Any plans the Flyers might have fancied about a fast start to their season just took a big hit on Tuesday.
The team announced Kevin Hayes, considered the No. 2 center behind Sean Couturier, will miss six to eight weeks of action after undergoing abdominal surgery.
Hayes wasn’t the only casualty either. Defenseman Sam Morin also had surgery on Sept. 10 on his right knee and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. In addition, it was disclosed rookie right wing Wade Allison suffered a high sprain to his right ankle in Sunday night’s rookie game against the New York Rangers and will be out indefinitely.
The injury to Hayes creates a big hole in the Flyers’ lineup. During a scheduled Tuesday media Zoom call with head coach Alain Vigneault, there were plenty of questions about a possible replacement.
Vigneault acknowledged rookie Morgan Frost (who has played 22 NHL games), as well as newcomers Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson (returning after a tenure in Winnipeg), could factor in the equation.
But any way you look at it, the Flyers will feel the loss of Hayes and that could be frustrating, considering they hoped to get things turned around in a hurry after missing the playoffs last season.
“My understanding is Kevin was skating yesterday with his teammates and he felt something in his groin,’’ Vigneault said. “He had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), got operated on. He’ll be out for awhile, it’s an opportunity for some other players to step up and that ice time that’s available right now.’’
The 29-year-old Hayes was about to start his third season with the Flyers after signing a seven-year, $50-million contract in 2019. He posted 23 goals/41 points his first season with the team and in last season’s pandemic-shortened campaign (55 games) totaled 12-19-31.
Frost is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery but looked fine in the just completed rookie camp.
“Unfortunately, young players in the last year and a half have not played a lot of hockey (due, in part, to the pandemic),’’ Vigneault said. “In Morgan’s case, he missed the whole year. In rookie camp, I liked what I saw. He’s one of the young players who is going to get an opportunity here. He’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do on the ice. There’s no doubt this is a great opportunity for him or some of the young players we have to step up.’’
It should be noted Hayes underwent hernia surgery back in early June but Vigneault could not confirm the two injuries are related.
“Doctors told (us) the surgery went well,’’ Vigneault said. “Injuries are part of the game. You have to expect them. That’s why you need depth. This year, with the Olympic schedule, it’s going to be challenging. You’re going to need depth.’’
It’s been a difficult offseason for Hayes. His brother, Jimmy (a former NHL player) died tragically at just 31 years of age. Now his season start is delayed by another injury.
>Coach senses high energy level
The Hayes news aside, Vigneault senses a high level of energy at the Flyers Training Center so far, a welcome state of affairs considering last season’s lackluster finish.
“You sense the energy level, the optimism,’’ he said. “The organization had a wish list (of possible acquisitions) and (GM) Chuck (Fletcher) got the job done. Now it’s up to my staff and players, we have something to prove.’’
>Why changes were necessary
Vigneault explained why some offseason changes had to be made. Gone: Jake Voracek, Phil Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Nolan Patrick. Here: Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, Cam Atkinson, Brassard, Thompson. Yandle and Brassard played for Vigneault back in their New York Ranger days.
“We (Fletcher and Vigneault) agreed some changes needed to be made,’’ Vigneault said. “Players that left were great people. They did what they could but we felt there were some changes that needed to be made to change the team dynamic.’’
>Outlook on Hart
The Flyers signed goaltender Carter Hart to a new three-year, $11.9-million contract during the offseason. Now he’s going to have to go out and show he’s worth the expenditure.
Vigneault expressed confidence Hart can bounce back from a sub-par season.
“I firmly believe the season we had last year doesn’t represent who we are,’’ Vigneault said. “I do believe there are some lessons there and we need to learn those lessons. Last year is behind us, nothing we can do about it. Let’s focus on the present. That’s what Carter needs to do. Chuck has shown a tremendous amount of confidence with the contract they gave him this summer. I believe in Carter. It’s a new season. He needs to be focused, positive.’’
>Improving team defense
It’s been chronicled how badly the Flyers played on defense last season. They allowed the most goals (201) and that’s something that has to improve.
“You look at the teams that went to the final four,’’ Vigneault said. “And what they’re doing to being defensively successful. There are a few adjustments we’re going to make. We still want to be a fast-paced team but there are some definitely some defensive elements in our game we need to improve. With the additions that we made, I really believe we can be efficient.’’
All Vigneault really has to do is show his players videotape from two seasons ago.
“We were one of the best defensive teams in the league (in 2019-20),’’ he said. “(Among leaders in) Shots against, shots in trouble areas, goals against. . .I think we got away from that. There are tweaks I believe are going to make us better. We’re going to get a chance to practice and we’re going to make the best use of the time that’s available to us.’’
>Back to normal
At last season’s end, Vigneault vowed things would get better if his team had a “normal’’ training camp and preseason schedule.
So far, so good.
“We’re back to normal the way we were my first year here,’’ he said. “Players have had a normal summer of training. Players are getting (fitness) tested on and off the ice. Players are going to be able to show what they can do because we have exhibition games. I think that’s everyone in hockey wants right now.’’
Rookie prospect center Zayde Wisdom underwent shoulder surgery and is out indefinitely. Rookie defenseman Cooper Zech has an upper-body injury and will be out six to eight weeks. The Flyers released right wing Ethan Burroughs and center Nolan Ritchie who were in camp on amateur tryout contracts.