The Flyers are never boring: Why Kevin Hayes sat, Lukáš Sedlák left and more


PHILADELPHIA — You know it’s a wild day around the Philadelphia Flyers when the team’s top offseason acquisition returning to the lineup after a healthy scratch and a family tragedy is the third-biggest storyline.

There was one player who wouldn’t play, one player not permitted to play and one player who couldn’t play but now can.

The Flyers may be bad. But they’re never boring.

Let’s start with the one who wouldn’t play: waiver acquisition Lukáš Sedlák.

Sedlák wasn’t merely a rare unexpected bright spot for the Flyers — he was one of the few recent Chuck Fletcher transactions that appeared to have paid real dividends. It’s not that Sedlák was dominant, but he certainly proved a useful piece for the Flyers, playing as high as Line 2 at times and more than earning all of his ice time. In fact, no Flyers forward has driven play this year better than Sedlák — his 52.16 percent expected share leads the forward corps, and his +0.156 xG impact puts him in the 86th percentile among all NHL forwards.

And now, he’s gone. As in leaving the Flyers and the NHL and going back home to Czechia, most likely to play for HC Dynamo Pardubice. He was placed on unconditional waivers for the purposes of terminating his contract on Saturday.

“I made the decision yesterday. Obviously, I was thinking about it for … the reason is more than one,” Sedlák said.

So what were his many reasons?

“It’s nothing serious, like with my family or anything like that,” he continued. “I just felt overall that, you know, me playing in NHL, it didn’t bring me what I expected it to bring me, and I would rather be home with my family.”

But it went beyond wanting to be closer to home, and closer to his fiancee, who he hadn’t seen for three months since heading over to North America to join the Avalanche. Sedlák noted that he enjoyed his time in the KHL from 2019-20 through 2021-22, when he was given ice time commensurate with that of a star. He knew when he made the decision to come back to the NHL that his ice time would dip. But he didn’t expect the drop to bother him as much as it did.

“Yeah, I mean, when I came from Russia, I always played a lot. And I enjoyed playing a lot, and kind of being ‘the guy’ and stuff like that,” he said. “I didn’t expect to have that here. So I kind of knew what I’m gonna get, how many minutes, stuff like that. But I thought (I was) gonna feel better about it. And obviously, when I signed with Colorado, I kind of knew that I might have a chance to win, stuff like that. So that’s, of course, part of the reason too.”

Sedlák made it clear that his decision had nothing to do with the Flyers organization, specifically repudiating theories “on Twitter,” as he said, that he was leaving due to a conflict with the Flyers on some level. That said, it’s clear that part of the reason Sedlák returned to the NHL knowing he’d be a role player was to chase down a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche. After he was waived and claimed by Philadelphia, that no longer was on the table. Sedlák contended that the Flyers’ predicament didn’t drive the decision, but surely, playing depth minutes on a club poised to lose its 17th game in its last 21 wasn’t exactly the most enticing sell.

The 29-year-old forward wants to have fun playing hockey. And in the end, he felt that would be more likely back home closer to his family than with Philadelphia.

“I’m getting to a certain age where it’s not just about being in (the) NHL or playing (in the) NHL. But it’s also about playing, having fun playing, because I don’t know how many good years I have left,” he said.

Sedlák wants to have fun playing hockey, and that’s why he left. Kevin Hayes, on the other hand, just wants to play hockey. John Tortorella, however, had other ideas Saturday, scratching him for the Flyers’ matchup against the Rangers.

“It’s kind of a big picture (decision), in my mind, as far as team concept,” Tortorella said.

Tortorella’s frustration with Hayes isn’t new. The Flyers head coach came close to scratching Hayes earlier in the season for defensive lapses, even threatening to do so in front of the other Flyers players, per a person close to the team. But ultimately, Tortorella chose to move Hayes to wing, essentially scratching “Hayes the center” while keeping “Hayes the offensive weapon” in the lineup. And that made sense — while Hayes’ two-way game this season has been lacking (team-low negative-0.232 xG impact at even strength), he remains the top scorer (29 points in 30 games) for a team starved for offense.

But after an ugly game in Newark that saw Hayes take an early penalty leading to Jack Hughes’ first-period goal, commit a ghastly late-second-period turnover high in the offensive zone and be benched for the entire third period, Tortorella apparently had enough. Hayes’ offense, in this case, wasn’t enough to keep him in the lineup, even if Hayes’ absence — as Tortorella acknowledged — likely cut the Flyers’ likelihood of winning Saturday’s game.

“I’ll put it to you this way: I can’t keep looking by things, (just) because we’re worried about scoring,” Tortorella said. “I’ve got to look at the big picture of what this team is going to be, what the standard is, of how we have to play. That far outweighs losing some offense in a particular game.”

My understanding is that while the mistakes Thursday may have been the final straw for Torts, the benching was not a direct punishment for one game. Tortorella believes that Hayes’ overall play needs significant work, and that while he’s not expecting Hayes at age 30 to change entirely as a player, he does feel that Hayes can make more adjustments than to this point he’s been willing to make. The frustration on the part of the coaching staff with regard to Hayes is very real, and the scratching certainly escalated the situation to an entirely new level.

Hayes declined to comment after practice, choosing to not offer his view of the situation. But surely, he can’t be happy about the embarrassment of being sat down, particularly for a game against his former club.

And Hayes isn’t the only recent high-profile veteran that Tortorella has scratched. In fact, the last target of the tactic — Tony DeAngelo — returned to the lineup Saturday after missing the last four games

Tortorella’s original plan, however, almost certainly didn’t involve DeAngelo out of the lineup for a week. The 27-year-old defenseman couldn’t play the past three games for another, far more serious reason than a simple hockey decision: the death of his grandmother Jo-Ann.

“We were super, super close, probably closer than I was with anybody,” DeAngelo said after practice on Saturday. “It’s just a tough loss for everybody.

DeAngelo was particularly close with his grandmother, who lived in the Packer Park section of South Philadelphia — in fact, he visited her on a daily basis in the summer for lunch after training at the Flyers’ facility. He was in no shape to return to game action this week after hearing the news in the lead-up to puck drop on Sunday in Arizona.

“She always told me that no matter what, she’d want me to play right away, but there’s no way I could have played last week,” he said. “Obviously I’ll be thinking about her a lot.”

So DeAngelo had a particularly difficult task in front of him Saturday. Not only was he making his return after a family tragedy, he was also trying to incorporate adjustments into his game to avoid raising the ire of Tortorella yet again. The result? He played 24:26 minutes (tops on the defense) but was also a minus-5 in plus/minus rating.

“Rust. There was some rust,” Tortorella said after the game regarding DeAngelo’s play. “The biggest thing with Tony, I think his offense is going to come when he gets back playing more games. We just want a little bit more work away from the puck in our end zone. I think positioning and patience is a really important thing for Tony defensively. He’s not going to be a top defensive defenseman in this league — that’s not what we want. We just want to see a little bit more as far as patience and his positioning. I think it’ll help him out defensively and that’ll grow into his offense.”

This is the Flyers in a nutshell right now. On one single day, they can have one player leaving the team for good, their top scorer receiving a statement benching from the new head coach and their top offseason add trying to earn his way back into that same coach’s good graces after a benching of his own.

The losses may keep coming in Philadelphia. But so do the noteworthy storylines. No one can accuse this organization of being boring, at the very least.

Assorted observations

2. Oh, there was also a game to be played in South Philly on Saturday, a game that the Flyers unsurprisingly lost 6-3. It followed the script of many of their recent defeats — they played hard and kept it close, but extended lapses proved too much to overcome, and then they gave up a couple empty-net goals to make the score look worse than it was. It was the Flyers’ 17th loss of their brutal 21-games-in-40-days schedule stretch, a run that almost certainly put a halt to any long shot playoff hopes for the club.

3. Tortorella concurred that the key stretch of the game came in the wake of K’Andre Miller’s mid-second-period tally. Shook by Miller’s goal, which immediately followed a pressure-heavy but ultimately fruitless power play, the Flyers “watched a little bit” (in Torts’ words) during the few minutes after that goal. The result? A 1-1 tie before Miller’s goal quickly turned into a 3-1 deficit. Scott Laughton took the blame for a blown assignment on the third goal, but in truth, the Rangers could have scored on any one of their many quality chances over that stretch. And the Flyers just don’t have the horses to come all the way back from a two-goal deficit against a quality opponent like New York.

4. Speaking of Miller’s goal, it was a highlight reel one. He helped force a Travis Sanheim turnover, recovered after being tripped by Sanheim on the ensuing breakaway, and then still was able to fool Carter Hart with a gorgeous dangle. He sure would look like on the Flyers’ blue line corps right now, but given the opportunity to select him with the 19th pick in 2018, then-GM Ron Hextall instead chose Jay O’Brien, who is still toiling away at Boston University and is no guarantee to earn an NHL contract before he graduates. Welp.

5. Also, a message to Sanheim on that play: if you’re going to trip a player to disrupt a breakaway, make sure you really trip him. Might as well fully earn that penalty.

6. Owen Tippett was a standout, but not via his shooting. His passing game was particularly on point — he earned one assist on a bank pass off the end boards to James van Riemsdyk, and could have finished with two or three more given all of his quality feeds.

7. Laughton may have blown the coverage on New York’s third goal, but he also kept the Flyers in it with his short-handed tally late in the third period. In essence, it was a two-goal swing, after a long video review on a Chris Kreider almost-goal failed to produce concrete evidence that the puck had actually crossed the line. Seconds later, Laughton was heading down the ice on a short-handed breakaway, and the Flyers were right back in the game.

8. Kieffer Bellows was recalled back to the Flyers after producing seven points in five games with the Phantoms, with Hayes scratched, Sedlák unavailable and Zack MacEwen out with an illness. But in his 10:09 minutes of action, Bellows was largely invisible. Welp x2.

9. Heavy Rangers fan contingent in the Wells Fargo Center for this one, which was most obvious whenever DeAngelo held the puck, inspiring a chorus of boos from the Blueshirts faithful who clearly haven’t absolved him for his role in the fight with Alexandar Georgiev in 2021 that ended his Rangers career.

10. Morgan Frost also scored a goal on a gorgeous snipe. He didn’t do much in Newark, but Frost’s line (with JvR and Tippett) was Philadelphia’s most dangerous. This was the kind of follow-up game that he needed after his four-point effort in Arizona. Hey, it’s a start.

(Photo: Kyle Ross / USA Today)


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