Flyers' Kevin Hayes will 'never forget' Oskar Lindblom's return

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Jordan Hall
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Hayes hard on himself in 'average year,' but will 'never forget' Lindblom moment originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Kevin Hayes should not be judged purely by his offensive production. The Flyers did not sign Hayes to a seven-year, $50 million contract for him to solely be a stat-sheet stuffer.

That's not his game.

When the Flyers went after Hayes in June 2019, they liked his offensive abilities and upside, but they believed his 200-foot makeup would change them down the middle. They envisioned Hayes making them difficult to play against and score against.

And he did last season.

But the Flyers have been a drastically different team this season. Oftentimes, the opposition has scored on them at will. The proof is in the numbers as the Flyers have allowed the NHL's second-most goals per game at 3.51 and are all but eliminated from the playoff race.

"As a team, I think we just need to stick to the system more and kind of buy into what our roles are," Hayes said Wednesday. "It's been cliche, we've been saying it all year, but be consistent and play a full 60 every night. Not doing that night in and night out has kind of bit us in the ass here a couple of times, and it's something that needs to change."

Hayes, a 28-year-old and one of the Flyers' lighthearted leaders, was the first to admit he hasn't been pleased with his 2020-21 season. He knows he has been one of the multitude of culprits in the team's surprising and staggering goal-prevention issue. Not many Flyers have had the season they would have liked. After all, the team is 18th in the league with a .522 point percentage and owns a minus-34 goal differential a year after finishing as a top-six club (.645) and having a plus-36 goal differential.

"As professional athletes, we always kind of look ourselves in the mirror and kind of have an inner conversation with how we think we're doing," Hayes said. "I would say I've had an average year. I want to help the team every single night and I feel like I haven't done that as much this year. That's something I need to work on and keep working on."

The 6-foot-5 center is actually off to a similar — if not better — start offensively this season. In 45 games, Hayes has 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists), 108 shots and a minus-4 rating. Through 45 games last season, Hayes had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists), 111 shots and a minus-10 rating.

However, the Flyers are surrendering an alarming number of goals and their penalty kill has dropped to 30th in the league. Those are two areas in which Hayes is known for being a major contributor, reasons why the Flyers went out and got him.

"I would say Kevin had a good start, but the last little while, it's been a little bit more challenging," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "He is at his best when he's committed to playing the right way, that 200-foot game. A lot of his offense comes from him being in the right spot defensively, a good stick, good positioning on the right side of the check, then he turns and then he can counter whether it be off the rush or in the other team's end. When he starts to get away from that, his game slips. He's gotten a little bit away from it. We've got 11 games here and I expect him to be a force, he's a veteran player on our team, he's at the prime of his career age-wise and we need him to play well."

Hayes had a successful Year 1 and this is only Year 2. He and the Flyers will continue to push forward through a difficult 2020-21 season, which has been marred by the club falling well short of expectations, enduring a COVID-19 shutdown and the ripple effects of it, and dealing with league-wide adjustments like a crammed schedule through a pandemic.

A storyline that continues to give Hayes a much-needed smile is the return of Oskar Lindblom. The 24-year-old winger has played 39 games this season after battling and beating Ewing's sarcoma last year. Last Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers donned their purple and black warmup jerseys for cancer awareness. The entire team wore Lindblom's No. 23 jersey to salute his courageous fight and victory.

The moment left a mark on Hayes in a trying season.

"That was amazing," Hayes said. "Osky, he's battled through a lot. The whole topic of cancer, it's a brutal topic, it's a horrible disease in our world. Everyone has been affected by it in some way. To see how far Oskar has come — from seeing him last year when he was sick to now, it's truly amazing.

"Winning games is great, losing games sucks, having good seasons, having bad seasons, playing the right minutes, not playing the right minutes — stuff you think are problems in our world and in our personal lives is nothing when you realize you get to the rink and you see a bunch of purple jerseys with Lindblom and No. 23 on the back. It makes you realize that people's problems are a lot worse than yours. You don't want to be selfish and kind of dwell on your own problems, there's some serious stuff going on out there in the world today and cancer is one of the worst things. I've been affected by it with my parents.

"Just being able to wear his jersey in warmups, with him on the ice, knowing how far he has come — I'm sure it was an incredible moment for him because it was an incredible moment for us. It's something that I'll never forget and something I'm happy that I experienced. It was awesome to share that moment with him."

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