Two career revivals are simultaneous in the first season of a rebuild.
Kevin Hayes is healthy. His 40 points (13G, 27A) are on pace to smash his career-best from his combined season with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets in 2018-2019. It’s the first chance Hayes had to play his best hockey since the passing of his brother, Jimmy Hayes. Additionally, his changed role in the Philadelphia Flyers lineup is proving beneficial. All of this together makes a strong case for Hayes to represent at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, and he will.
This selection is the first for Hayes, a wish Jimmy made for Kevin. Seriously, it’s one of the best stories.
“It’s a cool situation for me because, not to get emotional, it’s probably the only thing my brother, since he stopped playing hockey wanted me to accomplish. I never honestly thought it would happen. It did, and it’s cool.”Kevin Hayes; 1/5/2023
Then, there is Travis Konecny. He didn’t receive the nod, despite leading the team in scoring with 48 points (24G, 24A) and identically tying Scott Laughton in special teams goals (5PPG, 3SHG) while leading the team in game-winning tallies. Previously, he did represent the Flyers at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.
Typically, the best player on a team gets the nod to the NHL All-Star game, or at least that makes the most sense. While Hayes will officially represent Philadelphia, it’s not debatable that the best player on the roster got snubbed.
“He’s been honest about that since day one of camp. Doesn’t matter who you are, you got to play the right way. If we weren’t doing the right things tonight; and I know I was out there for two goals, I had some mistakes tonight. It’s his decision.”Travis Konecny; 10/23/2022
Later, in a win against the New Jersey Devils, Hayes would be benched by Tortorella again.
“It was my decision not to play him. I’m not going to get too involved in that.”John Tortorella; 12/15/2022
Both players faced their share of adversity this season. The terminology of ‘playing the right way,’ means a lot of things, generally coach-speak for taking ownership of defensive responsibility if you’re a forward. Additionally, playing north-and-south instead of east-and-west while competing in the dirty areas around the crease, along the boards, and checking are all examples of ‘playing the right way.’
Alain Vigneault challenged Konecny to become a better two-hundred-foot player in 2020-2021. Additionally, Vigneault championed Hayes when he took over in 2019-2020. He had a lasting impact on the ‘play the right way’ initiative. Hayes, in 2019-2020, led the team in shorthanded goals. Konecny improved his play, becoming a ‘rat’ on the ice before his scoring caught back up this season.
Tortorella comes from the same school of thought. Instead of keeping Hayes at C, he moved him to LW while sliding Noah Cates to C. He relieved Hayes from the defensive responsibility, allowing him to unload offensively. The decision was correct, developing a young talent tremendously while propelling a veteran to his first NHL All-Star Game.
At a time this season, it seemed Hayes was in the doghouse, but Tortorella denied that multiple times, which serves correctly:
“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
Naturally, Hayes is an offensive-minded forward. In 2019-2020, he had an anomaly season in the defensive aspects of the game, doubling his career-high in shorthanded goals. Since then, he hasn’t scored another.
Tortorella said the key phrase; ‘play the right way.’ To that, Hayes is along the crease, sniffing for scoring chances while actively training himself to get more north-and-south than east-and-west.
Since the Devils, Hayes tallied eleven points (4G, 7A) in fourteen games, including his first career hat-trick. Between benchings, Hayes notched 21 points (8G, 13A) in 24 games. Before it all, he totaled eight points (7G, 1A) in five games. Hayes has been on a tear all season long.
Unfortunately, on paper and the ice, Konecny would’ve been the correct selection.
Since each team has a representative, it makes sense to include the best player from each team before the fan voting.
“I just think he plays hard. Everything about TK is energy. He’s probably been our most consistent player to this point early on in the season. I think he understands how to practice, I still think we’re a ways away as far as the whole squad understanding how hard you have to practice. He’ll lead by example.”John Tortorella; 11/9/2022
That all passes the eye test and the stat sheet. Konecny is the only additional player, other than Carter Hart and Sam Ersson, that Philadelphia should remove from the block ahead of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline.
Konecny had a second chance to make it: the 2023 NHL All-Star fan vote. Unfortunately, he was not one of the three players selected. His snub is official.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)