What the Hayes saga can tell us about the Flyers’ standards

Nothing can ever be simple in Flyerland.

On a recent episode of his 32 Thoughts podcast, NHL insider (and fellow Western University alum), Elliotte Friedman joined a growing chorus of voices in the hockey world, that are beginning to connect the dots between Kevin Hayes, the Flyers’ leading scorer, and a potential buyout.

Hayes, 30, has seemingly fallen out of favor with Head Coach John Tortorella, and the two have been trading passive-aggressive responses through the media for the larger part of the week after Hayes’ benching against the Rangers on December 17th.

“I don’t want to get into a public debate with Kevin, with you guys, as far as why”, Tortorella said regarding scratching Hayes against his former team.

Hayes, for his part, seemed more willing to speak freely on his thoughts on the matter, and sounded pretty unimpressed with his coach’s decision.

“I’m never going to say there’s a benefit to being benched,” Hayes said. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I should have been benched, but it’s not my decision. He’s the coach. I’m a player.” Hayes seemed quite confused by the benching, and around the league there were a few different media personalities who agreed with him. Perhaps the most vocal of the opponents to Hayes benching was former Flyer Keith Yandle, who asked if it was possible for a coach to be scratched.

Setting aside the irony of Keith Yandle talking about healthy scratches, it definitely is strange to see one of a team’s leading point scorer get scratched in any circumstance, but when your team is objectively terrible, especially on offense, what does leading the team in points really mean?

Somebody has to score at some point, and if you are the number one center, averaging the highest time on ice of your entire career, it stands to reason that the point total will rise. But when you are handed the responsibility of being the number one center, while being a veteran leader, you are held to a higher standard that Hayes has not met that regardless of what his numbers say.

But what the Hayes situation really reveals is an indictment on the entire Flyers franchise: giving jobs to those who have not earned it, and elevating average performances.

A five-year deal at 5.1 million for Rasmus Ristolainen after underperforming for years in Buffalo, four years for a 31-year old Nic Deslauriers, overpaying to bring back James Van Riemsdyk, and lest we forget Ilya Bryzgalov and Andrew MacDonald? This goes beyond this year, and it’s more than just the roster.

You can’t blame the players for taking these deals, they would be foolish not to. But Chuck Fletcher was hired after signing two of the worst contracts in recent memory while general manager in Minnesota, and Ian Laperriere led some of the worst penalty kill units in the NHL, until he was rewarded with the Phantoms head coaching job for being a really nice guy.

The Flyers are chock full of individuals, from the front office, to the bench, to the roster, who have been rewarded time and time again for either failing or underperforming. The Flyers reward people who don’t get results, in a results based industry. Why would anyone change?

Now back to Kevin Hayes; he is legitimately a quality NHL player at his best, that has been proven. When you start to look at the rest of the Flyers’ moves, how they operate, what and who they choose to reward, of course they would give a proven middle-six center 7x7.14 million. In fact, it almost seems prudent by comparison. And honestly, it’s no wonder Hayes is surprised by his benching, he’s done more in his career already than half of the team combined. He looks around and sees a team, a whole organization, that are doing the exact same.

But that isn’t the case in other organizations. On teams like Tampa Bay or Colorado, those massive AAV deals are reserved for the elite. The Flyers don’t have those elite players, and instead of just keeping the cap space and waiting for when they actually acquire players worth the payday, they give it out to whatever decent player wants to sign so they can stay somewhat relevant.

So while in Philadelphia there is a standard that only enables mediocrity, John Tortorella has been consistent in trying to correct it. Travis Konecny was benched in the third period of a 3-0 to loss to San Jose, along with Hayes, Tony DeAngelo has been scratched this season as well, as has Ristolainen.

This is Tortorella’s attempt at raising the organizational standards, and in Konecny’s case, he has responded very well. But when mediocrity becomes the norm, it’s hard to reverse it overnight. And it’s even harder when it extends to the people who gave you the job in the first place.

Now if you excuse me, I have coal to deliver.