in 2022-23, Kevin Hayes was named to his first All-Star game. He was one point away from tying a career high of 54 set in 2018-19, the year before he came to the Flyers. He played in 81 games this year; the most in his career as he had never stayed healthy for a full season before. And yet….it’s the one game that he missed that has people talking.
In case you may have forgotten, he was benched because new head coach John Tortorella was trying to “awaken the center” inside of him. The Rangers beat the snot out of the Flyers in that game and Hayes remarked that he didn’t see the logic in sitting your top scorer. After the benching, he went on a tear as the Flyers did following Christmas.
But then on his return from the All-Star festivities, he went cold. Super cold. He scored in games two and three back from the All-Star game (Feb 6 and 9) and didn’t score a goal again until April 6; his last goal of the year, leaving him with 18 tallies on the season. Also during that time, he had just six assists. It was still good enough to lead the team, but his production had dropped.
To be fair, his stats dropped in part because he was moved from the top line to the second line to the third. His minutes were dropping from near 20 minutes per game to between 14-16 a game. He was taken off the power play units as well.
Many fans expressed their displeasure at his performance. A guy who used to connect with the fans because of his grit and effort had suddenly turned sour in their eyes. He is also well liked in the Flyers’ locker room. Players have talked about what he means to them. Travis Konecny talked about every player loving what Hayes brought to the table Joel Farabee had an even deeper bond with him.
"“He’s one of my best friends. From the first day I got here as a 19-year-old, he kind of took me under his wing. Same with guys like Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, the list kind of goes on. Hayesy, he’s always been so good to me, just leading me in the right direction when whatever the case might be. I think he’s just a terrific pro. Whatever happens, happens. That’s kind of out of the player’s control. But he’s been so good to me and I really feel loyal to him forever.”"
Hayes is aware of the situation that the Flyers are in, despite how much he has enjoyed being here over the last few years.
"“I think you guys know how much I love it here. I signed here seven years, absolutely love this organization. I thought Chuck was great. I loved A.V. I know they both caught a lot of flack here from fans and media. Danny B’s great. And the city’s awesome, it’s a sports town. They need to go younger here if they want to win. That’s how you win in this league, you’ve got to rebuild and that’s what they’re in now. As much as I would love to stay and help it out, I have no idea if that’s going to be the case.”"
And despite the fact that it may be hard to deal with the lack of minutes he was receiving towards the end of the season, he wasn’t going to mope around about it.
"I just focus on being the best teammate. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. My brother taught me that. It’s something that I wear on my sleeve, is making sure that everyone in that room feels comfortable every night and can be in the best headspace that they should be in.”"
So, it sounds like the team is headed for a divorce, right? He is going to be 31 in May. The team is looking for young talent to move forward. He is the highest paid player on the team making $7,142,857 a season. Sounds like he should be shipped out, right?
What if he and John Tortorella could settle their differences? Yes, he is overpaid, but that was Chuck Fletcher’s fault. What if Hayes moves from center to wing permanently? What if he uses his skills to help mentor Farabee, Morgan Frost, and other young players? What if he accepts his role as a mentor? What if he accepts his role and puts his all into it? Could the relationship be salvaged?
I think it depends on what both he and Torts say. Both have claimed all year that there is no animosity between them. I’m not sure if I believe them, but they are both putting the needs of the team first if they are lying.
Hayes still has talent. If he can take the good parts from this season (All-Star nod, bounce back in stats) and move on from the other stuff, he could be of tremendous value to this team. It can teach the young guys how to shake off frustration and rise above doing the right thing. That can be of immense value to young players learning to play in a sports rabid city like Philadelphia.
I’ve always liked Hayes’s attitude. It’s a shame things descended this far. But I do hope that there can be a reconciliation here and that gaps can be bridged. I think the Flyers will be better off with it happening. Hayes does have to “suck it up buttercup” a little bit and heed the advice of his coach. Of that, there is no doubt. But let’s not go off the deep end yet. Give it one more year to see if we can straighten this out. And if it doesn’t, we can move him next year.