Gerard Gallant favorite to become Rangers coach with Tortorella unlikely

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First things first.

I can guarantee you that if John Tortorella returns to New York for a second term as Rangers head coach, he and I will make certain to get the rights to our own material and then stream it on our very own YouTube channel.

So there is that.

But I do not believe that there will be a reunion even if Tortorella has maintained warm relationships with Jim Dolan and Glen Sather in the aftermath of his dismissal following 2012-13. This is not the right time for a coach whose eternal instinct is to break down players before building them back up in his own image. This is not the time for a coach who endorses confrontation as a constructive tool in team-building.

He has been successful following that path in varying degrees in all of his stops except Vancouver. His influence sure took hold on Broadway. But the first time around Tortorella had Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist to mold, a far different cast of characters than Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox, Filip Chytil, presumably Nils Lundkvist and Igor Shesterkin.

Plus, his first time around there was a fissure with Marian Gaborik, the team’s most talented athlete. Talented players left Columbus during his term that ended with this year’s finale. It is believed that a significant part of the reason David Quinn was dismissed on Wednesday by president-general manager Chris Drury is the disconnect that developed between the coach and his marquee talent players as the season evolved.

Another time and another place, Hartford coach Kris Knoblauch would be among the most serious persons of interest to fill the vacancy off of his performance as acting coach for the six games and 11-day stretch Quinn and his assistants were quarantined under COVID protocols. The Blueshirts responded, appeared more relaxed under the acting coach and went 4-2 with Knoblauch behind the bench.

But this is not the time for a first-time NHL coach. Drury is seeking a coach with experience and backdrop of NHL success to take the baton from Quinn and take command of the program.

Sources have indicated that Gerard Gallant, who engineered the revival of the Panthers before taking the Golden Knights to the Cup final in the expansion team’s inaugural season, is at the top of the list and should expect an interview with Drury forthwith.

By the way, though Drury will remain GM of Team USA for the upcoming World Championships, he is not going to be on hand for the tournament in Latvia that runs from May 21 to June 6. Oh, and this notion that Dolan and Glen Sather are going to be behind the curtain is as ignorant as it gets.  

Gallant believes in up-tempo, puck-pursuit, puck-pressure hockey. He was successful with a very young group in Florida that featured 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov, 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad, 22-year-olds Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck as core pieces. They combined with 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr and 36-year-old netminder Roberto Luongo in leading the Puddy Tats to the 2016 playoffs before Gallant was kicked to the curb the following year after a philosophical fallout with ownership.

And he was successful in Vegas with a group of castoffs who had something to prove, molding discards with chips on their shoulders into a Stanley Cup finalist in the franchise’s first season in 2017-18 before being replaced two years later when Pete DeBoer came on the market.

I talked with several individuals in the league familiar with Gallant. Their scouting reports were close to identical. To wit: Gallant is a no-nonsense guy who commands respect, communicates well with his players and staff but not necessarily the media and public. He is low-key and shuns the spotlight, but is not necessarily known for bringing structure to a team. He can coach prospects but cuts them little slack.

Perusing his resume, I found it interesting that in each of his previous three stops, the first in Columbus beginning in 2003-04, he was fired during the middle of his third season. That does not represent much of a shelf life.

Claude Julien, a Cup winner, is available. So is Mike Babcock, a Cup winner who left Toronto under a cloud and whose reputation needs rehabilitation. This is probably not the best time or place for that. Bruce Boudreau is looking for a job.

Rick Tocchet, another no-nonsense guy who won a Cup as a power winger for the Penguins in 1992, sets a blue-collar tone and can work well with kids. There is Patrick Roy, the larger than life four-time Cup-winning personality, who had mixed results behind the Colorado bench and was Drury’s teammate for four years. Paul Maurice might be available if dismissed in Winnipeg.

And there is Bob Hartley, who won the 2001 Cup with Drury on the Avalanche, outcoached Scotty Bowman twice during the Colorado-Detroit maelstrom, and just won the 2021 KHL Gagarin Cup with Avangard Omsk to add to previous championships won the AHL and QMJHL. Hartley is believed to have a clause in his contract that would allow him to take an NHL job. His relationship with Drury is strong.

So here we are. The past is in the rear-view. The Rangers’ eyes — and Drury’s — are on the road ahead.     

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