Benching of Kevin Hayes puts the Flyers in a hard situation

Flyers, Kevin Hayes (Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Flyers, Kevin Hayes (Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

Kevin Hayes has been benched. Again. For the second time this season. Well, technically third time if you consider he was benched for the third period against New Jersey. Still, why would head coach John Tortorella bench Hayes? After all, Hayes leads the team with 29 points! Well, this is not an easy answer and where the Flyers go from here is also not easy to figure out.

First of all, yes, Hayes has 29 points to lead the team. His nine goals are second on the team to Travis Konecny; who probably still would be leading the team in point had he not spent six games on the IR. But let’s take a look at Hayes’s career in Philly so far.

Flyers: Hayes in Philly

Hayes’s 29 points are just two points off from his totals in the last two years. If you remember, he was one of last year’s injury casualties plus he was dealing with the death of his brother. His struggles helped to get him named as a Masterton Trophy Finalist.

However, the team overreached when they signed him in June 2019. At the time, GM Chuck Fletcher said “We are very happy to sign Kevin to a long-term contract. He plays a smart, two-way game and is just entering the prime of his career. Kevin will add size and skill to our line-up.” The contract was for seven years for $50 million, or a little over $7 million a year.

Fletcher also commented, later on when asked to defend it, saying something to the effect of “if you want a big center in the NHL, you gotta pay him” Well, the Flyers certainly have.

Since being in Philly, he scored 20+ goals once (23 in 2019-20). He has never been a “plus” in the plus/minus, although he was touted as a great defensive forward with a +28 for his career previously. His career faceoff percentage is below 50%. That’s not what you want out of a center.

Flyers: Hayes and Torts

Tortorella said he is trying to “awaken the center” inside of Hayes. Hayes has had opportunities to show what his talents are. Yes, he can cause havoc in front of the net. He can score and grind it out in the corner. He can also give up really stupid turnovers. As a center, he is not that strong. As a winger, he’s adequate. But adequate is not worth $7 million a year.

When Tortorella took over as coach, he said that there was a culture problem on this team. He never clarified what he meant, but it left the door open for a lot of speculation; especially after he said it again during training camp. Tortorella also has a reputation for being “tough and demanding” on players.

If anything, I personally thought the player who would’ve had an issue with Tortorella would’ve been Konecny as TK had some sort of issue with former coach Alain Vigneault which led to career lows in goals and points, benchings, etc.  But Konecny has flourished. Hayes has played well in some respects, but not in all of them.

In essence, I think that Tortorella has been trying to nudge Hayes to do certain things and he is just not getting the message. Benching him, despite his scoring touch, is showing the rest of the team that nobody is immune or above the law. He’d rather lose a game because we can’t score a goal than allow someone to keep playing who is openly defiant of what the coach has been preaching. Big props to the coach for that…if it works.

Flyers: So, where do we go from here?

This will play out in one of two ways:

  • Hayes cleans up his act, matures as a player, and does what his coach tells him. The team will be a lot better off for this and Hayes can become that dynamic player that we were promised back in 2019. Again, while Hayes has been good, he hasn’t been close to $7 million good.
  • He is traded. This is tricky. He has three years left on his contract, not counting this year. He is slated to make another $21 million. Not only that, if he is traded, it is because Torts wants him off the team, Hayes wants off the team, or a combination of the two.

This past offseason, the Flyers were trying to clear cap space, maybe in an effort to go after a Johnny Gaudreau or another top free agent. No trade was made because nobody offered a fair deal. The same will happen here.

Either it will be like a Shayne Gostisbehere deal where some other team takes him and his salary and we get nothing in return at all, or we deal him for a 6th round pick or something crappy. Maybe some other team is stuck with a disgruntled player and is willing to swap (Bo Horvat?), but don’t count on that.

So, this puts the Flyers in a weird bind. If this relationship between coach and player can’t mend up, some hard decisions will have to be made. And let’s be honest, other NHL teams will not treat this fairly. The other question to ask is, is Hayes the only one? Will other dominos on this team fall? Are there other players who may want off this train?