New players, new coaches, and a new identity. It’s been an offseason of change for the Philadelphia Flyers but the whirlwind ripped through with one aim in mind – to make sure it’s the last time this needs to happen, for a long time.
The same can be said for Kevin Hayes. After spending five years as a New York Ranger for, he was traded to the Jets in 2018, where he’d rally to 19 goals and 35 assists in 71 games. But then he had to move…again.
Hayes, who has 229 points in 381 career NHL games, chose Philadelphia. He signed a seven-year deal worth $50M, reuniting with former Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault in the process. Just a few short months later, he’s been asked to wear the ‘A’.
“With the contract I’ve signed, I’ll be here for a while, so I want to be a leader on this team, both vocally and how I play on the Ice.” Hayes told me after practice on Thursday. “I’ve never had that in my career and now I do. I’m excited for it.”
Vingeault has wasted little time in implementing his aggressive playing style and Hayes, who once thrived under it, is set to become a key cornerstone to build that culture around.
Hayes had to make the right decision for him and his family. Seven years is a long time and the weight of expectation in Philadelphia is a heavy one. But with a familiar face guiding him, Hayes wants to have that same impact on the younger players around him.
It can’t be easy going into a completely new team with a deal that hefty. How do you assert yourself? Will they warm to you right away? Can you become the teammate they need you to be? Hayes spent the offseason with his family but as soon as camp rolled around, it was down to business. However he broached what must be a situation that’s hard to read, it worked wonders…because he’s now wearing the ‘A’. Not only that, but he’s driving Vigneault’s expectations. What are they exactly?
“I set goals every year, but they don’t even come close to the team goals.” He explained. “We want to get into the playoffs and if you don’t wanna win a Stanley Cup, you shouldn’t be here.”
“We’re all professionals and the NHL is a hard league. If you don’t play your hardest every day, you won’t be here long. We have to pull the same rope and trust in one another.“
If Hayes talks to his teammates with that level of passion and drive, it’s not hard to see why he’s been given the extra responsibility. The Flyers have the talent to at least make a run at the big dance this year, but it will be the presence of Kevin Hayes and the responsibility he’s been striving to take on for years, that will spark a chain reaction of success.
Photo credit: Alex Mcintyre