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Rangers players starting camp with 'clean slate'

Wednesday, 09.11.2013 / 3:41 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Alain Vigneault's motto for his first training camp with the New York Rangers was written on his players' backs as they went through a series of off-ice medical testing at the team's practice facility.

"They're walking around with a T-shirt that says, 'Clean slate, grab it,'" Vigneault said during his first press conference of training camp. "Everybody has a clean slate. Everybody is going to get a chance. It might not be a long chance, but they're going to get a chance, an opportunity, and it's up to them to grab it."

Never during his 20-minute session with the media on Wednesday did Vigneault reference something specific that happened previously in New York, and he shot down the notion that the team needs to go through a culture change after four-plus seasons with former coach John Tortorella.

"There are some things that I prefer be done a certain way and I'm going to tell the players," Vigneault said. "But as far as this being a drastic change … this organization is one of the best in the League. It's doing a lot of the right things."

However, Vigneault was adamant about the clean-slate concept and said any preconceived notion he or anybody else in the organization may have had about certain players will not be tolerated. He said he did not watch more than an hour of game film from last season because he wanted to make sure every player got a fair shot at the start of training camp.

So Brad Richards, your struggles and benching in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season no longer are a burden you should carry. Chris Kreider, you have as good of a shot to earn ice time as Rick Nash. Brian Boyle, and your inconsistent play last season is forgotten. Marc Staal, if you're as healthy and fit as you say you are, than your eye injury no longer is an issue.

And Derek Stepan, provided you arrive with a new contract in your back pocket, feel free to jump right in with no questions asked.

"When you meet players sometimes you hear, 'I know I can do more,' or 'I know I can do this,'" Vigneault said. "OK, well, they're going to have an opportunity to show me, to show management and the rest of the coaching staff what they can do."

Vigneault has seen snippets already by watching the players go through some offseason workouts at the practice facility in the days leading to the opening of camp. He said the large turnout of players in those workouts "is exactly what I expected from a group that wants to compete for the [Stanley] Cup."

Vigneault said he won't shy away from talking about the Stanley Cup and he has a small replica of the trophy sitting on his office desk to serve as a reminder to the players of what they're playing for. He got within one win of the Cup as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. The Rangers haven't been to a Cup Final since winning the championship in 1994.

"If our intentions are to compete for the Cup in June," Vigneault said, "then you have to do the right things from the very beginning and that starts in training camp."

Vigneault was scheduled to hold a team meeting at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday to give the players an outline of what to expect and what the coaching staff is looking for from them. The on-ice portion of training camp starts Thursday with conditioning tests.

Vigneault said by Saturday he and the coaching staff will start to implement even-strength systems. That will carry through the team's first two preseason games, which are next Monday in New Jersey and Tuesday in Philadelphia. From there the Rangers will head to Banff, Alberta, to continue training camp for five days before playing four preseason games in five days starting in Calgary and continuing through Edmonton, Vancouver and finally Las Vegas against the Los Angeles Kings.

The coaches won't implement any special teams systems until they get to Banff.

The Rangers open the regular season Oct. 3 at Jobing.com Arena against the Phoenix Coyotes. Ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden are forcing them to start the season with nine straight road games ahead of their home opener Oct. 28 against the Montreal Canadiens.

"We're going to use this time to do what we need to do on the ice, get the amount of work that we need, but we're also going to use this time to get to know one another," Vigneault said. "There's no better way than being on the road, and spending time with your teammates and your coaches and management.

"I don't know [general manager] Glen Sather all that well. I don't know [assistant general manager] Jim Schoenfeld. I don't know [assistant general manager] Jeff Gorton. I'm going to get to know these guys and being on the road is probably the best way of doing it."

Vigneault's plan is to know all about who he's working with, the players he has and the type of team the Rangers can be by the time they get home. He insists what they've done in the past doesn't matter anymore, that everyone has a clean slate and it's up to them to take advantage of it. He'll know who did before the Garden's doors swing open.

"We came together as a coaching staff in late July and spent a whole week together where we brainstormed on different things," Vigneault said. "We laid out training camp, we laid out our yearly schedule. We've got everything planned out and now it's just a matter of executing the plan.

"That starts today."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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