GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Kevin Hayes put on his dark blue jersey Sunday and practiced with the Rangers on their first day back from vacation.
He said he’s “pretty sure” he will play against Philadelphia on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden after missing the last nine games before the team’s bye week / All-Star break with an upper-body injury.
The 26-year-old center also sounded completely sure that he wants to stay beyond the Feb. 25 trade deadline and for years to come.
“I love it here,” he said.
Hayes signed a one-year, $5.175-million contract last summer, so he can become a free agent after this season.
He said there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about a new deal. The Rangers are rebuilding, but Hayes isn’t concerned about a potential trade or his contract situation.
“I have absolutely no control over that, so I don’t even think about it,” he said. “We talked over the summer; hasn’t been much talk this season. I didn’t expect there to be. It’s not my decision. So I just try to go out and help the team win every night and show my teammates and coaches what they can expect from me.”
He was asked if he wants to stay long term. That’s when Hayes professed his affinity for the Rangers.
“This is everything I’ve known as a professional athlete,” he said. “I love the teammates. I love the organization. I love the staff, fans, city. It’s a place I call home. I’ve been here for five years. But like I said, I don’t have any control over that. That’s why I have an agent. I’ll let them figure it out.”
The 6-5 Massachusetts native stands second on the Rangers in assists with 23 and third in points with 33. He has a plus-6 rating in 39 games. Coach David Quinn said he has played “very well”
and added, “We’ve obviously missed him.”
The injury occurred Dec. 14 against Arizona. Hayes played eight more games, then came out to heal. He practiced a few times before the break and said he feels “pretty good now.”
After a week off, the Rangers returned riding a three-game winning streak, but they are nine points out of a playoff spot with 34 games left.
Do they still believe they can make it?
“Yeah, I think everyone thinks like that,” Hayes said. “I mean, if we have guys in here that aren’t thinking like that, this team’s not for them.”
Notes & quotes: Right wing Mats Zuccarello didn’t practice. Quinn said it was for “maintenance” and that the plan is for him to practice Monday . . . Center Boo Nieves and goalie Alexandar Georgiev were recalled from Hartford. Quinn said Henrik Lundqvist won’t start Tuesday after appearing in Saturday night’s All-Star Game in San Jose . . . Defenseman Neal Pionk (lower body) returned to practice after missing the last three games and said, “I felt good on the ice.” . . . Defenseman Ryan Lindgren was sent down before the break. “As of right now, he’s going to still stay in Hartford,” Quinn said before adding that it depends on Pionk’s status.