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Can Kevin Hayes continue last season’s success?

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In his debut Flyers season, Hayes was able to make a difference. It might be a different story this year.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Philadelphia Flyers signed Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $50-million contract in the summer of 2019, many questions were raised and not a whole lot were answered until we were able to see him actually play on the ice.

It appeared like massive amount of commitment to someone that has just been a decent top-six player on terrible teams for the majority of his career. A contract that is in that weird range of “not elite but he can do the job”, “it’s the cost of free agency”, and “they didn’t give up any assets but cap space,” that you can hear your local bar patrons defend the player when they’re in a scoring slump; Hayes appeared to be well worth it though last season.

At times, it seemed like he was everywhere on the ice and extremely active in the play. Moving around with the ease of a marble on a pane of glass, Hayes was just a joy to watch through the 2019-20 campaign. It might have been a side effect of the Flyers having one of the most meaningful seasons of the last decade, but the Guy From Dorchester was one of the integral parts of last year’s Flyers.

For a little refresher, this is what Hayes was able to do last season in terms of the general stats.

Stats

GP G A PIM SOG SH% ATOI
GP G A PIM SOG SH% ATOI
69 23 18 34 175 13.1 17:44

Uncharacteristically for most players, Hayes was able to score more goals than assists last year — mostly boosted by his four shorthanded tallies — but it might just be a demonstration of who he is as a scorer.

Our friends at MoneyPuck did most of the work for us. Taking into consideration the location, on-ice strength, and the various other factors that I’m just too small-brained to really dive into, they have labeled Hayes as someone that has a shooting talent of 13.8-percent above average. To get some context for the number, the upper tier of players is something like Patrik Laine’s 28.9-percent above average shooting talent. Hayes is just a good shooter and goals can definitely continue to pour out of him from every situation on the ice.

Even when I started thinking about this topic, I wanted to instantly reach a consensus that there is no way that Hayes can keep on doing what he did last year because of some traditionally unsustainable numbers. One easy metric to look at and just lazily come to a conclusion is shooting percentage and Hayes has an unusually high one at 13.1 percent. That made me basically wrap up his entire season with a pretty little bow, with “career year, never happening again” written all over it. But just scrolling a little further back on his career stat sheet, this isn’t just an anomaly percentage; Hayes has a 12.9 shooting percentage for his entire six-year career, already so close to last year’s number.

More interestingly, that percentage certainly has room to grow and his point totals as well. Hayes had an on-ice PDO of 97.7 at 5-on-5 action — basically just adding on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage together — this is the usual ultimate factor when it comes to sustainability. Someone can ride a high-soaring PDO right into the All-Star Game or a giant contract, making their play seem like a weird illusion. But when Hayes was on the ice for the Flyers, it was actually underperformance as his on-ice 5-on-5 shooting percentage was 7.74, the lowest mark of his career. If his teammates around him aren’t getting the goals they should be, then his assist totals could be a little lower than they should.

Speaking of those teammates that are blessed with the opportunity to play with Hayes, we’re getting a little peek into the mind of coach Alain Vigneault during the training camp currently going on this past week. Joel Farabee and Claude Giroux have been listed as the wingers on the second line with Hayes and it seems to be such a good match. Excuse our incessant fanning of ourselves over the camp forward lines, but these three together make even the most casual fan go, “oh, that looks good.”

They barely played on the ice at the same time last year, but the partnership between Hayes and his two new wingers have been well established separate from one another. How mysterious.

When Farabee and Hayes were on the ice together last year they weren’t the prettiest analytical team (47.84 xGF%, 50.67 CF%), but they were still able to outscore their opposition by 15 to 13 at 5-on-5. Whether it was Travis Konecny or Scott Laughton on the opposite side, this combination seemed to work favorably for the Flyers and adding the captain to the mix should only enhance that.

Although the Giroux-Hayes partnership last year wasn’t able to exist for far too long — only 112:40 TOI recorded together — they were basically the opposite of the one with Farabee. They weren’t able to get a single goal during that timespan and was scored on six times by the opposition. But their numbers look decent (54.55 xGF%, 52.91 CF%) so that can swing in the other direction with all three of them together. Now we just have to hope that Vigneault keeps this dream lineup through the next few weeks.

Of course going over the play like this is a vast oversimplification of whatever goes on through an entire season of hockey — his teammates could have just been shooting from low-danger areas for example and chemistry is fluid — but it is something you can point to in an argument with your dumb friends that are fans of other hockey teams.

Hayes might experience one of those unsustainable seasons in the other direction this year, some career-low percentages keeping the puck out of the net, but everything else is saying that this can be at least a similar season production-wise from the 28-year-old. I have definitely convinced myself that he will score at least 30 goals and will have an endless number of assists.