By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
Perhaps the most important addition to the Flyers over the course of last offseason was the decision to trade for the rights to Kevin Hayes and sign him to a seven-year contract. The move has paid immediate dividends, as Hayes had scored 23 goals and posted 41 points through 69 games played. He was two goals shy of tying a career-high in goals and appeared poised to post the second 50-point season of his career.
That’s what Hayes has done on the ice, but it may be what he has done off the ice that has made a greater impact. In the time since the NHL stopped play due to the concerns of COVID-19 sweeping the globe, Hayes made his second appearance this season on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast with former NHLers Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney, sharing tales of Ivan Provorov’s training routine and some great Carter Hart stories. He was part of Gritty’s Quarter Hour of Power on Thursday, a new series the Flyers have been running on social media and played charades.
Of course, by now Hayes has gone viral with his nicknames for teammates and mic'd up videos proclaiming that he used to ref. It’s all part of the personality that has made him a favorite in the locker room among teammates and to the fan base.
What people don’t know is that they have Chuck Fletcher to thank for that personality shining through.
“I remember when I talked to Chuck when I signed, he wanted me to be myself,” Hayes said in a conference call on Thursday. “This isn’t the exact words but ‘we invested in you, we would like you to invest in us.’ It’s been easy. It’s an unbelievable group, not even the players, it’s the equipment staff, the trainers, the nutritionist, the GM, the assistant GM, all the people behind the scenes. It’s an easy organization to enter and kind of feel great about yourself.
“Everyone’s trying to get the best out of you and that’s what I try to do with guys. I try to enter the arena every day pretty happy. For me, it’s the best job in the whole entire world. I don’t know where I would be without hockey. I know my worst days are definitely not comparable to everyone else’s worst day.”
“He’s a beauty,” Fletcher said earlier in the week on a conference call. “I think we all knew he had a strong personality. He’s had a very positive impact on our franchise. He’s played very well. He plays a very important role on our team in that second line center spot as well as power play, penalty kill, even strength, 3-on-3 and even shootouts. He’s had an impact in every area that a player can have an impact in. He’s a good teammate. He’s a really good human being. He cares about winning. He cares about the people in the organization. He cares about the fans. You can’t make that stuff up. His personality is who he is.”
In the middle of one of his best seasons personally and one of the best the Flyers have had in nearly a decade, things are much different at the moment. Everything is on hold and there are plenty of questions about when the league will return to play and how everything will shake out. The Flyers had a nine-game winning streak snapped with a shutout loss to the NHL-leading Bruins in their final game before the league suspended play. Hayes had scored six goals and nine points in that time.
“I think everyone’s a little bit concerned about that. I mean it sucks because you play this game, you build friendships, and you build memories. You build moments where you want to go for the Stanley Cup,” Hayes said. “I felt as if our team had come together in a great way. We were really playing for one and another. Everyone was buying into the system that AV put together. There’s a possibility that we’ll never see the outcome of that. I assume we will be this good all the time, but who knows if we’ll have this feeling again. It’s kind of sad that you can’t go to the rink every day, but everyone’s dealing with this, it’s not just us.”
Hayes is trying to keep busy during the break. In addition to doing what he can to stay in game shape and staying in touch with Gritty, Hayes has gotten back into gaming and has even started cooking. He’s currently back in his hometown of Boston, taking the necessary steps to move into a new apartment right as the NHL started the suspension.
Hayes said that the team is keeping in touch through group texts, a SnapChat group that the team created and various gaming experiences that he can share with current teammates.
“We have a Snapchat group. We got a team text message group that’s pretty regularly going. I send every day to kind of check in with guys and see if they want to play Xbox,” Hayes said. “I’ll hit up [Joel Farabee] for Call of Duty. Michael Raffl sent a hilarious snap the other day. He shaved his head, so we were kind of giving it to him. I don’t think he is too concerned because he lives in Austria and not going to see anyone for a couple of months.”
When the teams do finally return to play, whenever that may be, Hayes is ready for any and all possibilities. One is having to jump right back into business mode and made a playoff run. He expects that the veteran leadership will keep everyone focused on the task at hand as they did before play was halted.
“We were definitely feeling ourselves there for a little bit. We had some good swagger,” Hayes said. “We had some good confidence. We weren’t overconfident. That’s our leadership group. They kind of set a standard. It’s a weird dynamic. I think everyone on our team brings their own leadership into that locker room, whether it’s an older guy or younger guy. A lot of people lead in different ways. I think everyone has completely bought into our system. I think if in a couple months we go back to it, if it’s up in the playoffs, I am pretty confident we have some older veterans that would make sure everyone’s back to business pretty quickly.”
One of the concepts being floated around is an expanded playoff picture that would put all of the teams at a neutral location where the games could take place without fans. Hayes said that is a possibility he would be open to in order to complete the season with the proper competition.
“If there’s going to be no fans there, then I don’t think it’s a big deal. Doesn’t matter where the ice is,” Hayes said. “I think the biggest part of home ice advantage is the fans and the feeling you get when you enter the arena, knowing how passionate your fans are and how much you want to play for them. If there’s no fans there, I don’t think you would have that much home ice advantage. Ice is the same everywhere. So yes, I am willing to play at a neutral site.”
Hayes is just one of the new faces that this fan base has come to embrace as the season has progressed, one of the key parts to a team that was pushing to do something special as the season got into the final weeks and entered the playoffs. Now, he is among the many waiting to get back to action, to see how this season ends and to see where this team can go from here.