One look at the message emblazoned on the tee shirts Rangers players wore for their physicals on Wednesday at the MSG Training Center and it was clear what the overriding theme is for Alain Vigneault's first training camp as head coach of the Blueshirts.
"Clean Slate...Grab It!"
If that wasn't clear enough, in a gathering with reporters Vigneault referred back to the clean slate approach on several occasions, driving home the point that what has happened in the past with the team and the players will have no bearing on how Vigneault chooses his roster for the 2013-14 over the next several weeks.
"At the end of the day this training camp is no different from any other training camp we have seen in the past in the sense that we've got to pick our team, and we have to put players in roles that will help us to win," explained Vigneault. "Everybody's got a clean slate. Everybody's gonna' get a chance---it may not be a long chance, but it'll be a chance. It's up to them to grab it. I am looking forward to them having that opportunity."
To futher accentuate the clean slate theme, the Rangers new bench boss told reporters on Wednesday that he has not watched hardly any video of the Blueshirts from 2013. "Maybe an hour", offered Vigneault, who added that he made that decision because "I did not want to come in here with any perceived notions..I want guys to have a legitimate chance here."
Of course that doesn't mean AV and his staff have not been doing their homework on the players within the Rangers organization. The head coach has met with all of the players who have legitimate chances to make the NHL team, while associate coach Scott Arniel has viewed video of every power play from the 2013 season and assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson has disected every 2013 penalty kill on video.
The purpose of the former is for Vigneault to get to know the different personalities he will be working this season; and the purpose of the latter is to get Arniel---who will coach the power play---and Samuelsson---who will coach the penalty kill---up to speed on what went right and what did not go so well in those criticial areas of special teams.
When asked if younger players would be given a shot to make the opening night roster, especially with the possibility that both Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are coming off summer shoulder surgeries and may not be cleared for contact by that time, Vigneault was emphatic with his answer.
"Talent has no age", stated the head coach. "When a player is ready to play and ready to contribute and ready to help the New York Rangers win, he's going to play on our team and he's going to get the ice time he deserves to get."
Those words must be exactly what top prospects like Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, and Dylan McIlrath are craving to hear, especially in the wake of both Kristo (2-5-7) and Lindberg (5-2-7) starring in the just-completed Traverse City Tournament for prospects.
As for the possible absences of Callahan and Hagelin to start the season in October, Vigneault seemed non-plussed.
"It's no different challenge than at any other point of the regular season," explained Vigneault. "Every game you play, you always have about three guys that are out, that's about the average. If those guys are not here at the beginning that's opportunities for other guys to show what they can do. Then when both of those guys are healthy---and I know both have been working extremely hard---then they'll get an opportunity."
Vigneault also mentioned that the Rangers will start training camp without veteran back-up goaltender Martin Biron, who is dealing with a "personal situation". AV said he was unsure as to when Biron would return to the club.
Because of that news regarding Biron, the Rangers have brought another veteran goalie---Johan Hedberg---into training camp on a PTO. The 40 year-old Hedberg spent the past three seasons with the Devils, appearing in a total of 80 games including 19 a year ago.
Circling back to the clean slate theme, Vigneault shared that he and Brad Richards have had several conversations during the off-season, never seeing reason to analyze Richard's frustrating 2013 campaign.
"I told Brad to turn the page and not to talk about what happened in the past," explained Vigneault. "It's behind you, and I wasn't here so I don't care. Every time I see him he seems real positive, real upbeat. This is a new season and I'm sure he will put his best foot forward."
As for the logistics of training camp, AV said that Thursday will be about on-ice conditioning, Friday will be the first drills, and then by Saturday he and his staff will begin instilling the systems he wants the team to play under this season. After the Rangers play pre-season games against the Devils and Flyers next Monday and Tuesday respectively, Vigneault said that the coaches will begin working with the players on special teams play and systems.
Much will be going on during training camp, but one message will be made loud and clear throughout: "Clean Slate...Grab It!"