It’s finally happened. After months of drama, the Philadelphia Flyers have finally traded Kevin Hayes to the St. Louis Blues. It wasn’t the trade we were hoping for. Instead of a bigger return, the Flyers got a sixth round pick for him and will pay half of his salary for the next three years. Yeah. In return, they also dealt away a guy who had the potential of becoming a huge clubhouse cancer on the team. The ironic thing is, it shouldn’t have ended this way.
When Hayes became a Flyer, it was under questionable circumstances to begin with. Then general manager Chuck Fletcher traded a fifth round pick in 2019 to Minnesota Wild for the exclusive rights to negotiate with him. While that wasn’t an issue, it was the fact that Fletcher signed him to a $50 million contract for seven years. For a player who had scored over 20 goals just once and over 50 points just once at that point, that was seen to be over payment for a player with mediocre stats. In fact Kevin Hayes joked that the only reason he stayed in Philly was that he was overpaid.
Despite this, Hayes was able to win over the Philly fanbase that was concerned about his contract. He claimed he was Gritty’s roommate and “threatened” to sit out the season if the beloved Flyers mascot couldn’t perform at the Wells Fargo Center due to COVID Protocols. He had an affable nature that made him popular with fans and with his teammates; similar in many ways to Scott Hartnell a decade earlier.
That wasn’t the the only thing that won him over. He played with a rugged, gritty style that made him popular. He would battle in the corner and played tough. In his first season in Philadelphia, he scored 23 goals and had 41 points in a COVID shortened season. In his lone playoff appearance for the Flyers in the bubble, he scored four goals with nine assists to lead the team with 13 points in the postseason.
The year following, the wheels kind of fell off. He had COVID. He dealt with nagging injuries that he tried to play through. The more he tried to play through them, the more the injuries hampered his abilities to play. And as other Flyers got hurt, he felt pressure to play as one of the few stars left. He also lost his brother Jimmy, a former NHL player, to an overdose. And despite all of this, he battled through and did what he could. As a result, he was named the Flyers nominee, and became a finalist for the Masterton Trophy.
When the Flyers named John Tortorella as head coach, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Hayes had done well under Alain Vigneault; a coach who had similar coaching mannerisms as Torts. It was easy to assume that Hayes would’ve been one of Tortorella’s go to guys. In fact, if there was a star player to worry about, it was going to be Travis Konecny because of his prior issues with Vigneault.
However, that’s not what happened. Both Konecny and Hayes were benched for a period during a poor showing in a game against San Jose early in the season. Konecny answered the call and had his best statistical season, despite missing many games due to injuries. Hayes didn’t. Instead, he sulked and pouted; becoming a healthy scratch against the New York Rangers.
Hayes didn’t agree with the benching. Tortorella claimed he was trying to awaken the “center within” ; basically the same thing that Fletcher did in justifying overpaying for him. And Hayes responded during the Flyers post-Christmas hot streak. He was named to his first All-Star game.
Following the All-Star festivities, he kind of disappeared. He got cold. Really cold. As a result, his minutes on the ice dropped as Tortorella favored those younger guys who were hungry and wanted to contribute. Despite his cold streak, he still led the team with 36 assists; tying a career high.
With his offensive stats came some glaring defensive deficiencies. His -22 led all Flyers forwards and was eclipsed only by Tony DeAngelo. He became a defensive liability, turning the puck over with judgement in passing. And despite all of the attempts by Tortorella to encourage him to change his game, he refused. He was stubborn and set in his ways. In turn, he was taken off the first line and removed from any penalty kill unit.
The shame of all of this is that it didn’t have to happen this way. Look, he was never going to be a Tim Kerr, Rick Tocchet, Eric Lindros, Rod Brind’Amour, or Claude Giroux. He could’ve been, at the very least, a Hartnell or, if he pushed himself, a Keith Primeau, Scott Laughton, or Sean Couturier. This is what Tortorella was hoping for. It didn’t happen.
Was Hayes overpaid? For playing like a third line center, yes. Not only this, but when your coach tells you to play a certain way and you flat you refuse to do it, there will be consequences. In Philadelphia, we’ve seen this before with Terrell Owens and Allen Iverson. It never got to that point, thank God, because Tortorella and Hayes kept it out of the public eye as much as they could.
Hayes was popular with his teammates. His disobedience to his coach made him a liability as the younger players could’ve looked up to him and emulated him. However, had he simply done with Tortorella had asked, to play harder as a defensive forward, he might have become one of the cogs of this team moving forward.
Now Hayes is gone. Maybe a change of scenery will reinvigorate him. Maybe there is still time for him to unlock all of his potential. For Flyers fans, they will grieve what could have been. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great either. He was more than adequate at best and underachieving at worst. He could’ve been, should’ve been more. As Daniel Briere had mentioned, centermen his size aren’t easy to find.
To put that into perspective, Hayes is an inch taller than Lindros and Joel Otto, four inches taller than Brind’Amour and Jeremy Roenick, and the same height as Primeau. Had he used his size to his advantage, it is unknown how high his ceiling could’ve gone. That’s the frustrating part of this. Hayes simply could’ve been so much better. Many will blame Torts for the falling out, but he saw what could’ve been and wanted Hayes to reach his full potential. It’s a shame the coach wanted it more than his player did.