Kevin Hayes and some Flyers hit the ice Tuesday morning at Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.
The team tweeted out pictures of its new seven-year, $50 million man in Flyers orange, giving us the first glimpse of Hayes rocking his new threads.
In 2019-20, Hayes will be tasked with great responsibility as the Flyers look to rebound from one of their most trying, tumultuous and disappointing seasons in 12 years. As Hayes signed with the Flyers, he set up a reunion with head coach Alain Vigneault. From 2014-18, the two were together in New York, where Vigneault came under the microscope near the end of his tenure for not developing younger players.
From 22 to 25 years old, Hayes played his first four NHL seasons under Vigneault and scored a career-high 25 goals during the coach's final year with the Rangers.
"It's always tough when you go to a new team and you don't know how you're going to fit in with the coach, you don't know how you're going to fit in with the players," the 27-year-old Hayes said in June. "But playing under A.V. for four years, we had a great relationship, on and off the ice. He demands hard work. If you play the correct way, he kind of lets you play freely offensively. That was a huge factor in the decision — being comfortable with him made the decision a lot easier."
At his introductory press conference during April, Vigneault was asked about being maligned for not utilizing young players enough while in New York. It was a fair question because it was a tactile criticism of Vigneault as the Rangers parted ways.
But just how fair?
"Everybody has their opinion, I respect that," Vigneault said. "I don't necessarily agree with that, but for me, that's just part of the coaching job that you have to do. Some people are going to like some of the things [general manager Chuck Fletcher] and I do, and I do with my staff, and some other people aren't going to like it as much. At the end of the day, you know what we have to do? We have to win."
There are some interesting facts from Vigneault's time in New York, where he went 226-147-37 with three straight 100-plus-point seasons and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. (For some context, the Flyers haven't earned 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series.)
When the Rangers won the Eastern Conference in 2014, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old Derek Stepan, who experienced a career year over 82 games. Ryan McDonagh was the team's best defenseman at only 24 years old. And Chris Kreider was a team-best plus-14 at 22 years old.
The following season, New York put up 53 wins and 113 points. Hayes had an excellent rookie year (17 goals, 45 points) and the Rangers' youth took strides.
In 2016-17, when New York experienced a 102-point season, the team's second-leading scorer was 23-year-old J.T. Miller and one of its best defensemen was 22-year-old rookie Brady Skjei, who scored 39 points over 80 games.
So there is evidence of Vigneault getting the best out of older and younger players.
At our level, there's not one coach that will not play a player that will permit him to win. I firmly believe that talent has no age. If a guy who's 19 can step in and help the Flyers win and be competitive, he's going to play. Talent has no age.
The Flyers were not the most disciplined team with the puck during 2018-19. Fletcher talked about bad on-ice habits at his end-of-the-season press conference. But he knows the talent — both young and old — is in place.
The belief is that an experienced coach like Vigneault, along with experienced assistants, can create better habits and smarter decisions from everybody on the ice.
"There weren't a ton of young players during my time with the Rangers that came up in the system because of where that organization was at the time," Vigneault said. "Was I perfect with all of them? No, and I don't think anybody is. I think my record is pretty good with younger players, it's pretty good with core players as far as them coming into a season and having strong performances. It's also good with older players."
The Flyers, once again, have a blend of veterans and youngsters. It gives Vigneault a prime opportunity to reinforce his track record and prove he can win with all ages.
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