Sean Couturier

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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Old acquaintances, new acquaintances and Flyers flavor as Alain Vigneault gets head start

Old acquaintances, new acquaintances and Flyers flavor as Alain Vigneault gets head start

These are chaotic times for Alain Vigneault.

Exciting, of course, but chaotic — much different than last April and throughout the 2018-19 season when he was without a job.

"After a year off and figuring out I'll never be the golfer that I thought I would be, it's time for me to get back to work," he said Thursday with a smile.

Back into the workforce in full force.

Not only does Vigneault have a new job, he's got two of them … starting at once.

He was introduced as the Flyers' new head coach Thursday. He is also the bench boss for Team Canada in the 2019 IIHF World Championship from May 10-26.

As busy as it is, coaching in the worlds will give Vigneault a head start on getting to know two of his most important players with the Flyers: Sean Couturier and Carter Hart.

Team Canada will also provide a unique situation with plenty of Flyers ties.

The tournament will serve as a job interview of sorts for Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh. The statuses of the team's assistant coaches Dillabaugh, Kris Knoblauch (power play), Ian Laperriere (penalty kill) and Rick Wilson (defensemen) appear nebulous with a new head coach in town.

Because of his time with Hart, Dillabaugh will join Team Canada.

"Right now, we have a solid, young goaltender that all I've heard about were positive things," Vigneault said of Hart and the Flyers' situation in net. "We're going to be able to work with him at the world championships. We decided [Wednesday], with Hockey Canada, to also bring a goalie coach — we're going to bring the Flyers' goalie coach to the world championships. He's worked with Hart and he's had real good progression with him."

On Thursday, near the top of Vigneault's to-do-list was to discuss the Flyers' staff with general manager Chuck Fletcher and meet the current assistant coaches. Fletcher said: "We're going to talk a little bit more today and a little bit over the next week or two. I don't think it's going to be a rush to hire or a rush to judgment here."

Couturier will be playing for his new coach and his old coach Dave Hakstol, who is on Team Canada's staff. Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is also a part of Team Canada's management group.

Don't expect Vigneault to seek out advice from Hakstol regarding the Flyers. That would be a tad bit awkward.

"I'm going to lean on him for the tournament but I'm not going to ask Dave or Ron Hextall anything about players with the Flyers," Vigneault said. "I've said to Chuck that I want to come here with everybody fresh, clean, no preconceived notion. Players are going to come and they're going to show me what they can do. 

"Those would be two great sources for me to ask, but I'd rather trust my eyes, talk to the guys, get to know them and get a personal feel for who they are, what they can do and what they can bring."

Players like Couturier, Hart and Claude Giroux shouldn't have a problem showing what they bring to the table. They're three of the Flyers' surest bets right now.

Giroux chatted with Vigneault on Thursday at Flyers Skate Zone.

"Everything I've heard about him is this passion to win," Vigneault said of the Flyers' captain.

As for Giroux on his new coach: "Very excited," he said via text message to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marc Farzetta. "Heard a lot of great things."

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It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

It's not just a quick roster fix, it's a mentality overhaul with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Claude Giroux didn’t just go from a 102-point season to forgetting some of the most basic elements of fundamental hockey.

In the span of nine months, Sean Couturier didn’t go from a Selke finalist to rediscovering what makes a sound, solid two-way hockey player. 

But you would think after listening to general manager Chuck Fletcher’s press conference Monday that some of the most basic principles of playing hockey at the highest level were being taught for the first time under Scott Gordon.

Sure, Jakub Voracek coughs up the puck too easily at times, Giroux may be coasting on a backcheck or Couturier attempts an errant pass, but these are occasional lapses — not systematic, careless mistakes that take place on a nightly basis.

The Flyers' underlying problems go way deeper than this, starting with the younger players on the team.

“I think everybody understands theories. It’s in the heat of the moment, what are you going to do?” Fletcher said. “I’m not trying to overplay this, but it’s habits. It’s building habits in practice because you revert to what you know in stressful situations. It’s more the mindset, it’s habits. We make the game difficult at times.”

The most revealing part of two days and several hours of quotes from the players, staff and front office personnel is that the Flyers, a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four of the past seven years, have developed bad habits, some really bad habits, that require a complete detoxing.

You almost wish the Flyers could start their rehabilitation with training camp on the Monday after Labor Day weekend.

“It starts with me, then it goes to the coaches, then to the leaders and the players,” Fletcher said. “It’s not just mindset, it’s actual details. It’s doing things the right way repeatedly. That’s how you gain confidence and that’s how you learn to play the right way.”

It’s the realization that while former GM Ron Hextall appeared to be more concerned over the intake of inflammatory foods in their postgame meals or who resided in the players' lounge after games, the nuts and bolts of what really mattered was being neglected under the previous regime.  

“It’s not just systems. It's puck management, game management, being in the right spot, holding onto the puck offensively, making more plays offensively, retrieving pucks and winning battles,” Fletcher said. “There’s a whole host of things that go into it. We have some bad habits right now, flying into the zone before we have possession of the puck, not getting in shooting lanes, not keeping the third guy high, turning pucks over in the neutral zone when there’s no time and space to make a play, and just recognizing things.

“It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits.”

Fletcher just rattled off a laundry list of items that make it sound like the equivalent of teaching the golf swing to a 7-year-old picking up a club for the first time. It sounds alarming, and perhaps it should. Even Nolan Patrick mentioned he was exposed to parts of his game for the first time in his career.

“[Gordon] showed me things not many coaches have showed me,” Patrick said. "He helped me a lot with video and stuff I haven’t been shown in a while. Even things on the offensive side of things. It was pretty impressive to see the stuff he was showing me. He’s a smart mind."

The leadership group has to step up 

But it can’t just be on Gordon to do the preaching or whoever the Flyers eventually tab as the next head coach. 

There’s only so many times a coach can get in the ear of a younger player and repeatedly relay the same message. That’s why coaches are “tuned out” when the leadership group doesn’t reinforce the message with players who are developing bad habits or there’s a refusal of buying into a coach’s philosophy of playing the right way.

“I think it’s a question of consistency and doing the little details. We have some young players that are still learning,” Couturier said. “They’re great and they’re skilled. We’re going to have to be more consistent in doing those little things on a nightly basis. It starts from the leadership group as well. We need to be better consistently and everyone has to be pushing in the right direction.”

In doing so, it sometimes requires difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

And if the Flyers' current leadership group doesn’t feel as if it can carry out this responsibility, then it’s up to management to find those who can.

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