As Chris Drury, the new Rangers’ General Manager and team President, said this morning, it has been a whirlwind 24 hours for the team and its fans. Actually, it is just a little more than 60 hours since the wrecking ball started rolling for the fans–it was set in motion with Tom Wilson’s hits/punches/cross checks on Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin. Then followed the Rangers’ statement that Wilson’s punishment was too mild (calling the failure to give Wilson a suspension for his violent actions a “dereliction of duty”). And then the coup de grace, the owner Jim Dolan firing both team President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton yesterday. After all that, and the Rangers fighting every Caps player in sight last night, this morning, both Drury and the team’s “Advisor,” Glen Sather, met the media.
Both said the expected things–that the firings had nothing to do with Tuesday’s letter to the NHL and that the team is going to take the next steps in the rebuild. Drury declined to tell us when discussions about the change in his position started to take place (which will lead everyone to believe that this started before 60 hours ago), but he did make clear that no promises were made to him when he became associate general manager in January.
What both men made clear was that more changes are coming (perhaps as early as next week) and that positions need to be filled–in Hartford particularly. Just before the presser, it was announced that the Rangers had recalled Tim Gettinger, Jonny Brodzinski, and Justin Richards. That puts Hartford down five players (with Barron and Reunanen already on the Rangers’ roster) for this afternoon’s tilt with Providence.
Whew, between all this and last night’s game, where a total of 141 penalty minutes were assessed between Washington and New York, everyone involved with the Rangers’ head is on a swivel.
The fact of the matter is that, Head Coach David Quinn was at least partially right when he said earlier in the week that there would be no brawling because the team was not built that way. To the Rangers credit, they tried brawling last night, and get an “A” for effort in doing so. But when you look at the playoff bound Caps roster, any one of a half dozen of their guys could have pounded the toughest Ranger into oblivion. In fact, look at most of (pretty much all of) the playoff bound teams and they are bigger and tougher than the Blueshirts. So, Quinn is right that Rangers are not built that way. And therein lies the problem. Although many may not agree with Mark Messier’s words yesterday that if a team is “going to win, you got to be able to win in the street and the alley,” looking at other successful teams, he has at least somewhat of a point. What a team cannot be is mostly skill with little to no toughness, and smaller guys on the back end. Maybe one smaller guy on the back (i.e., Fox) but not more. Size, speed, puck movement, and toughness is the cornerstone of success on the back end. As far as forwards go, there are just too many players on this team who are considered “skill” with little to no toughness. Personally, I love the way Morgan Barron has played since he got here–he is a big man, he has skill, and he hits.
Now, the controversial part. The team has gotten some top picks over the last few years, and some very skilled players have been selected with those picks. But, not all of them can be kept and, for a couple, their highest value may be in the next few months. More than one trade should be considered in the next few months to obtain players who more fit the mold of a Stanley Cup-bound team. Keeping every one of these young skill players, when you already have Zibanejad and Panarin, just makes for a mediocre or worse team.
One has to wonder if issues of what to do with the young budding stars and how the team should look next season (and beyond) are part of what caused the firings yesterday. Although there surely is a “new” NHL, where high-skill players take center stage, but some thought should be given to adding more size, grit, and toughness up front, and then an Anthony Mantha type. Tough excellent forwards can be found, you just have to be willing to give up some of your prized high-skill assets to get them. And this the Rangers should. No team can keep all of their high-end talent or the team goes nowhere. Its sad, but this fact may have eluded JD and Gorton and cost them both (great hockey men) their jobs.