Rangers new coach Alain Vigneault wipes the slate clean
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Forget the replays. New Rangers coach Alain Vigneault spent about an hour during the summer watching film of his new team from last season.
"I didn't want to come in here with any preconceived notions," the former bench boss of the Vancouver Canucks said Wednesday as he, his staff and more than 60 players cracked the seal on training camp and players wore T-shirts that read: "Clean Slate. Grab It."
Vigneault did, however, assign associate coach Scott Arniel the task of watching every power play, and assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson all the penalty kills, and has met with them regularly to design a plan for camp, during which he will install new systems and open doors for youngsters and veterans.
"Talent has no age," said Vigneault, 52, who replaced John Tortorella. "When a player is ready to play and ready to contribute . . . he's going to get the ice time he deserves."
Vigneault will have a challenging start: Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are expected to miss the first few games of the season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery; the team's top scorer last season, center Derek Stepan, is in a contract stalemate and did not report for physicals Wednesday, and backup goaltender Martin Biron is away due to "a personal situation."
The Rangers, who signed former Devils netminder Johan Hedberg, 40, to a tryout, will start the season with nine road games while the finishing touches on the Garden's transformation are being completed. They open the season Oct. 3 at Phoenix.
"Every game you play, you always have about three guys that are out, that's about the average," said Vigneault, who was a head coach in Montreal and an assistant in Ottawa. "If those guys [Callahan and Hagelin] are not here at the beginning, that's opportunities for other guys to show what they can do."
As for Stepan, with whom he has spoken by phone, "It would be better if he would be here, there's no doubt on that," Vigneault said. "Whole new staff, some new teammates, you want everybody to start together to build that foundation. That being said, this is a situation that's not within my control, it's a little bit within his control. I know he wants to be here and I know management wants him to be here also. Hopefully, something will get done."
Another center, Brad Richards, who endured a troubling season, has impressed Vigneault. "He's very motivated right now, he's had a good summer of conditioning, he's focused, and what I've seen so far tells me he's going to be real good for us."
And regarding the clean slate mantra, Vigneault said: "I told Brad to turn the page and not talk about what happened in the past. It's behind you and I wasn't here, so I don't care."