Rangers prepare for 'clean slate'

Alain Vigneault takes over the Rangers head coaching job from John Tortorella. Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Not once did Alain Vigneault speak of his predecessor, John Tortorella, in his first day of training camp as new head coach of the Rangers. He did not spell out what already seems to be a drastic departure from the old regime, nor did he feel the need to impart how he will be different.

Really, he didn't need to.

Vigneault's affable, even approach has probably already seeped through to a group that finished last season weary and dejected after a disappointing second-round exit from the playoffs.

From the phone calls he's already made to veterans (he told Brad Richards to turn the page on an abysmal 2012-13 season) and youngsters (to Derek Stepan, he said he'll welcome him with open arms despite the current contract dispute), to the salvo he plans to deliver Wednesday night when the club meets for an introductory team meal, the message is already clear.

In fact, it's already emblazoned on the chest of training camp T-shirts:

"Clean slate. Grab it!"

Vigneault said he hasn't watched much tape of the team from last year -- he assigned associate coach Scott Arniel with what must be the undesirable task of watching the power-play -- but you can bet that he knows enough to realize that this group is one that needs to begin anew.

"The atmosphere and the environment I want to create: a professional, positive environment is something I want," Vigneault said. "I want the players to feel good about coming to the rink and trying to get better every day."

Anyone that saw the joyless, defeated and disheartened crew that gathered on break-up day back in May could tell you that was not the case last season.

But Wednesday's fresh start wasn't about the shortcomings of the past.

Instead of positioning himself as diametrically opposite of Tortorella, Vigneault tipped his hat to the tradition and history of the franchise and heralded the strong foundation with which he has been tapped to work.

"As far as this being a drastic change, this organization is one of the best in the league," Vigneault said. "There are some little things here or there that need to be maybe pushed in a certain direction."

Putting his mark on the team will no doubt take time.

Since arriving from the hockey fishbowl north of the border that is Vancouver -- he was fired after the Canucks were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks -- Vigneault is still settling into his new surroundings.

After getting lost on his way home from the team's annual golf outing on Tuesday, he sheepishly admits he's still learning to navigate the "big city." With the team's grueling nine-game road trip to start the season, he won't coach from the confines of Madison Square Garden until Oct. 28. Not to mention he's still getting to know the team's personnel, including the organization's brass.

Given that acclimation period, Vigneault said that, at least at first, it may not even be that noticeable that the team's style of play is different.

But eventually, the revamped on-ice product will take shape and become apparent.

"As our players understand the different principles that we're trying to put in place, then ... I think people will be able to pick up [on it]," Vigneault said.

That has to be a welcome change for some of the team's star players like Richards, who regressed during a difficult season, and Rick Nash, who was largely ineffective in the playoffs, as well as some of the team's promising young players like Stepan, Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, who could flourish in a system with more creativity and offensive freedom.

In Day 1 for Vigneault, he made it clear he is not the type to force change down players' throats. He'll implement new ideas and a fresh philosophy systematically. And he'll do so with one thought in mind: the Stanley Cup.

"That's our quest, that's our goal, that's our long-term goal," Vigneault said. "If our intention is to compete for the Stanley Cup in June, then you have the do the right things from the very beginning. And that starts at training camp."