When the Flyers acquired the rights to Kevin Hayes from the Winnipeg Jets for a 5th round pick back in summer 2019, fans rejoiced that the team had finally added such a talented center to bring depth to a roster that was viewed as somewhat thin. When the team announced they had signed the then 27-year-old to a seven-year deal worth 7.1 million annually, however, eyebrows were raised and many questioned whether a second-line center was worth that kind of money.
Once the season got underway, however, Hayes endeared himself to the city by his play on the ice, and his personality off it, and proved his worth along the way.
Hayes made a good first impression, scoring his first Flyers’ goal in the team’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils, and quickly became a major contributor offensively, scoring 23 goals and chipping in 18 assists over 69 regular-season games. Perhaps more importantly though, he played a major factor in turning around the Flyers’ special teams. The power play–which in 2018-19 was ranked 26th with a 17% success rate– jumped all the way to 14th (20% success rate). The penalty kill went from 26th in the league operating at 78% the previous year to11th at 81%. Oh yeah, and Hayes led the entire league with four shorthanded goals.
Fans loved his play, mic’d up antics, and jovial personality so much that Yards Brewing company even named a beer after him after he’d been in Philly for less than a year! It’s like that old saying that I just now made up; you know you’ve made it in life when you either have a beer named after you or your own action figure.
That was all before the world shut down last March though, which we all know was approximately 16.5 billion years ago. So the question becomes, how has Kevin Hayes looked in the dystopian hellscape that is 2020/21?
Well, during last year’s strange version of the NHL playoffs, Hayes was one of the few bright spots offensively for the Flyers. He put up four goals and nine assists along with a +7 rating over the course of 16 games. He led the team in goals, points, and plus-minus over the two series with the Islanders and Canadiens and was second on the team in ice-time. He was one of the only Flyers you could honestly say played well during last year’s playoffs.
As for this season, Hayes has still been pretty good, but he hasn’t quite reached the same level of dominance he did at times during the days of blissful COVID-ignorance that was fall & winter of 2019-20.
Hayes has nine goals and nine assists and has played in all 23 games, so his point production is still good, and actually exceeds last year on a point per game basis. However, he just doesn’t look the same this year to the eye test. There were times last season where Hayes would take over a game and drag the team to victory (his epic breakaway game-winners against Washington and against Columbus come to mind), but this year, he just hasn’t been as flashy.
I recently went back and watched every goal Kevin Hayes has scored during his Flyers career, and doing so made me realize that he’s been less aggressive this year. He doesn’t seem to be jumping up on the rush as much as last year–where he was electric to the tune of six breakaway goals by my count. This year, he doesn’t have any goals on the breakaway and I can only remember one or two breakaway opportunities for him all season.
It seems as if Hayes has made a concerted effort to play more unselfish hockey and avoid some of the boom or bust play style that made him successful offensively, but also left him with a -6 goal differential. This approach has certainly been paying off for his teammates, as Hayes has already racked up 9 assists after putting up a grand total of 18 last season, which is fairly impressive considering the amount of time he’s played with noted non-shooters Claude Giroux and Nolan Patrick.
The advanced statistics suggest he’s doing a better job defensively as well, as his expected goals for sits at 7 (about one every three games) while his expected goals against comes to 4.4 (one every five games). The expected goal differential has translated to actual goal differential as well, as Hayes is an impressive +4 despite spending significant time on the penalty kill.
Speaking of the PK though, it must be said that this aspect of the team has taken a massive tumble backward off a cliff this year, currently ranked 28th in the league, and killing off only 72% of penalties. While it’s true that the PK is an 8-man unit, Hayes leads all forwards in PK time, so its failure does reflect poorly on him.
If there’s one thing I’d like Hayes to do differently, it would be playing a little more aggressively. He’s so good at creating turnovers and protecting the puck that it’s a little surprising to see that he has only managed to generate 5 this year while ranking second on the team (tied with Voracek) with 13 giveaways. Given the aforementioned struggles on the penalty kill, maybe seeing Hayes be a little more aggressive in trying to generate turnovers when short-handed could be a good thing for this team.
Given how solid he’s been otherwise, imagine what Hayes would look like if he can start generating turnovers and springing odd-man rushes again.
All-in-all, if you had to sum up Kevin Hayes’ game this year, I think the best way to describe him would be quietly effective, at least in comparison to last year. He hasn’t been stealing the show, but he’s third on the team in points and leads all forwards in average ice time at 18:55/game. His Corsi numbers suggest he’s doing a decent job of driving play too, while his Corsi-for is unremarkable (49.4), his relative Corsi-for % of 2.0 suggests that the team is generating more when Hayes is on the ice than when he’s on the bench.
Has Kevin Hayes been worth $7 million this year? Perhaps not, but he’s still producing, still been a joy to have in the locker room, and ultimately, has made the Flyers a better team.
Hopefully, we can see a few more moments like these throughout the rest of the season.
OT-winner vs NYI (1/24)
No angle game-winning snipe vs NYR (2/24)