Kevin Hayes stopped in Philadelphia earlier this week to finish a deal on an apartment, but instead of heading right back to his home city, Boston, the Flyers’ new second-line center skated with some teammates at the team’s Voorhees practice facility.
Never mind that most of the skaters were rookies who are long shots to make the team.
Hayes, 27, wanted to get acclimated to the area and his new practice rink. Getting to mesh with some of the young prospects was just an added bonus.
“I know last year, they didn’t make the playoffs, and that’s obviously a goal this year,” he said after taking part in an informal scrimmage Tuesday. “With the new personnel that’s here, both on the ice and with the coaches, I’m excited to get it going.”
Hayes, who signed a seven-year, $50 million deal, was the Flyers’ marquee addition in an offseason that also included the acquisitions of veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun.
In addition, general manager Chuck Fletcher redid the coaching staff. He hired head coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien, each of whom has NHL head-coaching experience.
Some wondered whether the 6-foot-5, 216-pound Hayes would sign with the Flyers because Vigneault sometimes limited his power-play minutes when they were with the New York Rangers. It turned out that Vigneault was one of the main reasons, along with the hefty contract, that Hayes signed here.
“I had a great relationship with AV,” said Hayes, who had a combined 19 goals and a career-high 55 points with the Rangers and Winnipeg last season. “Obviously as a player, you want to play the most minutes and you want to play in every situation. But when I entered the league, you have to prove yourself, and I thought every year with AV, I got more and more ice time and more and more situational play. We had a fine relationship, to be honest, off the ice and on the ice.”
Added Hayes: “He definitely factored into my decision to come here. It’s not always easy going to a new locker room, meeting everyone and trying to figure out the new coach. For me, I played for him for four years so it won’t be hard to get acclimated.”
Hayes called Vigneault an “old-school coach who will do anything to win. He’s going to play the best guys that are going that night. He treats everyone the same, whether you’re a vet or a rookie. He lets you know when you’re playing well, and he lets you know when you’re not playing well. He’s a very open-minded coach.”
After being dealt to Winnipeg in February, Hayes played some second-line center, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, he had been dropped to the fourth line.
“He went with the guys he knew,” Hayes said of Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I thought I played well in the playoffs, but that’s in the past. I’m with a new organization, a new team.”
Known as a solid two-way player, Hayes will probably be used on the power play and penalty kill. The Flyers’ power play finished tied for 22nd in the NHL last season, and the penalty kill, which improved greatly in the season’s second half, ended near the bottom (26th) of the league.
Hayes isn’t flashy. He said that he tries playing an “honest game that is 200 feet” and that he has a “playmaker’s mentality. I try to set up the wingers I’m playing with.”
Training camp, which will start Sept. 13 in Voorhees, will determine his wingers. It wouldn’t be surprising if James van Riemsdyk was on his left and Jake Voracek on his right.
The top line could have Sean Couturier centering Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Adding Hayes drops center Nolan Patrick to the third line and should give him better matchups. The Flyers hope Patrick, who had 13 goals in each of his first two seasons, is ready to have a breakout year.
Oskar Lindblom, who had 17 goals in a strong rookie season, could be Patrick’s left winger. There are a slew of candidates, including hotshot prospects Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee, who will compete to play right wing on Patrick’s unit.
“Offensively, I think this is one of the best teams in the league,” Hayes said.
That, of course, is true only if the players stay healthy and play to their potential. That didn’t happen last year, as the Flyers finished just 18th in the 31-team league, averaging 2.94 goals.