Alain Vigneault’s incredible record of success in his first season with a new team continued last year. Landing in Philadelphia to kickstart a new era of Flyers hockey, it didn’t take long for Vigneault to make his mark on the team. Fans experienced some stunning highs as the team became the hottest in the league, and some gut-wrenching lows after a pandemic-induced suspension knocked the wind out of their sails in a very different looking postseason. But one man in particular rapidly became the glue that kept the team together – Kevin Hayes.
Hayes was the first significant signing of the Vigneault era. If you’re going to do something, you might as well go all-in. That’s what the Flyers brass did, handing Hayes a 7-year, $50M contract.
Kevin Hayes will have a big impact on Nolan Patrick
Initially, it left many confused as it seemed Nolan Patrick was destined to assume the 2C role. As we now know, that path became complicated with the former second-overall pick due to his neurological condition While he remains with the team in 2020, the Flyers can sit comfortably knowing that not only do they have a center in his prime for the long-term but that Patrick is making his gradual return to hockey and is part of a pipeline of promising centers.
Patrick’s growth is specifically going to be something to watch and an area of the team where Hayes will have a significant impact. After moving to Philadelphia, the 28-year-old invited Patrick to live with him, leading to a blossoming relationship. For Patrick, comfort will be everything. He’s working his way back to a point where he can play for the team again, and chose to re-sign with them this offseason.
The Flyers have been patient and understanding with Patrick, whose migraine condition has put his NHL career on hold, giving him a sense of belonging. That is only amplified by Hayes, who has been with him throughout this process and will be the perfect mentor once he does return to the ice.
Proving AV right on and off the ice
It didn’t take long for Hayes to make his presence felt. When the Flyers traveled to Prague to face the Blackhawks in a season-opening bout, he wore the ‘A’. The former New York Ranger had previously thrived under Vigneault, and it became clear that with a new system and a new style of leadership, AV wanted to turn to someone he could trust to step in and lead by example.
There was understandably a hefty weight on the shoulders of Hayes, who entered a brand new locker room with $50M to his name and as a player the Head Coach was obviously going to build around.
“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 in Prague. “I’ve never had that in my career and now I do. I’m excited for it.”
Hayes would go on to tally 41 total points for the Flyers (23G, 18A), averaging close to 18 minutes of ice time, becoming a pillar on special teams, and winning the hearts of fans through his motor on the ice and playful nature off of it. In fact, Hayes earned the Gene Hart Memorial Award, which is given to the Flyer who demonstrates the most ‘heart’ that season.
Hayes is now a cornerstone of the team and with the offseason waters being so murky, the Flyers will likely need his galvanizing style of leadership and aggressive play-style more than ever. The team has already started the process of allowing younger talent to grow into bigger roles this season and Hayes will play a key part in that development in a year where chemistry won’t exactly be easy to come by due to limited practice time and COVID precautions being paramount.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre