2022 Player Report Card: John Hayden

To use a report card analogy, John Hayden completes his homework and arrives to class on time — no more, no less.

New month, new Buffalo Sabres report cards! Next up, we’ll focus in on John Hayden.

Total Season Stats: 55 GP | 2 G | 2 A | 4 PTS

Age: 27

Contract Status: Hayden signed a one-year deal out of free agency on July 29, 2021 for the league-minimum $750,000. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

When Sabres fans complain that the team lacks “toughness” or the “big guys” of yore, they’re clearly ignoring John Hayden. At 6’3”, 223 lbs., Hayden brought the physicality that Sabres management expected, as well as some familiarity with head coach Don Granato’s way of doing business, having played under Granato during their respective tenures with the Chicago Blackhawks. Hayden floated around the fourth line rotation, finishing the season with a career-high 596 minutes on ice.

In terms of generating offense, expectations were not necessarily high for Hayden; after all, his career high is four goals, which came in the 2017-18 season during his aforementioned stint in Chicago. He netted two goals and two assists, under his 5.94 expected goals. If you were hoping for some kind of offensive breakout for the journeyman fourth-liner, you’re probably extremely disappointed right now, and I’m sorry about that. I hope you find peace.

As I alluded to before, however, Kevyn Adams didn’t bring in Hayden to light the lamp, but rather, to generate physicality and add toughness to the bottom six. Here, Hayden delivered. He finished the season with 104 hits, finishing second in hits behind Rasmus Dahlin (121) and Mattias Samuelsson (100). Hayden also finished fifth among Sabres forwards in blocked shots, blocking 24. Considering he spent considerably less time on ice than the forwards that finished the season with more shots blocked (Tuch, Eakin, Girgensons and Thompson, to be exact), 24 blocked shots is nothing to scoff at.

Hayden is also a fighter, and while his fights weren’t always winners, he was quick to defend his teammates. Whether fighting still has a place in the modern game is an argument for a different day, but I’m way more comfortable with him getting in a scrap as the designated grit guy than say, Dylan Cozens, where losing him to the penalty box or a game misconduct takes away a more prominent skill player. And, I mean, let’s face it — whether you want fighting in hockey or not, it was a little fun that Hayden very quickly took down Ben Hutton during the now-infamous game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

If you were expecting miracles from Hayden, you did not get them, but for most of us, we got a fairly predictable season of hard-nosed, physical hockey with limited offensive flair. I wouldn’t be mad if the Sabres and Hayden work out another deal, but not at the expense of a richer bottom six that can contribute physically and offensively. He could stay on another value deal, or he could go. Fine by me either way.

In other words, if I had to give one of those little comments that teachers used to put on actual report cards, I would simply say he was “a pleasure to have in class” — you know, that thing teachers used to say about the nice kids they didn’t have any particular feelings about one way or the other.

Season Grade: C

Grade John Hayden on his 2021-22 season.

A - excelled above expectation10
B - did better than expectation41
C - met expectation268
D - did worse than expectation44
F - did much worse than expectation4