On Wednesday, Mark Divver of the Providence Journal broke some New Jersey Devils news on Twitter: The Devils signed right wing Jimmy Hayes to a professional try out (PTO) contract. The Devils’ official Twitter account confirmed the news later that day.
A PTO is given to unsigned players to allow them to attend a team’s training camp and preseason. If a player is unsigned by now, then it is usually because there is a question or concern about him that keeps teams from wanting to commit. It could be a player coming off an injury, someone who just had a difficult season, or someone amid a decline of sorts among other reasons. A PTO allows them to get a closer look, bring in additional personnel for camp without a season-long commitment, determine if they may be a good fit for what they want to do in the coming season, and, if all goes well, offer a contract for at least one season. There really is not much of a downside to offering a PTO to someone and the Devils have been good about offering a few over the past few seasons.
Hayes is a good candidate for a PTO. The 27-year old, 6’5”, 215 pound right winger has just left his fourth organization. Here’s a quick synopsis of his career from what I learned at Hockey-Reference. Since being drafted in the second round in 2008 by Toronto, he was dealt to Chicago in a draft-day deal involving a second round pick. Hayes would make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 2011-12 with 31 appearances in a depth role. He only was able to play in 10 games in the following season. Just two games into the 2013-14 season, Hayes and Dylan Olson were traded to Florida for Kris Versteeg and Phillipe Lefebvre. Hayes was able to claw his way into the Panther lineup as a regular in 2013-14. Per CapFriendly, he received a one-year bridge deal and drove hard on it. In 2014-15, Hayes had his most productive season yet with an average ice time of over fifteen minutes per game, 166 shots on net, 19 goals (4 PPG), and 16 assists (7 PPA) in 72 games. Not exactly a massive amount of points but it was a breakout season for Hayes. It would also be his last with the Panthers. He was dealt to Boston for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract on July 1, 2015. Boston inked him to a three-year, $6.9 million contract on the strength of his 2014-15 campaign. Hayes would see decreases in those same categories whilst tripling his PIM count from 20 to 60. Not exactly a positive player. It went from not-so-hot to much-worse in 2016-17 as Hayes ended up only playing 58 games and averaging less than ten minutes per game. He contributed 74 shots and a mere two goals and three assists. Boston bought out his contract and was released at the end of June. Hayes has since been an unrestricted free agent. He now comes to New Jersey, his potentially fifth organization, on a PTO.
Let’s dive a little deeper to gain some additional perspective on Jimmy Hayes. Over at Litter Box Cats, Shane O’Donnell broke down the Hayes-Smith deal by the numbers. As it was Hayes’ most productive season, it is a good summary of what he provided at his best. It also included some of Hayes’ flaws as a player. O’Donnell concluded that Smith would be the better player and he is correct in retrospect. At the time, the comparison was not that far off. Hayes was not a driver of possession but he was contributing quite a bit of offense in his way. Unfortunately, O’Donnell noted that his hands, lack of speed, and puck skills in general were negatives back then - issues Smith did not necessarily have.
Those issues cropped again in Boston. While his production did not fall off the proverbial cliff in his first season as a Bruin, he received negative reviews from the fans. Adam Denhard graded Hayes’ 2015-16 season at Stanley Cup of Chowder and gave him a poor mark. In it, he cites his eight points in the second half of that season, his struggles to secure a consistent spot in the lineup, and his issues with using his size to his advantage to win pucks. I got the impression that the expectation was a big, gritty winger who can chip in points and the reality was a big, not-gritty winger who chipped in points but didn’t do much when he wasn’t doing that. Hayes’ 2016-17 season was a very poor and so he received a failing grade from Stanley Cup of Chowder’s SkyonAir. The main adjective was “ineffective,” and it is hard to argue otherwise from a statement like this:
He was the worst forward on the team by a country, city, and suburban mile at nearly everything he did. He barely scored or assisted on goals, he was usually the worst player on the team at generating puck possession, not very confident with the puck, barely generated shots, useless on the backcheck, and rarely used his large frame to at least get fans of hitting on his side. He was so ineffective he straight up didn’t play after April 1st, where he logged 47 seconds of game time and his season basically ended there. His last goal was in Mid-December. Drew Stafford played less than 20 games for Boston, and still had more goals than Hayes. That is unacceptable.
The decision by Boston to buyout his contract was largely welcomed at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
All together, Hayes has size but seemingly does not use it to his advantage. He has averaged over two shots per game at his peak, he can get streaky with the scoring, and it is important to note that he shot a woefully poor 2.7% last season. While that may rebound, it is questionable whether Hayes has the speed and the hands to fit on a team trying to become faster and hopefully trying to be better at maintaining puck possession. Why did the Devils bring him in?
Namely: he plays right wing and the team could use a right winger.
In my mind, the team’s top four right wingers is some combination of Kyle Palmieri (who may be important as Gerard recently wrote on Thursday), Marcus Johansson in an off-wing position, Stefan Noesen, and Blake Speers - assuming he makes the team. (Aside: Speers did start in New Jersey last season, so I wouldn’t rule it out.) Even if the team does keep Michael McLeod and keep him at wing, it is still a pretty thin group. Their minor league depth is effectively Nick Lappin. The point is that right wing remains a position of some need. (Aside #2: A guy named Beau would look nice on this roster.) At a minimum, the Devils can take a look at Hayes and see for themselves whether he can play the way the coaches want out of a third or a fourth line winger. Again, there is little downside to giving him an opportunity. Therefore, I can understand why the Devils reached out to Hayes. A good showing from him would not only add another right winger to the squad but it could also mean that Speers, McLeod, and Lappin could play where they may be better suited (Binghamton for Speers and Lappin; Mississauga in McLeod’s case).
Still, I am not getting my hopes up. There are red flags from his relatively young past. He has not been a great possession player, his speed and hands are issues, and he’s 6’5” 215 pound hockey player who apparently does not play like you’d expect a 6’5” 215 pound hockey player would. It does not seem to meet Ray Shero’s M.O. for what he is trying to build, especially if the prospects are anything to go by. Of course, I could be wrong and Hayes could very well play well enough in training camp and in preseason games to justify a roster spot. We’ll see in the increasingly near-future.
What do you make of Jimmy Hayes? Do you think he has a chance to make it in New Jersey? Do you think the Devils will bring in more players on a PTO? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hayes and PTOs in the comments. Thank you for reading.