Jimmy Hayes was often an easy target throughout his 133-game Boston run. And we were all guilty of it.
One of the first acquisitions of the Don Sweeney era, which got off to an undeniably rocky start, the Bruins parted with Reilly Smith (and the Marc Savard contract) to bring Hayes back to his hometown. That made Hayes part of the Tyler Seguin rotten-and-now completely uprooted trade tree through no fault of his own. That was a tough gig for all involved, especially during those lost years of a franchise in no man’s land. People were also excited about Hayes being something that he, well, never was in Chicago or Florida. People looked at the 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and assumed that the Bruins were getting a board-rattling, power forward who would ease the loss of Milan Lucic. That was never, ever, ever Hayes.
And that homecoming that never quite got off the ground was a deflating one. Hayes scored just 15 goals and 34 points, including just two goals and five points in 58 games in his final season, over two seasons with the Bruins. Even with the opportunity to live out something 99.9 percent of us could only dream of, Hayes’ failures with the Bruins after a pair of strong Florida pushes made him the butt of too many jokes.
But that never stopped Hayes, who tragically passed away at just 31 years old Monday, from trying and giving it his all.
I remember sitting with Hayes in the Warrior Ice Arena dressing room before the Bruins were ready to embark on a pivotal road trip. (I remember him actually being surprised that I wanted to sit and talk with him. “Me?! Is everyone else busy?” he asked me.) We were talking about his struggles, and he didn’t hide from them. He understood that he wasn’t delivering — and you could tell that his inability to succeed in Boston was weighing on him heavier than it would in any other city — and that the Bruins’ trip included a meeting with the Panthers, who at the time had Reilly Smith thriving on their roster.
Hayes understood the connection and how it didn’t help him, but didn’t want to focus on that. He instead wanted to focus on what he could do to help his team get their game back on track in what was starting to look like another lost season.
Whatever that was, Hayes, who was actually on a heater at the time, was beyond willing to do.
There’s perhaps no greater example of this for No. 11’s Boston run than when the Bruins got walloped by the Canadiens at Gillette Stadium in the 2016 Winter Classic. Down by three in a game that wasn’t all that close or entertaining, it was Hayes who tried to end the afternoon with something the fans could cheer about with a fight with Montreal’s Lars Eller.
And while hockey players are notoriously loyal to their teammates, Hayes’ work was never lost on his teammates.
One of the best teammates you could Ask for. Truly a great person and friend. Was a pleasure to get to know Jimmy and play with him. Prayers to the Hayes family https://t.co/vFxEWULYpT— Austin Czarnik (@ACzarnik7) August 23, 2021
When things weren’t going well, they rooted for him harder than anybody else. It was the least they could do for Hayes. Because they knew and saw that even when things were not going his way, Hayes remained a likable personality who focused on goals that exceeded his own personal goals. And when things did go his way, the celebrations told you that it meant a lot more to them than your average second-period goal or insurance marker.
A Dec. 29, 2015 head-to-head with the Senators was that kind of game for Hayes.
In a fourth-line role with Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo, Hayes opened the scoring up at the 8:01 mark of the period. He didn’t score his second goal of the night until the 55:49 mark of the game provided him with a two-on-one look with Talbot, but from there, it became the Hayes Show. Similar to those 2009 “We Want Bitz!” vibes, the hunt of a Hayes hat trick was upon us, and in a 6-3 game, you felt the arena buzzing for Hayes to get one more look for his hat trick. He did and he connected on it — with less than one second left — to make a 7-3 final feel like a 4-3 playoff final.
Hayes never quite found that footing again, even when he threw the monkey off his back the following year and asked Joe Haggerty if he saw it. (After all, I’m pretty sure Hayes was looking to hit Haggs with it.) Hayes also acknowledged the noise that surrounded his Boston struggles, but he never once became embittered to those who sought out a moment of his time.
In a time and internet age where it’s become all too easy and commonplace for everyone to root for failure, especially as it relates to sports and professional athletes, Hayes’ attitude and approach made it downright impossible.
That was true during Hayes’ run as a player, which featured another 33 NHL games in a 2017-18 spent with the Devils before a 2018-19 spent with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, and during his transition to full-time podcaster with Missin’ Curfew.
No matter how bad things were, Hayes was always found with a smile and an approach noticed by those closest to him.
Hayes’ efforts on and off the ice to be the right kind of teammate were the first things brought up by Sweeney when the Bruins decided to buy out the final year of his contract. And even when buying him out, the Bruins remained fans of his, as they bought him out to give him another NHL chance rather than simply stashing him down in Providence. There was a reason for that that went beyond economics and salary cap logistics, and it came back to how they viewed Hayes the human.
“It was a pleasure getting to know Jimmy, and he was such a joy to be around both on and off the ice,” Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron said in a statement released by the team Monday. “I’ll always remember his big smile — he was so positive and full of life. I’m going to really miss that. We’ve lost a great person.”
A person whose impact was clearly felt on more than the ice provided to him in Dorchester, Chestnut Hill, Boston, or anywhere else his blades took him.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.