“We offered Kevin what we believed was a generous and fair contract. Unfortunately, he felt it was in his best interests to become a free agent.” – Stan Bowman

The Blackhawks issued a statement today which confirmed news that anyone who has been paying attention knew three months ago: Kevin Hayes will not sign his entry level contract with the Blackhawks. The team will receive a compensatory 2nd round draft pick (54th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, which is thought to be quite deep by people who seem to know that sort of thing. Hayes will be eligible to sign with another team at midnight.

It’s common knowledge that Hayes desires to play in the NHL immediately. Accordingly, he’s been linked to teams such as Calgary, Florida, Colorado (laughable bottom six) and the suddenly depleted New York Rangers. One would think teams like Edmonton (who would be insane to start running the clock on Leon Draisaitl) and Vancouver would be interested as well. Most of the scuttlebutt seems to focus around Calgary and Florida, though. If you believe Hayes just wants to play, Calgary is probably the most logical destination due to the ample number of jobs up for grabs and the presence of his college flame, Johnny Gaudreau. Many will tell you that Gaudreau made Kevin Hayes at Boston College and it’s not hard to imagine why Hayes would like to ride that train as far as it’ll take him.

The other contender, Florida, is probably further along in their rebuild than Calgary, but still offers a fairly low barrier to entry at the NHL level. The competition will be stiffer here, as Hayes would compete with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Dave Bolland, Vincent Trocheck (side note: I sometimes dream of Trocheck being part of the eventual Sharp deal, but that’s another post), Brandon Pirri and Derek MacKenzie. Hayes would probably have to agree to shift to right wing in order to secure a spot in the lineup out of the gate here. The Panthers also carry his brother, former Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes. It’s hard for me to put together how directly competing for a roster spot with your brother in the immediate walk of leaving a team because (supposedly) you didn’t want to compete with random strangers makes sense, but what do I know? Anyhow, that’s more than any of you wanted to know about KEVIN HAYES MEGASWEEPSTAKES! NHL Network and the Twitter machine should be lots of fun tomorrow.

What about the Blackhawks and what this whole thing means for Stan Bowman? Many fans seem to have largely shrugged off the whole episode, which is kind of funny if you believe the stories about the front-office being quite angry about the whole situation. From a hockey perspective, the rumored frustration is completely justified, at least to me. It’s not exactly a good thing that the Blackhawks will now have one less first round pick on his ELC in the system when it appears that the cap will require painful austerity in the not too distant future. Hayes, with his frame and apparent versatility, might have helped ease the pain of losing a player like, say for instance, Bryan Bickell. A lot of people are willing to write the whole thing off as a wash, as the Blackhawks receive the aforementioned 54th overall pick next year, but that’s a huge stretch to me. The draft class may not be as deep as the experts currently believe, and jumping from the 24th pick to the 54th pick is going to entail a massive talent drop in even the deepest of drafts.

Hayes’ departure also contributes to the narrative that the team has difficulty selling the Blackhawks to some prospects who may harbor fears that Rockford is actually some twisted hockey version of Pleasure Island. I tend not to put much stock into this line of thinking, but it’s something to keep in mind as we all start to track the progress of Nick Schmaltz, Bowman’s 1st round pick in Philadelphia who will play for North Dakota next season.

What do we think? We believe that Kevin Hayes knew exactly why he’d never be a 2C here: