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Regarding the Rangers, while awaiting the decision on David Quinn’s fate as head coach:
1. Chris Drury is not the type of individual to rush to judgement. The newly installed Blueshirts president and general manager conducted a Wolf Pack coaching search two years ago that took more than three months before he hired Kris Knoblauch to replace Keith McCambridge.
Obviously the call on Quinn will not take as long. But as Drury mulls it over and weighs the pros and cons of sending Quinn into his fourth season behind the bench against the pros and cons of replacing him with one of the experienced candidates who will line up for the job if it becomes open, I’d just say that if the chief hockey executive is on the fence, then the tie should go to the incumbent.
But here is the caveat: If the choice is made to retain Quinn, Drury can’t start the season looking over the coach’s shoulder and poised to fire him if the team gets off to a 3-6-1 start. The Rangers cannot begin the season with a coaching watch. If Quinn keeps the gig, then it’s got to be his unless the bottom drops out. If that is not a factor in the decision, it certainly should be.
I do think Quinn needs to back off a little and give his players a bit more breathing room from behind the bench. There is no question the team was more relaxed when Knoblauch was running things (with Drury as an assistant) for those six games Quinn missed while on the COVID list. Substitute teacher syndrome? Maybe to an extent, but the coach who likes to be close to his players needs to give them some more space, certainly the veterans.
But again, I believe this complex decision is just this simple: Does Drury believe that Quinn is the coach to take the team to the next level? Part B: Does he have enough confidence in Quinn not to fire him three weeks into next season if the team stumbles out of the gate?
2. I have made it clear that I believe the Rangers need to do far more than improve on the margins. I believe they need to hunt for big game to change the dynamic of their top six, and yes, of course if there is any way to pry Matthew Tkachuk out of Calgary that should become Drury’s singular obsession. There is nobody, but nobody, who would be a better fit.
Of course the bounty sent the other way would be massive. The Rangers have four players with no-move clauses in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba, none of whom would suit the Flames, anyway.
I’d wall off Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox and Alexis Lafreniere as untouchable, I’d designate Ryan Lindgren nearly untouchable and go from there.
Does that mean I’m in a hurry to move Kaapo Kakko? No. Or K’Andre Miller? Certainly not. But as I have said before, the Rangers are going to have to trade someone they don’t want to sacrifice in order to get a transformational top-six player.
Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t envision a package consisting of a permutation of Filip Chytil, Pavel Buchnevich, Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist and future first-rounders getting it done.
Do you think Neil Smith wanted to trade Tony Amonte?
3. The irony is that much of the backlash created by last week’s firings of John Davidson as president and Jeff Gorton as GM was a consequence of the organization doing too good of a sell-job on the rebuild. The Letter and its stated principles became a beacon to which a large segment of the team’s fan base pledged fealty.
Now there is fear, albeit irrational, that Drury will undo all the good done by his predecessors by making panicky win-now moves in order to appease Jim Dolan.
Let me assure you. Drury is not trading Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps.
4. So the season is over and with it, can we please agree to never again trot out the “They went through so much” narrative?
Truth is, in comparison to at least a half-dozen clubs that endured lengthy COVID-related shutdowns and others that played with a half-dozen or more important players on the COVID list, the Rangers went through relatively little.
The Tony DeAngelo-Alex Georgiev incident followed by DeAngelo’s immediate expulsion from the team was self-inflicted. The coaching staff’s COVID-related sabbatical had a constructive influence on the team, if anything.
And while Panarin’s leave of absence in the wake of those decade-old, unsubstantiated assault charges being levied from across the ocean by a political adversary was unique, teams lose their best players to injury for three weeks as a matter of course.
The final week was an amusement-park ride, but the competitive part of the season had ended by the time Tom Wilson twice body-slammed Panarin to trigger a wild 48-hour stretch.
The Rangers did have to endure but so did every team. The “Woe is them” narrative never fit, was a companion crutch to “But they are so young,” and should be stored forevermore.
That’s all I’m asking.
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