Alain Vigneault was asked yesterday how he plans to revitalize Brad Richards as an offensive contributor.
The answer shone a spotlight on the philosophy Vigneault is employing heading into his first training camp as head coach of the New York Rangers.
“I told Brad, ‘Turn the page. Don’t talk about what happened in the past. It’s behind you, it’s behind me. I wasn’t here and I don’t care,’” Vigneault said on the first day of training camp.
Players reported to the team’s Greenburgh, N.Y. training facility yesterday for physicals and a team meeting. On-ice drills start today and run through Sunday, with the first preseason game Monday night in Newark, N.J. against the Devils.
As has been the case two of the last three years — there wasn’t a preseason in 2013 due to the protracted lockout — the Rangers will play the entirety of their preseason games on the road due to the renovation of Madison Square Garden.
Even though Vigneault spoke with players during the offseason, he and the coaching staff will begin to learn about the team over the next 15 days. As important, the team will learn about an entirely new coaching staff.
“If you see the guys, they’re walking around with a T-shirt that says ‘Clean Slate Grab It,’” Vigneault said. “Everybody’s got a clean slate. Everybody’s going to get a chance. It might not be a long chance, but they’re going to get a chance. They’re going to get an opportunity. It’s up to them to grab it.”
This year’s team is almost entirely intact from the group eliminated by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, the departures of Ryane Clowe (Devils) and Steve Eminger (KHL) notwithstanding.
With 19 jobs seemingly accounted for, there could be room for young players such as Jesper Fast, Danny Kristo or Oscar Lindberg on the roster.
“Deliberately I watched an hour of the team’s games [last year],” Vigneault said. “I said, ‘I really want everybody to come in with a clean slate. I don’t want to come in with any preconceived notion.’ I want guys to have a legitimate chance.
“Talent has no age. When a player is ready to play, ready to contribute, and he’s going to help the New York Rangers win, he’s going to play on our team. He’s going to get the ice time that he deserves to get. I’ve always been a big believer that at the end of the day, talent has no age. When you’re ready to play, you play.”
The only Rangers not present were reserve goaltender Martin Biron and top-line center Derek Stepan. According to a team spokesperson, Biron has a personal situation and it is not known when he will return to the team. With Biron absent, former Devil Johan Hedberg is attending training camp on a professional tryout basis.
Stepan’s circumstance is different, as he is engaged in contract talks with the organization. It is believed the restricted free agent center is looking for a multiyear deal, while the Rangers have offered a bridge deal, as is traditional for the organization.
Currently, the Rangers have $2.18 million in cap room, but that number could rise to as much as $4.03 million should Arron Asham and Darroll Powe be sent to the AHL following training camp.
“I’ve talked to Derek a couple times throughout the summer,” Vigneault said. “He knows contracts aren’t part of my responsibility, and I’m going to take him with open arms when he gets here. I know he wants to be here and I know management wants him to be here also. Hopefully something will get done. If it doesn’t, it’s like the two injured guys [Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, both of whom are recuperating from offseason surgery to repair torn labrums in their left shoulders] — it’s opportunities for other people.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.