5 Questions for the Rangers to Answer After Firing David Quinn
The New York Rangers are one of the historic franchises in the NHL, but it's tough to know where the club is headed as it continues its rebuilding efforts that were started in the spring of 2018.
One week after James Dolan woke up and decided to rebuild the Rangers front office by firing general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson, the club let go of nearly the entire NHL coaching staff. David Quinn and three of his four assistants, David Oliver, Jacques Martin and Greg Brown, were dismissed in a move that was not entirely shocking. Goaltending coach Benoit Allaire was retained.
Quinn had been on the hot seat all season and dealt with criticism over his handling of teenage prospects Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Quinn was hired to develop, but there was little development in his three seasons on Broadway. The club boasts a farm system that ranks among the best in hockey, so talent development will be even more crucial in the coming seasons.
The stranger decision was the firing of Gorton and Davidson.
Dolan, the owner of the NBA's New York Knicks, the Rangers and the executive chairman and CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, has generally been hands-off with the operations of his hockey club. But the Rangers were at the eye of the Tom Wilson storm in early May and many wondered whether the decisions to fire the architects of a rebuild had something to do with that brouhaha.
Whether it did or didn't, Chris Drury is now the point man in charge of this rebuild as president and general manager. He'll oversee the development of a new crop of Blueshirts and help guide the club to the next step in this rebuild. He'll be assisted by senior advisor Glen Sather, who was the last general manager to get the Rangers to a Stanley Cup Final.
So what's next for one of the most iconic teams in the sport? Here are five questions the Rangers will have to answer this summer.
1. How Will the Rangers Structure Their Staff?
Drury, the former associate general manager and GM of the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, was elevated to the role of president and general manager when Gorton and Davidson were asked to exit.
So we know Drury is running the hockey operations department. Will the Rangers look to replace Davidson with another president who can work alongside Drury? Typically, a team president acts as the right-hand man to the general manager. Right now, senior advisor Glen Sather is assisting Drury with the transition. He was the last general manager to guide the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, doing so in 2014, so there may not be a need for one immediately, if at all.
Drury could go it alone. There are a few team president/GM combos in the league. Lou Lamoriello holds both roles on Long Island, David Poile pulls double duty with the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks have scrapped the position all together, giving Bob Murray the title of executive vice president and general manager.
But team presidents often have roles outside of hockey ops. It depends on how clubs structure their front offices. Across the Hudson in New Jersey, Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald leads the hockey operations department, while team president Jake Reynolds heads up the business and marketing side of the organization. It's a bigger-picture type of role for Reynolds and others in similar roles throughout the league.
If the Rangers want to hire another popular franchise legend to act as a public figurehead of sorts, Mark Messier seems ready to step into that role. The Hall of Fame former center has been vocal in his criticism of how the Rangers have been built, most notably their lack of enforcers, and recently told ESPN Radio's Michael Kay that he would be interested in taking a role with the team he hoisted the Stanley Cup with.
Drury should have his choice of top candidates to assist him, whether it's as a team president or otherwise. The Rangers are a high-profile team with good resources, and Drury has been well-respected throughout the league since his playing days.
2. Who Replaces Quinn?
Former Rangers coach John Tortorella is available after parting ways with the Columbus Blue Jackets. That would be a fun reunion, especially since it would also reunite him with star winger Artemi Panarin, but something about it just doesn't feel like a fit this time around.
Kris Knoblauch and Gerard Gallant are the two early names to emerge.
Knoblauch showed his NHL coaching mettle when he took over behind the Rangers bench for Quinn in late March, along with Drury, when the coach was forced into isolation by COVID-19 protocols. He went 4-2 in that span, keeping the Rangers in the mix for a playoff spot in the East Division during a crucial stretch of the season.
But that six-game span aside, the reason Knoblauch makes sense is that he has a familiarity with the organization's up-and-coming talent. That talent will be heavily relied on in the coming season, and an ideal situation for any rebuilding team in the salary-cap era is to have the AHL coach grow with the AHL talent.
But the Rangers aren't just any rebuilding team. There is a certain level of prestige that comes with an Original Six team and a team in New York. A prestige coach might be what Dolan is after, and it might be what is needed to take the team to the next level. Gallant would fit that bill.
Gallant is the heavy favorite to helm the expansion Seattle Kraken because of his success with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights three years ago, but maybe a team with the talent level of the Rangers could be appealing to Gallant.
Rick Tocchet, who was recently let go by the Arizona Coyotes, could also be another option. He doesn't have the history of success that Gallant has, but he does have a stellar reputation as a players' coach. Claude Julien is also on the market after being let go by the Montreal Canadiens earlier this season.
3. What Is the Playoff Timeline?
After they find a new head coach, the next logical step in the rebuild will be making the playoffs. But the Rangers aren't predicting how soon that next step will be taken.
"I don't know if there's a set timeline where I'm going to say or anyone can say the rebuild is over," Drury said in his introductory Zoom press conference. "We're looking deep into everything in the organization to put ourselves in the best spot next October to get off to a great start and push towards making that playoff."
The Rangers have 13 players under contract next season. They acted swiftly in locking up defenseman Ryan Lindgren earlier this week, signing him to a three-year, $9 million extension. But the club has six RFAs it will need to sign, including Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and goalie Igor Shesterkin. They will likely buy out defenseman Tony DeAngelo.
By the end of it, the Rangers could be facing some tight salary-cap constraints.
Jack Eichel could be the top player on the trade market this summer if the Buffalo Sabres decide to move him. At some point, the club might want to upgrade Panarin's center on the top line. Ryan Strome is good, but Eichel is elite.
With the 25-year-old possibly looking at neck surgery, his stock is slightly down, but he will still command a high price.
4. Is It Time to Trade 1 of the Kids?
It's never easy parting with a high draft pick, but it has been done (see: one-for-one, the Taylor Hall-Adam Larsson swap). Any trade for Eichel will likely start with a package that includes Kakko, Lafreniere or Miller.
But it's probably unlikely. The salary cap creates the need for young players on entry-level or bridge contracts. There is little incentive to give up a big piece of the club's future for a $10 million cap hit.
Instead, the club should look to make some minor upgrades to the roster. There is plenty of prospect capital to be able to swing a big trade, but a few minor ones might be more beneficial and could allow the Rangers to hang on to more of their top-tier talent.
5. How Active Will James Dolan Be in the Rebuilding Process?
Unlike their NBA counterpart, the Rangers have been a model of consistency for the past 15 years. They made the postseason in 11 of 12 seasons from 2006-2017. Only three head coaches have been behind the Madison Square Garden bench since then. Technically, all three took the Rangers to the postseason since last year the team made the bubble tournament, losing in the "postseason" play-in round (the next rounds were officially referred to as the Stanley Cup playoffs).
The Rangers are in an enviable position, set up for success now and in the future with their young talent and salary-cap situation.
So why were Gorton and Davidson let go?
In a statement, Dolan said he felt a change was needed in order for the organization to succeed. But the bigger question is why, after years of letting his best hockey minds run his hockey team, did he suddenly decide to make an impulsive move by firing his two top executives? If there was a directive in place to make the playoffs or get out, Drury was unaware.
"I don't think that was the expectation. I don't think that was a mandate," he said. "With all the ups and downs throughout this shortened season with coaches getting COVID, players in and out of the lineup, injuries, our youth, I think overall we had some very good, positive, growing moments. Now it's definitely time to take the next step and turn those moments and turn our collective group of players into a team."
Rebuilds take patience. When owners run out of patience and start handing out ultimatums to make the postseason or face consequences, it usually ends up setting the process back a few steps.