EDINA, Minn. -- James van Riemsdyk said he is on board with the changes made by the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason, including the hiring of coach Alain Vigneault.
"It's exciting," the 30-year-old forward said Wednesday after his team won the championship of Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 summer league for NHL players with ties to Minnesota. "I think last year leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We underachieved as a team, so you're that much hungrier, and bringing in a new coach brings that instant credibility with the track record he has."
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The Flyers were 37-37-8 last season, 16 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They hired Vigneault on April 15 to replace Scott Gordon, who will return to Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League after going 25-22-4 with Philadelphia after taking over for Dave Hakstol 31 games into the season.
Vigneault's 648 wins are fifth among active NHL coaches, behind Joel Quenneville (890), Barry Trotz (810), Paul Maurice (695) and Mike Babcock (691). Fired by the New York Rangers on April 7, 2018, after five seasons that included a trip to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Vigneault was voted the winner of the Jack Adams Award as best coach in the NHL in 2006-07 while with the Vancouver Canucks.
"I'm really looking forward to getting started with him," van Riemsdyk said.
The Flyers' most notable on-ice newcomer is forward Kevin Hayes, whom van Riemsdyk knows well.
"He's a guy I've known forever. I grew up playing with and against his older brother (unrestricted free agent Jimmy Hayes)," van Riemsdyk said. "When [Kevin Hayes] was younger, I used to give him sticks because I had sticks that were long enough, so I'd be giving him sticks in middle school and stuff, so it's funny how it comes full circle and we're going to be on the same team with a chance to play together. It's exciting."
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Hayes had an NHL career-high 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games with the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets last season.
The Jets traded Hayes, a pending unrestricted free agent, to the Flyers for a fifth-round draft pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 3. He signed a seven-year, $49.98 million contract with Philadelphia on June 18.
"I'm super pumped about that [addition]," van Riemsdyk said. "Not only does his play as a player speak for itself, but he's a really good, productive 200-foot player that can play in all situations."
The Flyers fortified their defense by trading for two 32-year-old defensemen: Matt Niskanen was acquired from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Radko Gudas on June 14, and Justin Braun came in a trade from the San Jose Sharks for two draft picks June 18.
"The guys that we got [in the offseason] I think are going to complement and fit in perfectly with the group we have," van Riemsdyk said. "I think having some guys with that experience too is a good thing, especially with a team that was as young as ours last year. I think to support all that young talent we have, with the guys we brought, it should be a good recipe for success."
Seemingly every team in the Metropolitan Division has improved, though van Riemsdyk remains optimistic about the Flyers' chances.
"It's the way professional sports are; every team is trying to get better every year. No one's complacent," said van Riemsdyk, a New Jersey native who spends much of his offseason each year in Minnesota. "You look at our division, a lot of teams made moves, a lot of teams got a lot better right now, including us. That's where the fun comes in. You've gotta go earn it on the ice and go from there.
"You see how even the League is across the board, there's never an easy night, so again it comes down to who executes the best and gives themselves a chance to get in the playoffs, and from there its really anyone's game. Every year you see the teams that win, it's the teams that come together at the right time. You've gotta give yourself a chance by getting in and go from there. We're ready to give ourselves that chance."