As we all know, despite the trade the Flyers made with the Winnipeg Jets to acquire his negotiating rights, the Flyers essentially signed Kevin Hayes to a free agent deal, and when you negotiate in free agency, you often pay quite the premium for talent.
Hence when the deal was announced, many viewed it as an overpay, and at the time I completely understood where they were coming from. $7.14 million a season for a 2C seems like a lot when Claude Giroux is only making around one million more annually. Therefore, I wanted to officially review Hayes’ 46 games with the Flyers so far, and find out how Hayes has stacked up. Has he made good return on the Flyers’ investment, or has he come up short of expectations? Let’s find out:
To start, let’s profile what we expected from Hayes in the first place.
Hayes was signed to be the Flyers’ missing piece at 2C, allowing Nolan Patrick to slide down to the third line and therefore alleviating pressure from the 21 year old. Unfortunately, due to Patrick’s illness, that center depth the Flyers were eyeing hasn’t fully matured as of yet, however, Hayes has still fulfilled the role in which he was signed to do.
Interestingly, at some points in the season, Hayes has even been asked to step up to a bigger role. As of late, as we saw against the Boston Bruins on Monday, Alain Vigneault has put Hayes on the top line, alongside Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny. That was certainly a bold move, and one we saw before at the beginning of the season when Hayes and Giroux played together while the Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line was taking the world by storm. Yet, despite some tendencies for Hayes to take top billing in the middle, I’ll be evaluating his performance for 2C standards, mainly because this is the role that Hayes has been brought in to fulfill.
To that end, by purely a points perspective, Hayes has done the job so far, yet has not really gone above expectation. In fact, in some aspects, he’s only just marginally passing. Through 46 games, Hayes has scored 14 goals, and in total, has amassed 26 points. That’s on pace, in an 82 game season, for 46.35 points, which roughly fits the output he has produced from previous seasons and which fits the Pension Plan Puppets model for a slightly below average second line center. However, when considering his three most common linemates in the first half of the season were Carsen Twarynski, Joel Farabee, and Scott Laughton, I would say Hayes more so has fit the bill of a good to great 2C.
As we know, his single season high came in 2018-19, when in 71 games he scored 55 points playing for both the Rangers and the Jets, and at this point, it may be unfair to expect a greater output than this for this current season. Additionally, as for isolated 5-on-5 scoring, he is set to match a career low. Hayes is on pace for 26.74 5-on-5 points, which would tie his worst output (from the 2016-17 season).
So does this mean Hayes is playing worse than his average? Well, purely from the previous angle, he would be viewed as only just marginally matching his expected output overall. However, underlying metrics would tell you that he’s been surely meeting expectations, yet that he has been either unlucky or streaky.
Throughout his career, Hayes has been a good two way center, but has displayed an under-average Corsi-for profile for his reputation. Combining all of his professional years, his previous season average was 47.98 CF%, which is...not very great. He’s had times when he positively drove play, such as the 51 games for the Rangers last season before his trade to Winnipeg, however, they’d come more rarely than frequently.
This year, to the delight of Flyers fans, Hayes has solidly remained break even to slightly positive Corsi-wise throughout the year. Currently, he sits at 50.05%, which is just about as break even as you can get. To me, he’s been better than just break even, and one can point the finger to the Flyers’ previous road trip as to why Hayes’ profile reads as such. He’s driven play fairly well, and from an eye test perspective, has been all over the ice breaking up plays (but more on that later).
The reason I said he’s either been streaky or unlucky is due to his poor results from expected goals. Compared to his actual value in Goals For (23.00), Hayes’ Expected Goals for only reads a few percentage points higher at 23.29. However, it’s his Goals against that his hurting him.
Compare his actual output in this regard at 37.00 to the expected value of 23.71 xGA. This is why Hayes’ xG% reads so differently from his actual output (38.33 GF% vs 49.56 xG%). There’s clearly an anomaly, and I would think twice about claiming it’s truly due to Hayes’ being poor defensively, only because this differs so greatly from what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Hayes’ ability to break up plays in all three zones has been immense for the Flyers this year, and has been key to the success of Alain Vigneault’s heavy forechecking system when it functions properly. As Bill Matz wrote in a previous article on Hayes,
“But his hockey sense and defensive play have also stood out early in his Philadelphia tenure, and that strong defensive play has created offensive opportunities for Hayes and his linemates. In all even strength situations, Hayes has been on the ice for 8.69 expected goals for (leads all Philly forwards), controlling 58.65% of the expected goals“
Note that this was written in October, but still, the value of Hayes’ defensive work hasn’t simply vanished. This is especially true on the penalty kill, where Hayes’ ability to frustrate power play set ups, stick check effectively, and even score on shorthanded breaks, has led to an actually decent Flyers’ penalty kill for the first time in forever!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, while Hayes’ point production has truly only been average towards what we expect, he has been quite clinical with those chances presented to him, or as we like to say, “clutch”. Hayes’ High Danger Corsi-for percentage has been hovering around some of the best years of his career. So far, he sits at 54.74 HDCF%, and the only time he has bettered that number was once, in his partial season with the Rangers in 2018-19. When he’s around the net, either with a teammate or alone, Hayes usually makes quick work of the opposition, which is very much backed up by what I’ve seen. Hayes has scored some big goals for the Flyers so far.
So, overall, what do I think of Hayes? Well, he’s come in to a club expecting him to perform well as their 2C and he has done just that. In some aspects he has risen above expectation, and in some aspects, he hasn’t. However, where one is either overly anxious on Hayes or where one believes him to be precocious lies in that number value on Hayes’ paycheck. Personally, I think he’s certainly warranted enough to merit the figure, and my opinion on this matter will only be more cemented if Hayes continues to drive play and kill penalties. The points may never come at the clip of a solidified superstar, but Hayes brings more to the table than that, and only judging him by point output ignores a whole other side to his story.