Philadelphia Flyers forward Kevin Hayes has silenced the critics.
On June 3rd, 2019, the Philadelphia Flyers sent a fifth-round pick in that summers NHL draft to the Winnipeg Jets for the rights to forward Kevin Hayes. On the 19th of that same month, the Orange and Black made good on this trade, signing the former Boston College Eagle to a seven-year, $50 million contract; a contract that would essentially keep him in Philadelphia through the end of the 2025-2026 season.
Needless to say, there was some immediate pushback from the Flyers’ fan base. At the time, this seemed warranted, as Hayes had just become the 20th highest-paid center in the entire National Hockey League and had only posted a career-high of 55 points (19 goals 36 assists) at the time of his deal. Well, little did we all know, the impact Hayes would make in Philly would run much deeper than the box score.
In year one as a Flyer, number 13 slotted in rather nicely in the second line center role that he was acquired to fill. In 69 regular-season games, Hayes scored 23 goals and added on an additional 18 assists (41 points.) At first glance, these numbers may not be that impressive; but what was impressive was the two-way game the big center man possessed. He fit in perfectly with what the Flyers covet in their forwards; players who play a 200-foot game with a comment to excellence on both ends of the ice.
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This was evidenced even further from the impact Hayes had on the Orange and Blacks penalty-killing unit. This group went from being ranked 26th in the entire NHL in 2018-2019 with a PK% of 78.48 to being ranked 11th in the NHL this past season with a PK% of 81.82. The addition of Hayes helped this unit go from one of the leagues worst to an above-average penalty-killing unit. I feel like I don’t have to say this, but to jump 15 spots in one season is a rather drastic leap. The difference it made was night and day, as evidenced even further by the team’s success this past season. Throw in the fact that Hayes led the team with four shorthanded goals, and you can begin to see the internal impact this move had on the organization.
To take things even further, it did not take long after the arrival of Hayes to see the Flyers decide to slap an A on his jersey. To make this leap in your first season with an organization is somewhat uncharted waters and drives home the leadership aspect Hayes brings to the table.
As the push for the postseason began, it was clear that Mr. Hayes was one of the most important members of the Flyers. He had also shown he was a clutch player, as he seemed to score big goal after big goal for his new team. In his final 37 games of the regular season, Hayes scored 15 goals and chipped in another 11 assists (26 points), as it was clear he had grown comfortable in his new surroundings.
Once the postseason began, you could argue he was the best forward night in and night out for the Flyers. The franchise ended up winning its first playoff series since the 2011-2012 season and finishing one win short of their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2009-2010. In doing so, Hayes led the team in scoring throughout the playoffs, as he finished with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 16 games, including one huge assist when he made a beautiful drop pass to teammate Ivan Provorov in double overtime of Game 6 in their series with the New York Islanders. Provorov roofed one over Semyon Varlamov to secure the most significant win the franchise had in the past decade.
Now in the offseason, it is crystal clear that the Flyers were absolutely correct in their acquisition of Hayes. At just 28 years old and under contract for the next six seasons, big number 13 will be a massive part of the future for the Orange and Black for years to come. Ideally, he is an integral part of the next Philadelphia Flyers team to hoist the Stanley Cup.
And hey, did you know he used to ref?