Flyers

The 2 ways that Kevin Hayes can take Flyers to another level

The 2 ways that Kevin Hayes can take Flyers to another level

The Flyers' interest level in Kevin Hayes was especially evident by what the club did to secure his services. The Flyers traded for Hayes' rights, brought him in to tour the team's facilities and meet the staff, and offered him a seven-year, $50 million contract all over the span of 17 days.

"For me and for our group," general manager Chuck Fletcher said June 19, "he checks a lot of boxes we were looking for."

The Flyers like his 6-foot-5, 216-pound frame, his tough-to-play-against ability down the middle, and his prime years ahead at the age of 27.

There are two things Hayes does particularly well that the Flyers have not over the past five seasons: kill penalties and score at even strength.

Since 2014-15, the Flyers' penalty-kill percentage is 78.4. Only one NHL team sports a worst mark during that stretch: the Oilers at 78.0.

Since 2016-17, Hayes was second on the Rangers in shorthanded ice time. Over that period, he has won just three fewer penalty-kill faceoffs than Sean Couturier and owns the fifth-most shorthanded points (12) among all NHL players, behind only Brad Marchand (16), Michael Grabner (15), Patrice Bergeron (13) and Viktor Arvidsson (13). Hayes has six shorthanded goals in his five-year career, while no current Flyer has more than two since 2014-15.

"We feel we are acquiring a quality offensive contributor, but he is also a player that has excelled on the penalty kill," Fletcher said. "He has a quality 200-foot game, he has a good stick defensively and he reads the play well."

Couturier has done yeoman's work on the Flyers' PK and the unit has still struggled. Throw Hayes into the picture and the Flyers now have another penalty-killer the caliber of Couturier.

"If you look at our club last year, we were just thin at times," Fletcher said. "We've asked a lot out of Sean Couturier the last couple years. I think with adding Kevin and the continued maturation of Nolan Patrick, we should have many more options for our coaching staff and our team to get better matchups."

On the topic of matchups, the Flyers have scored 1.75 goals per game at 5-on-5 since 2014-15, the seventh fewest in the NHL. Over that time, the Flyers' 5-on-5 goal differential is minus-36. Oftentimes (not as much last season), the Flyers have been too reliant on the power play and not nearly consistent enough at 5-on-5, in both ends of the ice.

Hayes can help. He has done a lot of his damage at even strength with 72 such goals, more than guys like Adam Henrique (71 — $5.825 million AAV), Evgeny Kuznetsov (70 — $7.8 million AAV) and Ryan O'Reilly (67 — $7.5 million AAV) since 2014-15. Hayes' 179 even-strength points are more than guys like Nazem Kadri (173), Tomas Hertl (172), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (172) and Anders Lee (170) over the past five seasons.

"In the past, I've been on both power play and penalty kill," Hayes said when he signed with the Flyers. "If that's going to help the team win, obviously I would love to do it. I want to help the team as much as I can. Whatever they need me to do is what I will be doing."

The Flyers will need Hayes to do a lot. After all, they did a lot to get him because of that.

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Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers made a hefty round of cuts a little earlier than anticipated.

They changed their preseason plan Friday morning as head coach Alain Vigneault and the front office decided this was the best course of action in preparation for the Oct. 4 season opener (see story).

The Flyers trimmed the roster by 18 players.

Tyler Wotherspoon, Nate Prosser, T.J. Brennan, Kyle Criscuolo and Reece Willcox will be placed on waivers Saturday. If they clear, they'll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Felix Sandstrom, Cal O'Reilly, Greg Carey, Maksim Sushko, Kirill Ustimenko, Gerry Fitzgerald, David Drake, David Kase, Pascal Laberge, Isaac Ratcliffe, Matthew Strome, Rob Michel and Josh Couturier were assigned to Lehigh Valley.

None of the cuts are surprising. Sushko performed well in camp and is entering his first season with the Phantoms. Ratcliffe had an outside shot at winning a roster spot with the Flyers but it became clear throughout camp and the preseason that the 6-foot-6 winger needed development in the AHL. Felix Sandstrom is a promising goalie prospect. David Kase and Pascal Laberge will be forwards to watch, as well.

O'Reilly, 32, was a point-per-game player last season in the AHL and will be one of Lehigh Valley's best players, along with Greg Carey.

The competition for the Flyers' bottom six and defensive pairings heats up Saturday with the team's fourth preseason game out of seven. Nobody has knocked the door down (see story).

The Flyers' roster is at 36 players.

Forwards

Andy Andreoff
Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman
Sean Couturier
Joel Farabee
Morgan Frost
Kurtis Gabriel (injured)
Claude Giroux
Kevin Hayes
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Oskar Lindblom
Nolan Patrick (injured)
Tyler Pitlick (injured)
Michael Raffl
German Rubtsov
Chris Stewart
Carsen Twarynski
James van Riemsdyk
Jakub Voracek
Mikhail Vorobyev

Defense

Chris Bigras
Justin Braun
Mark Friedman
Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg
Samuel Morin
Philippe Myers
Matt Niskanen
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
Andy Welinski (injured)

Goalies

Jean-Francois Berube
Brian Elliott
Carter Hart
Alex Lyon

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Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault knows how to massage a message. He coached in Montreal, Vancouver and New York; this is not his first rodeo.

When he spoke Friday about suddenly changing the Flyers' preseason plan to ramp up the preparation and concepts for the veteran players, he chose his words wisely.

But make no mistake: Vigneault can't be thrilled with the progress.

"It has nothing to do with the outcomes, it has everything to do with the process," the Flyers' head coach said. "For me, the process needs to accelerate at this time — and that's what I intend to do."

The Flyers were ready to play a mixed group of NHLers — about nine players that would likely make the team — and prospects to compete in Saturday's exhibition game against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, following a lackluster 3-1 preseason loss to the Bruins' B-squad Thursday, Vigneault met with general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr Friday morning about adjusting the approach. With four exhibition games remaining, the Flyers will expedite cuts to focus on whittling down the roster and increasing the reps for the main players ahead of the season opener.

"Between the 25 and the 30 players that I feel right now have the best chance of maybe making this team," Vigneault said. "Instead of waiting until Monday, Tuesday's practice, we're going to be at that number [Saturday]."

Is it a startling change? If anything, it's proactive. The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons and haven't won a series since 2012. They've notoriously started slow in recent history. Last season, the team was in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight year.

It cost people jobs and, ultimately, it's why Vigneault is in place.

After looking at the last couple of days, I feel that this is a different situation than I've been used to in the past. I've been used to coming to camp in the past and my teams have been in the playoffs. Usually I give the veteran players three of the six or seven games that we play. I feel at this time, our veteran players need more games that I originally planned. I'm going from the three that I planned to four and some might even get five out of the seven. 

I'm going on the amount of teaching that we're doing, there's a lot there, there's a lot to be assimilated by the players. I'm going by what I'm seeing about the players' performance, how they're executing, and I just feel at this time we need to make a change and that's what we're doing.

- Vigneault

In 16 NHL seasons as a head coach, Vigneault has 11 playoff berths. Eight of those teams advanced past the first round, three won the Presidents' Trophy and two went to the Stanley Cup Final. He has impressive results in Year 1 on the job (see story).

"When you're in the playoffs and you go for a round, two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, that's intense hockey, that's a longer season," Vigneault said. "This group has been off for a while and, in my mind, it just needs a little bit more preparation. There's nothing better than game situation, where games are on the line.

"With a new staff coming in and everything that we need to touch on, I need to get these guys into more games. So what we've decided to do is just accelerate the process."

Does Vigneault's track record allow him to make this change and have it stick with the players?

"They don't have a choice," Vigneault said. "That's just the way it is."

Oct. 4 is nearing and a new system from a new staff is expected to spearhead a jump back into contention for the Flyers.

"Once you get down to one group, the internal competition gets a little bit better also," Vigneault said. "That's what we need to do here, we need to get down to one group to have everybody in the same room, at the same time, and make sure that they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to apply. 

"I'm very confident that this will be better for the group."

How the Flyers start the season will provide the true answer.

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