Winning teams reflect balance in their lineup.
The Philadelphia Flyers are lightyears away from consistent, winning hockey. No one needs to say the buzzword; this team is rebuilding. Evident by actions, the intentions are clear if you’ve paid attention.
“This team needs to be built from the footers. We’re not even in the foundation, we’re at the footer.”John Tortorella; 12/1/2022
That sentiment at the beginning of the month matches perfectly with the notion set by John Tortorella in a hand-written statement he provided the Flyers fanbase. In a letter forwarded to season-ticket holders, Tortorella was transparent about an honest effort from his players. Without the effort he knows his skaters possess, then ice time shrinks. To his point, Tortorella sent messages well received by players throughout his lineup.
He’s challenged the defense. He’s challenged his forwards. Rasmus Ristolainen, a defenseman lacking positioning, has taken noticeable strides in the defensive zone, especially when he occupies shooting lanes. Travis Konecny, benched in the sixth game of the season, is scoring at a point-per-game pace. There are others (Sanheim, Frost, N. Cates, York, Farabee, etc.) challenged openly by Tortorella, but one remains a project.
Unfortunately, it’s the highest-paid forward in the lineup. Kevin Hayes leads the team in scoring and benching.
“Everybody thinks Kevin’s in the doghouse. Kevin isn’t in the doghouse. Kevin needs to learn to play the right way, and I think he’s trying to do that.”John Tortorella; 11/29/2022
Benched in the third period twice (vs. San Jose and at New Jersey), Hayes became a healthy scratch ahead of the weekend tilt versus the New York Rangers.
It was a divisive decision made by Tortorella. Hayes does lead Philadelphia in points on a 29th-ranked offense. Why did Tortorella bench his top scorer?
Hayes vs. Sharks
Tortorella wasn’t pleased with the effort, cutting Hayes’ ice time:
“I’m just going to keep that in the room.”John Tortorella; 10/23/2022
He felt that about Hayes against a team who was, at the time, the worst in the NHL. Turnovers were prevalent versus the San Jose Sharks in a 3-0 shutout loss. The Flyers weren’t winning the second half of back-to-backs, leading to this analysis from Tortorella:
“Our whole performance sucked.”John Tortorella; 10/23/2022
Hayes took one shot from the neutral zone. Other events include a giveaway on the powerplay and a hit taken from Kevin Lebanc. Erik Karlsson scored two minutes after the giveaway, and Steve Lorentz scored two minutes after the hit. Those events against Hayes resulted in clear momentum in favor of San Jose.
Hayes at Devils
When asked about his decision to bench Hayes against the New Jersey Devils, Tortorella presented a similar tone:
“It was my decision not to play him. I’m not going to get too involved in that.”John Tortorella; 12/15/2022
Usually, it is what Tortorella doesn’t say that speaks loudest in post-game interviews. This time, his high praise of Noah Cates made waves.
“Right now, he is that guy. He was our best player in the first period where we really had a lot of players nowhere to be found. I’m not saying they were lazy; we were just in the fog a little bit. They’ve lost two or three, and they came out hard. I thought Catesy was the one that settled us down and tried to lead the way.”John Tortorella; 12/15/2022
Cates is that guy, per Tortorella. Replacing Hayes at C, Cates is the one making the splash to positively impact Philadelphia. Cates is a former fifth-round pick in 2017. You don’t need to read the tea leaves too deeply to see that Tortorella believes the young prospect is outworking the former first-round pick in the ways Tortorella challenged Hayes.
Knowing what he wants his build to be, Tortorella didn’t feel that Hayes was playing to the standard he presented the Flyers. Hayes isn’t a defensive forward, despite the numbers he put up on the penalty kill in his first season in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, that is exactly the issue. A points leader who lacks defensive responsibility isn’t playing the game the right way. It’s about the big picture, finding what sticks:
“I can’t keep looking by things because we’re worried about scoring. I gotta’ look at the big picture of what this team is going to be, what the standard is of how we have to play. So that far outweighs losing some offense in a particular game.”John Tortorella; 12/17/2022
Hayes pushed back, and that’s respectable. Unfortunately, what was made clear by Tortorella, surrounding the defensive effort from Hayes, didn’t seem to register:
“I’m never gonna’ say there’s a benefit to being benched. I’m sorry. I don’t think I should have been benched, but it’s not my decision. He’s a coach. I’m a player. He makes the lineup, he wants the best team on the ice to ultimately win, and that’s what he went with.”Kevin Hayes; 12/19/2022
At practice today, Hayes went back onto the first powerplay unit.
Not All Bad
Without the context from Tortorella in plain sight, it’s easy to understand why benching Hayes is startling. Offensively, he’s trail-blazing the best start of his NHL career.
Tortorella wants the complete package. He wants Hayes to keep his style of offense and eliminate the bad habits. No one is more frustrated than Hayes at the sloppy finish to the second period in New Jersey.
Entering the lineup tomorrow, Hayes can take out his frustrations on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)