LONDON — — For a player like Kevin Hayes, it is a blessing and a curse.
As the season has progressed, Hayes has been a constant presence in the lineup for the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing his best hockey since he joined the NHL in 2010.
He has averaged 19:26 of ice time per game, second-most among NHL forwards behind Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.
The Leafs have the NHL’s highest goal total, at 39.
And Hayes, who plays with the puck on his stick, is second in goals, averaging 13:29 per game.
He is also in the top-six in average time on ice (1:26 per game) and is tied for the NHL lead with five game-winning goals, including the overtime winner in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It is a role that Hayes says has helped him stay in shape and stay mentally sharp during the lockout that began in October.
For players who do not play a lot of games, the NHL has offered incentives to keep players in the league through their contracts and on a one-year contract.
But for Hayes, the lockout has been tough.
It has pushed him out of the lineup, pushed him away from his teammates, pushed his family into poverty, and has forced him to seek out other opportunities.
He said he is trying to keep a positive attitude and that he has never felt worse about his situation than during the last few weeks.
Hayes said he believes it is because of the lockout, not because of his physical condition.
Hay, 30, is a big part of the Leafs’ success, scoring 32 goals in 70 games this season.
He is tied with Stamkos for second in the NHL with 13 game-winners.
The team is now looking to add a third-line center.
The team has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs three of the past four years and has been without two of its top three centers, Alex Killorn and Kyle Okposo, for the last four games.
Hayes, like many players, has struggled to find a role on a playoff-bound team.
Hayes is a top-line player, but he is not a true No. 1.