The Chicago Blackhawks officially lost out on Kevin Hayes, their 2010 first-round pick, Wednesday as he agreed to a contract with the New York Rangers, and there was nothing they could have done differently to change their fate.
Blackhawks general manger Stan Bowman will undoubtedly be disappointed in losing Hayes to another team, but this isn’t something he’ll be kicking himself over even if Hayes develops into a NHL star.
Sometime during the winter, Hayes decided he was going to look at all of his NHL options. Hayes had told ESPN Chicago in January he envisioned himself signing with the Blackhawks once his season ended, but his mind changed before that time came around.
Hayes can’t be criticized too much for exploring his possibilities and eventually signing elsewhere. He took advantage of the rules in place. Because Boston College’s season went into April, it wasn’t a big deal for him not to sign with the Blackhawks then. He skipped the chance to play in just a couple of AHL games. After that, he didn’t miss out on anything by not having a contract in place from April until Aug. 15, the last day the Blackhawks had exclusive rights to him. Aside from prospect camp, something he had already attended four times, it’s not as if he was a no-show for team workouts or meetings.
With all that time to figure out what was best for him, Hayes came to the conclusion he was better off going somewhere other than Chicago. He was going to get the same money and contract on an entry-level deal whether he signed with the Blackhawks or somewhere else, so it didn’t come down to that.
Hayes’ agent Robert Murray never fully explained why Hayes didn’t want to sign with the Blackhawks, but it’s a likely bet it was because of the organization’s depth.
Hayes had a breakout season as a senior at Boston College. He’s got size and has shown an ability to play with the puck and score. He’s not an absolute star, but he possesses that potential. ESPN NHL Draft and Prospects analyst Corey Pronman described Hayes as someone who “could be a second-line winger as an unusually skilled player for his size possibly, but will need AHL seasoning as needs to rounds out game and improve his consistency.”
Hayes likely has enough skill that he could crack some NHL teams’ lineup next season based on returning players and prospects. That wasn’t likely the case with the Blackhawks. Hayes was going to have to wait his turn. He would have been slotted behind all of the Blackhawks’ established wingers and then behind forward prospects Teuvo Teravainen and Jeremy Morin and likely Mark McNeill and Joakim Nordstrom.
Some people have speculated Hayes didn’t sign with the Blackhawks because they dealt his brother Jimmy Hayes to the Florida Panthers last season. It doesn’t sound as if that came into play. But Hayes may have seen how difficult it is to break into the Blackhawks lineup from his older brother’s experience.
The only way Bowman may have been able to convince Hayes to sign with the Blackhawks is if Bowman assured him spot in the NHL next season. That wasn’t going to happen.
The Blackhawks may have considered attempting to sign Hayes after his junior season if he had displayed the same game then, but he wasn’t nearly as good the season before. He had 25 points in 27 games and suffered a season-ending leg injury as a junior.
Hayes’ injury nearly became a career-ending one and required four successful surgeries to get him back on track. Hayes dedicated himself to the game last offseason and returned to school a different player. Alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold, Hayes helped give Boston College one of the nation’s top lines.
Part of Bowman’s frustration with not signing Hayes will be the fact the Blackhawks stuck by him and put a lot of time into helping him develop into a top prospect. Hayes was Bowman’ first draft pick as a general manager, and Bowman and his staff devoted plenty of resources into Hayes over the four-plus years they held his rights. And just when Hayes blossomed into what they hoped for, he decided to leave the organization.
What occurred to the Blackhawks with Hayes isn’t that common. It may open their eyes to what can happen, but it’s not something they’ll likely fear going forward. Stephen Johns could have gone the same route after finishing up at Notre Dame in March, but he opted to sign. Quality college free agents, such as Matt Carey and Trevor van Riemsdyk, also have chosen to sign with the Blackhawks despite the organization’s depth. The Blackhawks could be more aggressive signing their own college players in the future, but they have also done that at times in the past. Nick Leddy was pulled from college early because they thought he was ready.
In the end, Hayes looked out for himself. He may have created a natural rival in the Blackhawks by doing so, but he didn’t break any NHL rules. For the Blackhawks, it’s not something they’re going to dwell on. They’ll take their compensatory pick -- the No. 24 selection in the second round of the 2015 draft -- and move on. It's just how it is sometimes.