VOORHEES – Kevin Hayes and Alain Vigneault go all the way back to when Hayes showed up among the Manhattan skyscrapers a wide-eyed rookie in 2014.
By the spring of 2015, the kid had transformed into a grizzled veteran, having competed in 19 playoff games as the Vigneault-led New York Rangers made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The two were reunited this past September as newly hired coach Vigneault welcomed Hayes to Flyers’ training camp.
Other players were watching to see if the relationship was as solid as it was made out to be.
Turns out it was. The Flyers, taking a lead from Hayes, had the second-best record in the NHL after Nov. 1 and just missed catching Washington for the Metro Division title before the shutdown.
Almost needless to say, the mutual trust between Vigneault – who was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy on Wednesday — and Hayes went a long way toward selling the coach’s new system.
Veteran James van Riemsdyk said it was there for all to see.
“I’m sure, as a coach coming to a new team, it’s always nice to have at least someone who could vouch for (him),’’ van Riemsdyk said after day three of Flyers’ training camp at the Skate Zone. “They kind of have that relationship with and they know what to expect and it makes that transition a little easier.
“Certainly we all come in and try to develop our own relationships with the different coaches but it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a guy who’s really familiar with and has a good relationship with him and can kind of help us make that process a little more seamless as far as players getting to know him.’’
Having an ambassador around to spread the goodwill can have its benefits.
“I think that’s been a good thing for us as players,’’ van Riemsdyk said, “and probably for him (Vigneault) as a coach as well: Just to have someone who you’re really familiar with, know very well and able to make that transition a little more seamless than it might be otherwise.’’
Hayes himself responded with a strong second half, tying for the NHL lead for shorthanded goals with four.
Vigneault acknowledged it made his job a lot easier having finished product at his service right off the bat.
“There’s no doubt having coached Kevin before, him understanding what I’m looking for as far as work ethic, attention to detail from players and him maybe understanding my different looks, the stares I might give at times to players,’’ Vigneault said.
“That’s another form of communication sometimes. I think he was able to pass on to his teammates at different, important times before games, in between periods, after games, what I was looking for. I think that made it an easier transition for everyone.’’
Hayes made no secret of the fact he could have signed as a free agent elsewhere for basically the same amount of money (seven years, $50 million). But the lure of working for a coach he liked (and one who made him a better player) was strong.
“He’s coached a lot of great teams, he’s gone to the Stanley Cup Final,’’ Hayes said. “He clearly knows what he’s doing. He needs players who buy into his system. . .older players who trust what he’s doing. He has to trust the older players will let the younger players know what needs to be done come playoff time.’’