On his first visit back to Madison Square Garden as a visiting player, Kevin Hayes had something he needed to get off his chest.
Before his new team, the Philadelphia Flyers, played his old team, the Rangers, Hayes, the 27-year-old center who was dealt away by the Rangers at the February trade deadline, felt the need to clear up some remarks he’d made on Saturday in Philadelphia, when he said of the Rangers: “I don’t even know half the team anymore to be honest . . . They got rid of all the good guys – good locker room guys.’’
Hayes, who spent the better part of five seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Winnipeg Jets, said he was only joking Saturday when he said that. He meant no offense.
“I think some stuff got taken out of context or misunderstood,’’ he said. “I made a couple jokes that didn't go over too well. But I mean, I just wanted to say that the teammates that I played with my five years here are still some of my best friends. There's guys in that locker room that I entered this league with, in ‘Staalsie’ (Marc Staal), Hank (Henrik Lundqvist), ‘Quickie’ (Jesper Fast) and ‘Kreids’ (Chris Kreider) — I think those are the only four left — that helped me shape the person I am today.
“There's staff that has been here the whole time I was here … there's management people that I was friends with before I even got to New York. I think what I said definitely got misunderstood,’’ he said. “I think they kind of thought that I was coming at them a little bit. I have no hard feelings with anyone on this team especially with ‘Gorts’ (GM Jeff Gorton). I've known Gorts for a long time. I expect to be friends with him when my career is long over. I think that kind of got blown out of proportion a little bit.’’
Hayes wasn’t the only former Ranger making his first visit back to the Garden. Flyers coach Alain Vigneault also found it a little odd going into the visiting coach’s room because he coached the Blueshirts for five mostly happy years.
“There’s a lot of great memories,’’ a relaxed-looking Vigneault said. “I had a real good time here – worked with real solid people. I had good players that were fun to coach and there’s no doubt that the New York fans are very special.’’
Vigneault, who was fired after the final game (in Philadelphia, ironically) of the 2017-18 season, said he “enjoyed every moment of my time’’ with the Rangers. He was hired by the Flyers in April, agreeing to a reported five-year, $25 million contract.
Vigneault said he stayed away from hockey during his year between jobs. He played a lot of golf and tennis, and spent time with his kids, until, around January or February, he said, he learned – through third parties, he said – that he’d be able to get back in the game if he wanted to.
Vigneault reminisced about his time with the Rangers – the one Stanley Cup Final, the Conference Final they lost, all the close calls in the playoffs. In his final year, the Rangers decided to rebuild, and they decided to make a coaching change. Vigneault said he is at peace with that.
“When the decision was made to pull out, we were three points out of a playoff spot,’’ Vigneault said. “I tend to believe that we would have probably gotten in, and as St. Louis proved last year, once you’re in, you never know what can happen. But I totally respect the decision of management and the owner.’’