By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jimmy Hayes doesn’t forbid his buddies from talking about hockey when he’s hanging out away from the rink.
If that doesn’t make you rethink how tough the Bruins forward is, nothing will.
Some people’s minds will never be changed about the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Hayes, and it’s understandable to be frustrated by the Dorchester native’s lack of production since he came to the Bruins, especially this season.
Hayes’ goal in the Bruins’ 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings at TD Garden on Sunday was his second goal in 28 games this season. Last year in his first season with his hometown team he had 13 goals in 75 games after he’d scored 19 in 72 games for the Florida Panthers the year before.
If you think you’re frustrated with Hayes’ goal total, imagine how he feels. Hayes cares about his production and the Bruins’ fortunes as much as anyone.
The worst thing people do is confuse lack of production with lack of effort, and one thing Hayes has always done is show up, work hard and stay positive. He never lollygags during practices. He’s always smiling and mingling with his teammates. He’s never shied away from media responsibilities or being out in the community. He leans on his teammates and buddies for support and makes sure he’s supporting his teammates through thick and thin.
“It just goes to show you that when you’re around good guys, good people find good people,” Hayes said. “Just continue to be a good guy and don’t let my struggles [affect] somebody else. That just doesn’t make sense to bring someone else down.”
Hayes’ goal against the Kings was a perfect representation of what he’s done to make it in the NHL and what he has to do more. Hayes won a battle after a Dominic Moore faceoff win, passed the puck back to the point and went to the front of the net. Colin Miller’s wrist shot hit Hayes and went in the net.
Perhaps the goal was a sign of Hayes’ luck changing, and he better hope that’s the case. With Frank Vatrano’s return nearing, and David Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey waiting to return on the horizon, the Bruins are going to have some difficult lineup decisions in the weeks and months ahead. Hayes, who’s been scratched five times this season, could be in the press box or somewhere worse if his game-winning goal from Sunday – his first in eight games – isn’t the start of a hot streak.
The goal should turn down some of the heat from critics Hayes has faced since he came back to Boston. Even if he never puts on the radio, watches sports television shows or logs on to social media, Hayes can’t help but hear outside criticism. Everyone in Boston wants the hometown kid to make good. He admitted that he’ll even hear things, positive and negative, from strangers in the street. He lets the words roll off him even as he knows he has to play better.
“It’s easy to be a local kid. But I think you’ve just got to continue to run with it,” he said. “Obviously you want to be successful and I’ve got to continue to find ways to be successful. It comes with the territory, if you’re not producing you feel a little extra noise.”
There’s no doubt Hayes can be frustrating to watch and some of it is his own doing. There are nights when he doesn’t seem able to win a battle and shies away from contact. He can be slow on the forecheck and seemingly ill-prepared to receive a pass even when he’s worked his way to the front of the opposition net. Then there are nights like Sunday, when he not only scored but had a handful of other chances and was blocking passes left and right on the forecheck.
It’s important to remember that although he’s 27, he has less than four years of NHL experience. He’s still finding ways to be a better net-front presence and wins puck battles with subtlety when he can’t overpower opponents or stickhandle around them. Both by watching teammate David Backes and doing extra drills, he’s trying to improve his puck hunting around the net, where most of the goals in the goaltending-dominated NHL have to be scored. Sometimes Hayes looks like he’s trying to pick up ice shavings with a chopstick when he’s pursuing a puck in front, but he’s trying to improve.
“You just got to be quick to react. That’s going to be something I think our team is going to have to continue to do,” he said.
When lamenting the Bruins numerous problems, even as they stay in the playoff mix in the weak Atlantic Division, Hayes gets an inordinate amount of the criticism for what he is. Hayes averages 10 minutes per game and plays mostly on a bottom-six line with sporadic power play ice time. He’s the sixth highest-paid forward on the team at $2.3 million for this season and next. There probably isn’t another player in the NHL with a similar resume who gets nearly as much guff as Hayes.
You don’t have to believe Jimmy Hayes will ever produce at his 2014-15 levels or even believe that he deserves to be in the lineup to be able to put his performance and the criticism thrown at him in perspective. There are players the Bruins expect a lot more from that are failing to meet expectations more or as much as Hayes.
The big hometown boy might make an easy target, but it’s hard to understand how Hayes can receive so much hate when there are bigger, more deserving targets for the venom.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.