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A grateful Hayes has ‘no bad blood' with Tortorella, Flyers in return to Philly

The former Flyer was back at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since being traded to the Blues

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Kevin Hayes, wearing Blues gear and sitting in the visiting locker room Monday, was no different.

He was the same as he was during his four years in Philadelphia, through the enjoyable highs and trying lows.

He was friendly, conversational and appreciative.

Despite being traded to the Blues last June as part of the Flyers' rebuilding summer, Hayes, in his return to the Wells Fargo Center, expressed no ill will toward the organization, its head coach John Tortorella or its rabid fans.

In their one and only season together, Hayes and Tortorella didn't mesh on playing styles. For Hayes, it led to a position change, being benched and, ultimately, his exit.

"I think the media and the fans kind of built this story around me and Torts not liking each other and bad blood," Hayes said after morning skate, ahead of playing his former team (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP). "There wasn't really any bad blood. He was honest on what he felt and I was honest on what I felt. Away from the rink, we chatted, he would check in on my family. That's what happens in this business, there's no bad blood, there are no hard feelings. I enjoyed every second I was here."

Hayes was a first-time All-Star last season but ended up finishing a point shy of matching his career high. After Danny Briere was named interim general manager last March, the Flyers were shifting to new management and eventual changes in the offseason. Hayes was dealt to St. Louis a day before the 2023 NHL draft for a 2024 sixth-round pick, while the Flyers retained 50 percent of his remaining salary.

"Last year was a crazy year," Hayes said. "I go to the All-Star Game and then I kind of had a horrible finish to the season personally. They were kind of going in a different direction and I think everyone kind of knew that the trade was going to happen. I honestly didn't think too much of it. I think it was handled great by both sides."

Hayes had a promising first season with the Flyers in 2019-20. He embraced the community, fans gravitated toward his personality and the team came a win short of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2020 bubbled playoffs. Hayes also led the Flyers in postseason scoring (16 points in 13 games) and plus-minus (plus-7).

But over the following three seasons, the Flyers fell into a rebuild and Hayes battled adversity.

In August 2021, he lost his older brother Jimmy Hayes, who died tragically at the age of 31. About a month later and two days before training camp, Hayes had to undergo abdominal surgery, his second procedure of its kind in fewer than four months.

"It's been a tough month," he said in September 2021. "Life is fragile, honestly. It's never fun to lose someone who's your best friend, someone you've looked up to and been paired with your whole entire life."

Later that season, Hayes needed a third procedure when it was discovered he had developed an infection in his groin area.

"I think when anyone goes through that stuff, you kind of become a better person through it," he said. "It all happened in the same year, which wasn't ideal, but s--- happens and you deal with it. I was pretty lucky with injuries up until that point in my career. I'm hoping that was my only issue. Being in this city and the support I had from the team through all of it was impressive. It made it a lot easier, honestly."

Hayes had dinner with some former Flyers teammates Sunday. He remembered Flyers fans fondly Monday morning before seeing them again at the Wells Fargo Center.

"It's my first time back here, it'll be exciting," he said. "I'm sure I'll get booed, but I would be surprised if I didn't."

More: Hayes scores in return, Flyers suffer shootout loss to Blues

Hayes entered Monday with 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 14:40 minutes per game this season for a Blues team trying to sneak into a Western Conference wild-card position.

The Flyers, holding a playoff spot in third place of the Metropolitan Division, are trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2020, Hayes' first season.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hayes didn't experience playoff hockey in Philadelphia.

But he felt the love and tough love of the city.

"The loyalty of the fans, how crazy the fan base is here, good and bad," Hayes said. "They let you know when you're not playing well and are super loyal when things are going good. I spent my first five or six years as a visiting player here and it was always an easy answer for what was the worst best fan base and it was Philly.

"Then I got to be a part of it for four years. Thankful for it, loved my time here, the fans were great. Missed them a little bit there in COVID, but overall, it was a fantastic four years. Loved every second of it. Wished we had better results, but at the end of day, that's what happened."

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