if there's an injury, and be useful on the power play. The versatility that he would bring to the Cats in this role could be effective, as he could help give the power play multiple looks and styles, as well as provide depth scoring for the club when needed in a playoff run.
Analysis - Hayes looks to be a solid piece of Tallon's blueprint and should be signed accordingly.
The reason we look at the statistics is to determine whether or not there are major discrepancies between what the scouting report and what the numbers say. Number never lie, and our eyes do deceive us on occasion. The stats aren't meant to replace the scouting report, though it's possible, if the two don't match up, that we have to make a decision as to which we value more. The numbers aren't perfect, and they don't tell the entire story behind how an NHL player performed during the season, though they do tell us enough to allow us to see how effective a player truly was, without most of the observer bias we see present in scouting reports. That, is what makes the analysis of stats so effective. All stats taken from extraskater.com; rates and ratios are taken from all situations unless specified (If reading the numbers bores you, skip to the analysis portion of each section for the summary).
As a forward, Hayes is certainly expected to be able to put pucks in the back of the net, something he was able to do consistently at the minor league level (76 points in 110 games played). Recalling once again that secondary assists have little to do with player skill and more to do with puck luck, we look at his P1 (goals + primary assists) to get a more accurate representation of his offensive production last season. Hayes' P1 total on the season was 16 in 55 games; when adjusted to an 82 game season, his P1 production is equal to 24. Notable NHLers who had equal to or less than 24 P1 in a full season include Benoit Pouliot, Nathan Gerbe, Matt Cooke, Steve Ott, and L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown. The season then, looks mildly impressive for the young winger, as the potential for him to be a higher-end third line scorer is there. Before we draw any conclusions, however, we look at some of the other stats to see whether or not his success will carry on to next season, or if this year was just a bit of a fluke.
In terms of shooting percentages, there does seem to be a bit of puck luck factored into Hayes' success. He shot at a sturdy 15.5%, well above the league average of around 9%. Hayes is a big body with good hands in front of the net and a good shot, so we can expect his average shooting percentage to be over 9%, but 15.5% is a little high. A more reasonable guess for him going forward would be around 10-11%, which would mean his goal totals would decrease slightly. For a guess of his goals totals next season, we'll assume he averages the same number of shots per game (1.31), which would result in 107 shots on the season. Hayes would score 11 goals in 82 games next season; the same total he scored this year in 55 games. That stat isn't encouraging, and shows that Hayes' totals this year, at least in the goal scoring department, are slightly inflated.
HIs on ice shooting percentage was 9.9%, again above the league average, and well above the Panthers' team average, as shown by Hayes' relative on ice shooting percentage of +2.3%. Not only was his shooting percentage above average, but his on ice teammates's shooting percentage was as well, as only six Panthers who played at least 21 games (Dylan Olsen, Tom Gilbert, Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Brian Campbell, Aleksander Barkov) had better teammate shooting percentage than Hayes' 8.0%. This means that not only did he experience puck luck with his own shots, but his teammates most likely did as well, as Hayes isn't known for his playmaking ability or vision on the ice. It can be assumed, of course, that the Panthers will have better players next year, and will experience a team shooting percentage closer to around 9%, meaning that Hayes' totals won't decline greatly. They are still inflated, however, and if they don't decline they shouldn't see the same growth that the rest of the roster experiences.
Analysis - Hayes' offensive numbers are slightly inflated this season, and there will most likely be a drop in his production next season.
Hayes saw ice time heavily favored towards the power play; he saw 19.5% of the team's even strength ice time, but 21.3% of the power play time and only 0.1% of the shorthanded time. On a more talented roster, he may see his man-adavantage time decrease, meaning that his production would most likely drop, as he scored 4 of his 16 P1s on the power play last year.
At 5 on 5, Hayes was deployed slightly more in the defensive zone (31.6% OZ, 34.4% NZ, 34.0% DZ) meaning that if he would have been deployed in a more balanced manner, he may have seen more offensive zone time and a chance to have increased production, though the difference in deployment is so little it can almost be called a non-factor.
As for Quality of Competition, Hayes had a percentage total of 27.1%, with a relative total of -1.8%. This means he usually didn't face the top lines of the opposition, and would probably see a decline in production if he did.
In terms of Quality of Teammates, Hayes played with Krys Barch, Shawn Matthias, and Brandon Pirri the most at 5 on 5 (33.9%, 31.7%, 22.0% shared ice time, respectively). The trio combined only put up 52 points, which adds credence to the belief that as Hayes plays with better teammates, the added skill of the teammates should balance out the puck luck he experienced this season and keep some of his point production at the same rate, though he wont experience the same growth as the rest of the team.
Analysis - Hayes saw heavy power play usage, at least in terms of how he was used overall. That, as well as his low QoC numbers would indicate that he may see a drop in production next season, though his QoT numbers show that his numbers might level out. His deployment numbers aren't significant enough to show a potential change come next season.
As a forward in the NHL, it's beneficial to spend more time in the opponents end of the ice, where a shot on goal can take a lucky bounce and end up in the back of the net, then in your own end of the ice, where the same lucky bounce can occur and end up as a goal against. Recalling that Hayes was used much more on the power play than the penalty kill, we'll look at his 5 on 5 close (score within 1) stats, so as to eliminate bias from both his usage and from teams either trapping or point padding late in games.
At 5 on 5 close, throughout the season as a whole, Hayes was the opposite of impressive. He had a Corsi For percentage of 45.0%, with a relative Corsi For of -5.3%, while his Fenwick For percentage was 44.1%, and his relative Fenwick For was -6.1%. Hayes was horrible at possessing the puck, and if it wasn't for a bit of puck luck throughout the season (he had a PDO of 100.6 (+4.3 relative)), he would have had a much, much worse plus/minus than the -5 he had on the season.
Looking at the season as a whole, however, may not be the best course. Recalling that he played his best during the final stretch of the season, we look at his 5 on 5 Corsi numbers, and that of the team as a whole, during the last ten games of the season. Hayes had a Corsi For % of 59.0%, while the team had a Corsi For % of 52.5%. All of a sudden, Hayes looks like a much more appetizing player for the Panthers. Ten games is a very, very small sample size, and thus certainly prone to error; though, if there was a change in Hayes' play that brought about the increased Corsi numbers, the high possession stats should carry over into next season. The games were played against teams that generally had high 5 on 5 Corsi numbers.
Analysis - Here is where the data is slightly split. Yes, Hayes did have a terrible season, but he seemed to be playing his best hockey near the end of the year, and his Corsi numbers certainly reflect that. If his play at the end of the season is a result of his development as a player, then the stats will carry over into next season. It's also possible, however, that Hayes was just playing with better linemates, or against much worse competiton. It's hard to determine what exactly he will do next season over such a small sample of data.
Advanced Statistics Conclusions
Hayes had inflated point totals this season, and we will most likely see them decline next year, though the possibility for them to remain the same is there. He also had very poor possession numbers, though he excelled during the last ten games of the season. Its hard to tell whether or not his numbers over the last ten games were of a result of his heightened play, or if they were just a lucky fluke. This makes Hayes a bit of a high risk/high reward signing, as signing him if his possession stats turn out to be positive brings in a very solid third line winger who can step up on the power play, while signing him if his possession stats end up negative results in a player who will see a drop in production and most likely will sit on the fourth line or in the press box until the end of his contract.
Based on both the statistics and the scouting report, it would most likely be most beneficial to sign Hayes to a short-term deal, one to two years at most. Unless Tallon can be 100% certain that Hayes' Corsi numbers near the end of the season weren't a fluke, signing him to a longer contract may be a huge risk, as he could still bottom out and become deadweight on the pro roster. The scouting report and the statistics match, for the most part, and though there are some discrepancies between the two, there aren't enough statistics that point to the re-signing of Hayes as being an entirely bad thing, as there definitely is potential for him to be a solid player for the Panthers in the future.