The date was June 3, 2019. It was a little less than a month before the free agency period began, so general manager Chuck Fletcher and the Philadelphia Flyers decided to make a splash in acquiring the rights to center Kevin Hayes in a summertime trade with the Winnipeg Jets, with the intention of signing him to a long-term contract.
The concern was how Hayes would fit in with a team that had no identity and hasn’t gotten past the first round in seven years. This was now an afterthought.
The Flyers inked Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million contract back on June 19 after trading a fifth-round pick to the Jets in exchange. The 6-foot-5 beast is signed through the 2025-26 season earning $7.14 million per year. Coming off Hayes’ expiring rookie deal with the New York Rangers, both parties agreed to the deal before July 1, avoiding the possibility of Hayes becoming an unrestricted free agent and testing the market.
At first, the terms of the contract sent some shockwaves through fans and local sports radio stations around Philly relating to the price the Flyers paid to keep him around. Who is Kevin Hayes? Is he really worth all of that money? Can he live up to expectations with this contract?
Making Himself at Home
Fast forward to today, as Hayes has taken the city of Philadelphia on a ride, embracing the heart-and-soul role of the Flyers as they rumble toward the playoffs in convincing fashion. In his first season in Philadelphia, the 27-year-old is proving to everybody why the team showed him the money. Hayes brings a charisma to the team that was desperately needed, which has resonated with teammates, front office execs, and most importantly, the fans. Not only are Hayes and the Flyers having fun again, but they are also winning in epic proportions to go with it.
Hayes led the Orange and Black to 10 wins in the month of February, propelling the Flyers to a spot in the Metropolitan division. He is also on pace to reach new career highs in goals and points this season. So yes, it is safe to say that Hayes’ return on investment is profitable.
Before signing with the Flyers, Hayes was considered as the best potential free agent coming into the 2019 offseason with the realization that most teams would have to overpay for a player of his caliber. It would have been his first opportunity testing the free agency market since entering the league in 2014.
The 217-pound left-hander spent his first five years with the New York Rangers after originally being drafted 24th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Prior to getting traded from New York to Winnipeg for last year’s playoff run, Hayes’ served as a cornerstone for the Rangers organization. After racking up 87 goals and 129 assists in his Rangers career, the numbers speak volumes about his productivity in such a brief time with a club.
The Complete Package
Entering his prime, Hayes’ 200-foot game is what stands out and has developed him into a complete and versatile player, contributing to his success as a playmaking weapon in all three phases of the game. The Dorchester, Massachusetts native serves as a Swiss army knife for the Flyers in his ability to produce at even strength, on the power-play, or on the penalty kill. Oddly enough, Hayes has always had a knack for scoring in penalty-killing situations.
His long reach in tight point man coverage has lead to creating turnovers and his four shorthanded goals on the year so far. Another key component to his arsenal is his reference to being “the closer” in tight games. The Flyers have desperately yearned for a player to lend a helping hand as a specialist in crucial situations, and they got just that in No. 13.
To Hayes’ success comes with the mentorship he’s been fortunate to have for the majority of his professional career, as he reunites with Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. Hayes played for Vigneault in their days together with the Rangers, leading them to Stanley Cup Final appearance in Hayes’ rookie season. Vigneault had a reputation for being tough on his players, holding them accountable on and off the ice. When Vigneault would challenge Hayes, his game would flourish instead of decline when called upon to do the little things like penalty killing or winning a face-off in their own end. The attention to detail the duo stress is what has made their relationship grow into a healthy partnership. They are picking up right where they left off in Philly.
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Money aside, Hayes has brought more to the city of Philadelphia than anyone could imagine. He has filled the second-line center position perfectly while making everyone around him elevate their game to its fullest potential. Victory songs and nicknames are being pumped out of the tunnel at the Wells Fargo Center again in part to Hayes’ effort to keep things light instead of letting the pressures of playing in a large market like Philly affect their game. Forget about all of the stats and accolades, the guy’s intangible traits of expressing his personality is what separates him as such a likable guy. Hayes has undoubtedly been worth every penny.