As The Blueshirts Officially Take the Ice Today, Hope Springs Eternal
The Rangers officially opened camp yesterday with many players shooting promos and getting situated for what hopes to be a great season. Alain Vigneault also took to the podium to discuss the past, present and future.
“I think you understand that with each group, each season it’s a different team. It’s a different opportunity because new pieces get added on, and I think what we all try and do is learn from our experiences, it makes everybody stronger individually and collectively, but you have to turn the page on what’s happened in the past and focus on the now.”
Turning the page means saying goodbye to 4 key members from last season’s Cup Finalists. Brad Richards (compliance buyout), Benoit Pouliot (UFA Oilers), Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman (both UFA’s to Tampa). Each had a specific role that must be replaced.
The answers are not very clear right now, save for Dan Boyle taking Stralman’s spot with Marc Staal and adding a much needed QB to the Rangers anemic power play.
Pouliot has been replaced by Lee Stempniak from Pittsburgh. He brings veteran leadership to the table and should replace Pouliot’s 15 goals. However, the losses of Brad Richards and Brian Boyle have left the Blueshirts with a huge hole down the middle.
Sather signed Matthew Lombardi to help, but it’s likely he may start in Hartford. The Rangers are weak down the middle, especially if Dominic Moore will be moving up to play the 3rd line pivot role. Vigneault’s plan is to give JT Miller and newly signed prospect Kevin Hayes a shot down at center.
The move seems desperate, but could pay dividends. Hayes presence at center could push JT Miller to elevate his game and become the NHL player the Rangers have hoped for. One that can play top 6 minutes with good size, speed and vision.
Of course, this leaves Kevin Hayes on the outside looking in. Why? The signing of 34 year old forward Ryan Malone. A reclamation project after a DUI and cocaine bust in April, but a team player who can provide size up front and be trusted in his own end.
Groups for tomorrow’s on-ice testing. Group A will be on ice: 10:00–11:45, Group B: 12:15– 2:00, Group C: 2:15 –3:15. pic.twitter.com/YYQ8WuzJ0O
— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) September 18, 2014
Yesterday, we got a glimpse of the Rangers on-ice testing. A quick glance at the three groups suggests the long-shots to make the team are all in group C. The other two groups are mixed with players we know will make the lineup and others who have to show if they can make it here.
One of the biggest points of interest for many yesterday was who will be the next captain? Alain Vigneault told the assembled media, that will be answered at the end of camp. He also did not make it seem that it was a foregone conclusion McDonagh was the answer.
“I think that all teams have a core leadership group, and it’s not up to just one individual.” Vigneault continued, “It has to be a group effort and I see in our team some real strong possibilities as far as being captain, but I also think that since this is a new year and we’ve changed some pieces to the puzzle, I want to see how things unfold in training camp”
All of these are fair points, and let’s face it – Ryan McDonagh doesn’t live under a rock. He has heard and read all the same things we have. It wouldn’t surprise me that AV calculated this and wants to see how Ryan acts in camp knowing he is the lead pony in the race.
“The captain of a team has to have the power to influence players in the right direction by his example, by the way he conducts himself. He also has to be able to regroup the troops, and he is an extension with his assistants of the coaching staff. The core values and the standards that we’re trying to establish, when we’re not in the room, they’re the ones that are pushing that. They’re making sure that everybody on our team does it the right way. That’s what we’re basically looking for on the resume there.”
These are all things McDonagh has in abundance. Sure, Marty St. Louis has that and the experience to boot as well. However, the reality is MSL only has 2-3 years more to his career and McD has 10 plus.
So as the Rangers embark on a season with a quest to not only get back to the Final but to win it all, Vigneault is looking ahead. “Last year I was coming in, I was not quite sure, new surroundings, Original Six. This year I know what to expect that way and I’m real excited about our group.”
The pain of last season is now behind them. Although it will sit in the back of their minds all year, the prospects of the new season springs new hope and optimism.
Hockey is back, let the adventure begin.