In June, Twitter went atwitter when the Flyers signed center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million contract that carries an annual $7.14 million salary-cap hit.
The PG version of the comments: General manager Chuck Fletcher grossly overpaid for a player who had scored 20 goals just once in his five-year career.
Eight-plus months later, the tune has changed. Dramatically.
The gist of recent comments: “I didn’t realize Hayes was this good and such a great leader.”
In short, Hayes has become one of the Flyers’ most popular players among fans and his teammates.
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It turns out Fletcher knew center Nolan Patrick was having migraine issues when he signed Hayes in mid-June. Fletcher had no idea Patrick would miss time — he has not played this season — but he knew it could become an issue.
That made signing Hayes a priority, and he not only has become one of the Flyers’ top players, but he has livened up the locker room with his colorful, outgoing personality.
For some examples, check out the videos of Hayes, his Boston accent prevalent, greeting his teammates with nicknames and wisecracking comments as they walk through the tunnel after warmups. Or Hayes playing “Flyers reporter” as he interviews teammates and gets their Super Bowl picks. Or Hayes playfully busting on coach Alain Vigneault as the team warms up while Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” blares through the Wells Fargo Center speakers. “Why is AV’s iPod on?” he asks teammates before realizing it’s ‘80s Night at the arena.
Meanwhile, his play on the ice has not been a laughing matter. Hayes has 21 goals — the second-highest total in his career and four shy of equaling his personal best — and his play on the penalty kill has helped that unit improve immensely. The Flyers’ PK was 26th in the league last year (78.5 percent success rate), and it entered Wednesday ranked No. 9 at 81.9 percent this season. Hayes has four shorthanded goals, tied for tops in the NHL.
In addition, the 6-foot-5, 216-pound Hayes is a good playmaker who makes his linemates better because of his passing and his great hands and an ability to finish plays. He is currently centering Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.
“I think all three of our guys complement one another,” said Hayes, who will face his former New York Rangers teammates Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. “TK, he’s an electric player. He’s easy to play with. Laughts brings a lot of grit and hard work to that line. Causes [opponents] a lot of commotion. I try to look for those two guys.”
The line combined for three goals and eight points in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over San Jose.
Laughton played as a left winger on Hayes’ line for 21 games earlier in the season, but then was shifted to center on the third line. He went back to Hayes’ unit Tuesday and contributed a pair of assists.
Laughton said he and Hayes, 27, developed a chemistry while working together on the penalty kill.
“We built it from there,” he said. “He’s an easy guy to play with. He holds onto pucks and makes plays and you just have to drive to the net and figure out where to go with him. We’re just trying to continue to build on that chemistry so these last 18, 19 games are smooth sailing.”
Here are links to some stories with a Flyers flavor:
Flyers goalie Carter Hart, who is expected to face the visiting Rangers on Friday, has been almost flawless at the Wells Fargo Center this season. compiling a 17-2-2 record, along with a 1.65 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Here are some other notable home performances by Flyers goalies, including an astounding 1975-76 season by Wayne Stephenson:.
1975-76: 30-2-2, 2.01 GAA, .925 save percentage
Rick St. Croix
1982-83: 13-1-0, 2.08 GAA, .908 save percentage
1985-86: 19-1-1, 2.02 GAA, .914 save percentage
1999-00: 13-3-2, 2.01 GAA, .916 save percentage
2009-10: 8-1-0, 2.30 GAA, .922 save percentage
Friday: vs. N.Y. Rangers, 7 p.m. (NBCSP). The first of back-to-back games against the surging Rangers, who are trying to sneak into the playoffs. It won’t be easy because sizzling rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin is sidelined by a broken rib from a recent car accident.
Sunday: at N.Y. Rangers, 12 p.m. (NBC). Hayes, a former Ranger, and Travis Sanheim each had two goals against the Blueshirts in the Flyers’ 5-1 home win on Dec. 23.
Wednesday: at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBCSN). Sean Couturier had two goals and rookie Nic Aube-Kubel had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight) when the Flyers whipped Washington, 7-2, on Feb. 8. Think the Caps have revenge on their collective minds?
Thursday, March 5: vs. Carolina, 7 p.m. (NBCSP). The Hurricanes need better goaltending. I hear David Ayres is available.
Saturday, March 7: vs. Buffalo, 7 p.m. (NBCSP). Wayne Simmonds will be in the house, trying to derail his former teammates.
Question: Does any team have a better home-ice record than the Flyers this season? — @kevinketch3 via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Kevin. The Flyers’ 22-5-4 home record gave them the best points percentage in the NHL entering Wednesday. This is the Flyers’ best home record at this point of the season since 1986-87.
Ten Flyers teams have had at least 22 home wins at this juncture, and six of them went to the Stanley Cup Finals, according to the team’s public-relations department.