The scene was the media conference room inside the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in suburban Greenburgh, N.Y.
At the podium was Alain Vigneault, answering questions on the first day of training camp about the 2016-17 New York Rangers.
Like all executives, coaches and players, Vigneault was optimistic about his team.
"I can feel the energy, I feel a refreshed group. The fans, the staff -- everybody is excited about the players we've brought in -- to the veterans we've added to the group, to some of the younger players that everybody has been talking about for a while; they're going to get a great opportunity to make this team. We have a lot of good decisions to make moving forward. There's going to be some great general competition for ice time and for roles on the team. It should make for a great training camp,” Vigneault said.
“We still believe that we're a very strong hockey team. We've got some very good experience -- some guys that have played big games, important games, big minutes. We've got some younger guys who are developing who are improving. Now that we're adding younger guys, we've got a couple role players who can help us. I see good speed, which is something that I like. I like to play a fast, high tempo game. We'd like to continue that."
But after a 2015-16 season in which the Rangers were passed—both on the ice and in the standings—by rivals, the questions about this year’s edition are whether they can play at the level and tempo associated by Vigneault’s 2013-14 and 2014-15 teams.
Those questions will be answered over the course of the 82 game regular season campaign. But following a first round series loss to eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh, in which the Rangers were shown to be shockingly ill-equipped and uncompetitive, general manager Jeff Gorton spent the off-season retooling his team.
Derick Brassard and the negotiating rights to Keith Yandle were traded to Ottawa and Florida, respectively. In return, the Rangers got Mika Zibanejad, a 2018 second round draft pick, a 2016 sixth round draft pick and a 2017 fourth round draft pick.
Moreover, Pavel Buchnevich signed his entry-level contract, while reigning Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey agreed to a free agent pact with the Rangers. Buchnevich, Vesey and Zibanejad join a forward group that includes J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. It is a deep and skilled forward corps, which should allow Vigneault to be able to roll four lines, which is in line with his philosophies.
In goal, Henrik Lundqvist is a known commodity. Even at 34, Lundqvist compiled a 2.48 goals against average and .920 save percentage despite having faced more shots (1,944 according to NHL.com) and more high danger shots (397 according to analytical website Corsica.hockey) than any goalie in 2015-16.
For as strong as the forwards and Lundqvist are, the defense—which had long been an organizational strength—is a significant question. Without Yandle and the retired Dan Boyle, the blue line lacks a puck moving, offensive defenseman. Both Dan Girardi and Marc Staal will return despite each having a subpar 2015-16. And the quartet of Adam Clendening, Brady Skjei, Nick Holden and Dylan McIlrath spent the preseason battling for the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth defensemen slots.
Following the preseason finale, a 4-2 loss to the Flyers on Oct. 6 at the Garden, Vigneault was asked about having Clendening and Holden play on their off-hand. Vigneault favors having his defensemen play on their strong side (right-handed shooting defensemen on the right side, left-handed shooting defensemen on the left side).
“We could have had three left handed defensemen and three right handed defensemen tonight. We were just looking at different options we could have going forward in terms of six, seventh, eighth defensemen. It was something we thought we needed to see,” Vigneault said, before touching on the decision making process for the final roster cuts.
“We are still debating that,” Vigneault said. “At the end of the day there is always money that comes into the equation, but we are having a debate obviously between eight defensemen and 13 forwards. Do we keep 14 (forwards) or do we start with 22 (players) and keep seven (defensemen) and 13 (forwards)? We are going back and forth on that one.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman