Flyers

Kevin Hayes honest about his time with Rangers, 'ecstatic' to be with Flyers

Kevin Hayes honest about his time with Rangers, 'ecstatic' to be with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Kevin Hayes scored a career-high 25 goals at 25 years old during the 2017-18 season with the Rangers.

As a restricted free agent in the summer that followed, Hayes signed a one-year, $5.175 million deal with New York. He played only 51 more games for the Rangers before being traded to the Jets last season in February.

Seven months later, he has a seven-year, $50 million contract. On Saturday morning, he was wearing an orange sweatshirt with the No. 13 on it and standing in the Flyers' dressing room at Skate Zone.

Times have seriously changed for Hayes following that trade.

"Obviously you get comfortable with where you're at but it's a business. It's something I thought could have happened by signing a one-year deal that year," Hayes said. "I'm very happy with where I'm at and what I have at the moment. Looking back a year ago from today, I was asking for things from New York that they said no to and we went our separate ways in February. 

"I'm ecstatic with where I'm at right now, playing with this group of guys. The players that we have here, the goalies, the Ds and the forwards who I'll be playing with are elite and it's something that I'm excited for — and tonight's just one step toward the regular season. I'm sure there will be mistakes out there but I'm happy with what side I'm on."

Although it's just the preseason, tonight will be the first time Hayes has played against the Rangers since the trade. New York put its rebuild into overdrive this summer by acquiring Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin, and drafting Kaapo Kakko.

Is it tough for Hayes not seeing the rebuild through after watching the steps the Rangers made this offseason?

I don't know if they're good steps or bad steps, that's what you guys get to decide, but they're steps I guess. I have no hard feelings toward them. I loved my time there, I'm happy with where I'm at right now. I feel like this year is the best shape and best mentality I've ever been in in my career. I don't know if it has to do with the change or the excitement I have to be here in Philly, but I'm excited to get this going.

Three of the Rangers' top six scorers are gone from last season, including Hayes and Jimmy Vesey, who was traded to the Sabres on July 1.

"They chose to get rid of me and Vese, but that's their decision," Hayes said. "I'm sure it'll come back to them, we'll find out."

Hayes is back with Alain Vigneault, who coached the 27-year-old from 2014-18 in New York. Vigneault was a major selling point for Hayes signing with the Flyers on June 19 after the club acquired his rights earlier in the month.

Hayes was a plus-30 under Vigneault and his minutes climbed each season. The 6-foot-5 center is now one of the better penalty-killers in the league and a two-way guy poised for his biggest offensive role yet.

"I had a great relationship with him in New York for the four years we were together," Hayes said. "He turned me into a 200-foot player and I think that was — if not the biggest reason — one of the biggest reasons why I decided to come here.

"There was some tough love there, for sure. It's the NHL. It's not easy for everyone. … It's growing pains. I thought the way he handled my situation and how I responded was very professional and I think I entered the league as an offensive guy and A.V. kind of turned me into a 200-foot player and an NHL guy. 

"At the time, I don't know if I was super excited about it — fast-forward six years and I couldn't be more happy with where my game is at."

The Flyers play the Rangers four times in 2019-20. The first trip to Madison Square Garden is on March 1. From his rookie year in 2014-15 to now, the New York roster is very different.

"I have friendships there outside of the hockey players — equipment guys, media guys, trainers that basically shaped me as the person I am today," Hayes said. "I think it will be more emotional seeing those guys — I don't even know half the team anymore, to be honest.

"I'm sure going back to MSG will bring back some memories and be a little bit emotional. I'm not even just saying this just because I have to, I couldn't be more excited to be here in Philly, to start a new chapter in my NHL career where I have the security to be somewhere for a long term. In New York, my longest contract was two years, the last three years it was trade bait basically every year. I'm happy with where I'm at it, physically and mentally, and getting excited again to play hockey."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Flyers place Andy Welinski on NHL waivers, will create more cap space

Flyers place Andy Welinski on NHL waivers, will create more cap space

Andy Welinski, who had been out with a lower-body injury, was deemed healthy Monday and placed on waivers.

If the 26-year-old defenseman expectedly clears, he will report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

The move is notable for a few reasons.

The Flyers' cap space will increase from $283,811 to $1,033,811, according to CapFriendly.com.

Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) remains on injured reserve and counts against the cap like Welinski did. When the 20-year-old center is healthy, the Flyers will have room for him because the roster is at 21 players. Patrick appears to be getting closer to a return as he is with the Flyers on their current three-game road trip.

The Flyers might still make a move when Patrick inserts the lineup. An odd man out could be Connor Bunnaman or Carsen Twarynski, both 21-year-old rookies. It would make sense if the Flyers want them playing games at Lehigh Valley rather than sitting in the press box as an extra forward.

If the Flyers decide to send one of those players down, it would also create more cap flexibility. Chris Stewart, a veteran winger who turns 32 years old this month, remains with the team on a pro tryout.

As for Welinski, he will help a young Phantoms team if he clears waivers. Welinski has played 146 career AHL games and appeared in a career-high 26 games for the Ducks last season.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Jakub Voracek’s 14:30 ice time Saturday night was certainly noteworthy.

It marked the 30-year-old winger’s fewest minutes in a game since the 2015-16 season. When the Flyers were trailing, 2-1, during the third period, one of their best and most experienced playmakers saw no more than three minutes of the ice. In the final stanza, Voracek was bumped off the first line and had shifts with the team’s fourth unit.

The development, which comes in the third game of the season under a new head coach, is nothing to sweep under the rug as if it never happened.

Is it troubling, though? No, at least not yet.

The fact is the Flyers have great depth in their top six. So much so that James van Riemsdyk, a two-time 30-goal scorer and the Flyers’ fourth-highest-paid player, opened the season on the third line.

On Saturday night in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks (see observations), the Flyers were looking to spark their offense during the third period. They had one goal and 17 shots on net at the time. Head coach Alain Vigneault has said how he’s still searching for the best chemistry within his forward combinations and defensive pairs.

JVR, who finished with 15:11 and 15:37 minutes in the Flyers’ first two games, respectively, played 20:19 Saturday night. His jump to the first line was effective as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 14-6, during the third period with van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux creating plenty of offense.

When asked Tuesday if he was inclined to experiment with lines early in the season, Vigneault said:

Yes, until I find the chemistry. I’m a firm believer in I think players like to stay on the same line — chemistry gets formed and accountability gets formed also between linemates and D partners. Last game against Chicago was the first time that I felt throughout the four lines we had some chemistry that enabled us to play well defensively and generate some chances offensively. How long that’s going to stay? It’s going to depend obviously on the players’ performance. Until I find the right mix — it could be a duo with a guy going in and out, it could be a line. I’d prefer it be lines, but that obviously depends on the players’ performances.

Vigneault will switch things up and try different combinations. He will also spread out ice time to maximize his push-the-pace, hard-on-the-attack style.

If anything, this is an indication that competition is aplenty among the Flyers’ forwards. There is talent available and minutes are up for grabs.

If you want those minutes, you have to earn them and then keep them.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers