The Post Quinn Era begins, Gallant the frontrunner, Leetch right to leave, Lindgren gets fair deal, Playoff Picks


It’s already been a long two days since new Team President and GM Chris Drury decided to move on from since departed coach David Quinn. After three years on the job as part of the rebuilding process, Quinn was dismissed by Drury and Glen Sather James Dolan. He didn’t do too badly, finishing with a record of 96-87-25.

If there was a reason for Quinn going a week following the shocking firings of John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, take no further look than the Islanders’ debacle. With a chance to close the gap for the playoffs, the Rangers were outscored 7-0 in consecutive games. So uncompetitive were they that it had to get the attention of Dolan, who’s been in the background with the hockey operations. The fact the team lost three straight games to its top rival by a combined score of 13-1 couldn’t have sat well with management. Without Jacob Trouba, Chris Kreider and Ryan Lindgren, they were no match for the grittier and more physical Islanders.

Combined with the no show in the Qualifying Round of the expanded playoffs against Carolina last summer, it had to sting. They simply aren’t ready yet. All the one-goal losses under Quinn during the 56-game schedule where they didn’t grab crucial points came back to haunt them. It isn’t a matter of the Rangers not being competitive in a rebranded East Division. For the most part, they were. But when push came to shove, they fell short in too many key games against the top four who made the postseason. The unwillingness to alter their style didn’t mesh with Quinn, who often complained following losses. Hint: He’s right.

When Ryan Strome second guessed one of Quinn’s main points about the lack of shots in a postgame, that was a telling sign that something was wrong. You also had NY Post beat writer Larry Brooks often bring up how the first power play unit overstayed their shifts. Something that was rarely addressed by the coaching staff. As good as the mostly five-man unit of Adam Fox, Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Strome and Mika Zibanejad are, there were frustrating moments where they fired blanks and turned over pucks due to a stubborn reluctance to shoot on the power play. Sometimes, you have to adjust to what the penalty killers are doing.

While Alexis Lafreniere improved over the final portion of his rookie campaign, he along with Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil often didn’t get enough ice time on the power play. That was due to that top unit pulling the crap they did. It was detrimental to the team concept. If they do hire top candidate Gerard Gallant, whose interview went well prior to going to coach Canada in the World Championships, the proven veterans won’t be able to get away with such nonsense. Gallant is no nonsense and won’t tolerate it. He’s been successful in the NHL coaching both the Panthers and Golden Knights to the playoffs. Most notably, bringing together the expansion Vegas club to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. He has the right temperament for the job. We’ll see if Drury hires him.

Of course, there are other coaching candidates available to be interviewed if Drury so chooses. The Rangers got permission from Vegas to interview Gallant due to him still being under contract despite getting the axe last season. Peter DeBoer replaced him. As far as other choices, there’s Rick Tocchet. He did a solid job in a small market squeezing what he could out of the Coyotes. A former Stanley Cup winner who also is hard nosed, Tocchet would be a good coach to interview. He certainly should get hired somewhere. If not the Big Apple, maybe Columbus or Buffalo.

John Tortorella is no stranger to the big city. A former Rangers’ coach who relieved Tom Renney during ’08-09, the fiery veteran who guided the ’03-04 Lightning to its first Cup did a good job. In four and a half years, his defense first approach helped turn the team into the Black and Blueshirts. An identity that fit the mold of warriors Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. They certainly sacrificed a lot along with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. More of a straight edge style that benefited Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, a team that eventually included Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh turned the Rangers into a first place outfit during ’11-12. They out-grinded the Senators and Capitals in the first two rounds of the playoffs before coming up short in gut wrenching fashion against the Devils. It was during that era that Henrik Lundqvist had his best seasons, winning a Vezina and finishing runner-up. The thing about Tortorella is his style can wear thin on players. He wants to keep coaching. I don’t see it being here where you have a lot of kids mixed in with a nucleus that could need changes.

There are other candidates who I don’t believe are the best fits. Claude Julien is a successful coach who’s won a Cup in Boston. He’s been around the block even running the Montreal bench twice. They fired him earlier this season. Bruce Boudreau is also available. After some success with Washington, he’s moved around. Most recently, Boudreau coached the Wild. However, he lost his job during ’19-20. With the addition of Kirill Kaprizov, they’ve improved and will challenge the Golden Knights in the first round. Boudreau is a good listen on NHL Network. He’s a good guy who could wind up back behind a bench. Bob Hartley’s name has been mentioned due to his past relationship with Drury where they won a Cup together. I don’t see it. I view him as more of a long shot. Ditto for Mike Babcock who has a lot of mending to do if he’s ever to return to an NHL bench. That isn’t the direction I’d go.

You also have seen Patrick Roy mentioned. 😳 Why? Because he knows Lafreniere from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. After his initial success returning to the Avalanche to the playoffs, they missed the playoffs in consecutive years. He returned to the Quebec Remparts as GM and Coach. Why would he leave such a good situation where he feels comfortable? For those who have suggested Mark Messier, they might want to line up with a certain leader and jump off a bridge. Messier has zero experience and his politicking for Quinn’s job before he was dismissed was astonishing. No wonder the Michael Kay Show is now losing the ratings war to Carton and Roberts. If Dolan had really wanted Messier, he would’ve hired him over Alain Vigneault. Good thing he didn’t.

With all the madness that’s taken place the past week, Brian Leetch decided to leave the organization. The Rangers’ all-time great had been a hockey operations adviser since 2017. He assisted with prospects in development with the Wolf Pack while helping out in hockey-related decisions. It’s fairly obvious why he resigned his post. Even though Drury asked him to stay on, there’s no love lost between Leetch and Sather, who for whatever reason still has Dolan’s ear. It’s utterly ridiculous. After what Sather did to Leetch 17 years ago by trading him on his birthday without telling him, I don’t blame him. Leetch was special. He wasn’t even asked about a trade. Combine that with his close ties to Davidson and Quinn, there’s no wondering why he departed. Interestingly, the Rangers have hired former NHL player Mike Grier to replace him in the same role. Brad Richards also is still with the organization. So, they’re fine. Good luck to the classy Leetch in future endeavors.

In the only player-related news, Drury announced that the Rangers reached agreement on a new contract with Ryan Lindgren. After his entry level contract expired, the defensive defenseman was set to become a restricted free agent. However, he re-signed for three years at an average cap hit of $3 million. This is good value for the 23-year old Lindgren. Originally acquired as part of the Rick Nash trade with Boston, he’s become a staple on the blue line. Frequently paired up with Adam Fox, the physical Lindgren posted a goal and 15 assists for 16 points with a plus-20 rating, 35 penalty minutes, 98 hits and 50 blocked shots in 51 games. He’ll continue to play a key role at five-on-five and on the penalty kill while keeping opponents honest. Something he and Jacob Trouba do. Both were missed down the stretch following season-ending injuries. Chris Kreider acknowledged that he had back spasms which prevented him from taking part in the final six games. He said it was extremely hard to not play. It hurt. Maybe that explains why he went over a month without an even strength goal.

One final thought on Quinn going. Despite everything including some questionable in game decisions and lineup moves, he did a good job. He developed most of the young players well. Kaapo Kakko is a more complete player and his patience with Lafreniere paid off. He praised the coach for helping him out in his first year. It wasn’t ideal due to the COVID-19 situation and no training camp. Plus Lafreniere was mostly used in a secondary role until the end. His confidence grew as did his scoring with him finishing with 12 goals. He wasn’t afraid to use Vitaly Kravtsov where ever due to his poise. Zac Jones and K’Andre Miller were handled well. The future is bright. Now, it becomes about the new mandate of making the playoffs. That’s exactly what the goal should be. Quinn is a nice guy who hopefully will catch on as an assistant on a staff. Or he could go back to college. Good luck to him.

With the NHL Playoffs set to begin this weekend, here are my first round picks and beyond.

East

(1) Penguins over (4) Islanders in 6

(3) Bruins over (2) Capitals in 6

Penguins over Bruins

Central

(1) Hurricanes over (4) Predators in 6

(3) Lightning over (2) Panthers in 7

Hurricanes over Lightning

West

(4) Blues over (1) Avalanche in 7

(2) Golden Knights over (3) Wild in 6

Golden Knights over Blues

North

(1) Maple Leafs over (4) Canadiens in 5

(2) Oilers over (3) Jets in 5

Maple Leafs over Oilers

Final Four

Hurricanes over Penguins

Golden Knights over Maple Leafs

Stanley Cup Final

Hurricanes over Golden Knights

Conn Smythe

Sebastian Aho

If they win, Rod Brind’Amour would become a former player to captain a team and then coach the same team to Stanley Cups. He captained the ’05-06 Hurricanes to their only championship. How many other former captains have accomplished that?

One thing is certain. It won’t be easy. The Central is by far the hardest division. The Predators took care of Carolina twice in the final week. That could be interesting. I’m looking forward to the Battle Of Florida pitting the Panthers against the defending champion Lightning. The Bolts get Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back. Victor Hedman is banged up. I think that goes seven. I took Tampa’s experience and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Whoever comes out of that division will earn it. Imagine if Covid and injuries hadn’t sidetracked Dallas. Yikes.

I believe the Caps are too banged around against the much improved Bruins. They’re a different team since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly. How healthy are Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson? T.J. Oshie is also nicked up but expected to be ready for Game 1. Evgeny Kuznetsov is out due to COVID. For how long? The Caps certainly have enough grit. But I think Boston is four lines deep and Tuukka Rask should give them an edge in net over Vitek Vanecek/Ilya Samsonov. Don’t forget Zdeno Chara facing his former team he led to a Cup. Might we see some battles between him and Brad Marchand?

I don’t get the point of Calgary and Vancouver playing meaningless games while the postseason begins. It’s idiotic. Why does Edmonton have to play their 56th and final game against the Canucks? It is pointless. I wouldn’t dress Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. But I bet Dave Tippett will. How many more points does McDavid need? It’s all about the first round match-up against Winnipeg, who concluded their schedule with a win over Toronto. Unless Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head, I don’t feel the Jets have enough to slow down McDavid or Draisaitl. Tyson Barrie has been on a roll. Darnell Nurse is good too.. Edmonton should challenge Toronto for a spot in the Final Four. I simply don’t feel Montreal has enough to beat the Leafs. Especially with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner hot. I think Jack Campbell will get it done. Is Carey Price even an option for the Habs? At least they have Jake Allen. I’m most interested to see Cole Caufield. This is the first playoff battle between Montreal and Toronto since 1979. Cue Smashing Pumpkins.

The Islanders didn’t finish well. Their grinding style usually works in the playoffs. But the Pens don’t only rely on skill anymore. They can also win board and puck battles. That’s why Mike Sullivan should be up for the Jack Adams and Sidney Crosby should finish runner-up to McDavid for the Hart. Crosby had a terrific year helping carry the Pens after Evgeni Malkin went down. He and Jake Guentzel make a great tandem. Bryan Rust shoots from everywhere. Kris Letang had another good year. The one edge the Isles have is in net with Semyon Varlamov, who’ll get the nod over Ilya Sorokin. Tristan Jarry doesn’t have the playoff experience. Their best chance is to get to him quickly on Sunday at high noon. BTW why is it so early? Thank God no more NBC after this season.

Why did I take the Blues over the Avalanche? Because I like how they’re playing. They won big games over Colorado to wrap up the fourth seed and are the kind of team that can cause problems for the Avalanche at even strength. St. Louis is healthy with Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn rounding into form along with Mike Hoffman. To win, they must stay out of the box. The Colorado power play is lethal thanks to Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. It hinges on Philipp Grubauer opposed by Jordan Binnington. Binnington will have to steal a game. I think it’s an intriguing series. If the Blues and Golden Knights advance, you’d have the cool storyline of Alex Pietrangelo versus his former team he captained to the Stanley Cup two years ago.

The reseeding of the Final Four could provide a unique Stanley Cup. Will a Canadian team finally end the curse? We’ll see what happens. Enjoy the games.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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