Alain Vigneault's Message Is Just What The Rangers Need
The Rangers needed a new message, and Vigneault's is perfect so far.
The NHL cycle is officially 24 hours old. Wednesday was the first day of "training camp" -- on ice activities don't start for the New York Rangers until today -- and you can already see the difference. If you followed the updates, read the stories and processed the quotes you know what I'm talking about.
The positive attitude.
Let me digress for a moment. Alain Vigneault is in a unique position. He just took over a team with realistic Stanley Cup aspirations -- note, I'm not calling the Rangers favorites, but they should be confident. That doesn't happen very often. Usually coaches take over teams that haven't been doing very well and haven't made the playoffs for a period of time.
For Vigneault this situation is different. The Rangers have the best goaltender in the world, they have a young, talented core, one of the most feared goal scorers in the NHL and (when healthy) a solid - but not deep - defensive corps. Most coaches don't take over teams with a resume like that.
The Rangers do, however, have questions that need to be answered. How do they get the most out of their star players? Why do they have so much trouble scoring goals? Why isn't the power play better? How do they take the next step? How does the coaching staff get the youth to continue to develop properly?
So for Vignuealt, it was very important he hits the right notes during training camp. It's the first real opportunity he has to show the team his mentality, his style and his vision. Make no mistake, John Tortorella and Vigneault share the same goal (to win a Stanley Cup) but their visions on how to get there are completely different.
It became very clear last year Tortorella's vision was wearing the team down to the point where they didn't think they could be successful. Or, perhaps you believe it was Glen Sather who made that decision on his own. Or a little of both. Truth of the matter is we'll never know the real reasons behind Tortorella's pink slip.
What we do know is a change was needed. And Vignuealt is a change in the right direction. He employs advanced stats, has a more offensive mindset, allows the players to police the locker room a little more and isn't as abrasive.
That was on full display Wednesday.
Players wore shirts that read, "Clean slate ... Grab it."
Vigneault told the media "Talent has no age. When a player is ready to play and ready to contribute and is going to help the New York Rangers win, he's going to get the ice time he deserves to get."
He told Brad Richards in person that he "didn't care" about what happened last year and that Richards needed to "turn the page."
Are you seeing what I'm seeing? The positivity?
The biggest example I can think of? The Derek Stepan negotiations. Remember when Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal held out? Tortorella was visibly upset, even going as far to call it "stupid" that Dubinsky wasn't at camp. Vigneault's comments on Stepan?
"[I'm not concerned] at all. They're not on the ice yet. I've talked to Derek a couple of times throughout the summer, he knows contracts aren't my responsibility and I'm going to take him with open arms when he gets here."
The bolded part of the above resonates the loudest. That's not to insinuate Tortorella didn't accept Dubinsky or Staal when they came back -- he obviously did -- but the culture is different. It's more positive. It's more accepting.
I already know the argument some of you are going to make. "Great, another coach who will make Broadway something like a country club, which will lead to half-assed performances and a plethora of losses."
I'll disagree. I think Vignuealt knows this is what the team needs right now. Go talk to anyone who follows the Vancouver Canucks, they'll tell you Vigneault has a doghouse, too (although surely not as big as Tortorella's).
Right now I think the Rangers players need this mindset. I think they all need to know that Vigneault is giving them a fresh start. For guys like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan (just to name a few), it's obviously not as needed.
But if you're Chris Kreider, Michael Del Zotto, J.T. Miller, John Moore (to a degree), Mats Zuccarello or even Brian Boyle, this opportunity means the world to you. It gives them a new chance to change the past. Kreider and Miller were horrifically mismanaged under Tortorella. For all the success he had with Stepan, McDonagh and Hagelin (to an extent), Tortorella couldn't have handled Kreider or Miller any worse.
Those are two players who are expected to take on a bigger role in this team's future. Those are the types of players that need to be given a chance to prove themselves.
That more than anything, is what this mentality change is about. Say what you will about Tortorella or Vigneault, the Rangers needed the slate wiped clean. They needed to turn the page. They needed to start over.
Which means Vigneault has to do the right thing in training camp.
He's gotten off to a great start.