Gallant, Rangers agree to part ways, organization deserves more blame for this mess

In a move that isn’t surprising, the Rangers and Gerard Gallant have decided to part ways. Following the disappointing first round defeat to the Devils, there was uncertainty surrounding Gallant’s job status.

Despite having another successful season in which the team went 47-22-13 with 107 points, Gallant was unable to match last year’s success. In his first year, the Rangers followed up a 110-point season by coming back to defeat the Penguins and rallying past the Hurricanes to reach their first Eastern Conference Final since 2015.

Led by Igor Shesterkin having a Vezina season, Gallant turned the Rangers around. He took over for David Quinn behind the bench in 2021-22. Given a young roster that had a core featuring Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and Ryan Strome, he did a good job.

Chris Drury provided Gallant with high character players such as Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves. Drury also added key deadline pieces, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, and Justin Braun. All fit in well into a roster that had more grit than the 2022-23 edition. They made key contributions in putting the Rangers within two wins of the Stanley Cup Finals. However, the championship Lightning won four straight games to take the closely fought series.

Unlike his first season, Gallant had to mix and match to find the right combinations. With Strome leaving via free agency, Drury brought in Vincent Trocheck as a replacement. He had a good first season but was unable to duplicate it in the postseason. Something that was emblematic of their first round ouster.

The team’s leading scorer Panarin was unable to produce in the playoffs. He had only two assists. Both of which came in a 5-1 win over the Devils to take Game One. Even playing a simpler game minus too many high-risk passes for turnovers didn’t change his lack of production. The Game Seven overtime hero against the Pens was a bitter disappointment. He wasn’t the only one.

Zibanejad only had a goal in the seven-game series. It again took six games for him to score, doing so in a Game Six win to stave off elimination. He had too many shifts where he disappeared offensively.

If not for Chris Kreider, who had a career best 52 goal season under Gallant, the Rangers would’ve been eliminated sooner. He scored five of his six goals on the power play. After a tough seventh game in which he was culpable on at least one goal, Kreider took the blame. He always holds himself accountable.

Even Fox, who was generously nominated for the Norris despite a few better candidates, didn’t have a good playoff. While he was a big factor with eight assists with four coming in Game One, he was nonexistent in the four losses. Like the Lightning did last year to turn around that series, the Devils successfully pressured Fox up high to take away time and space. On Mike McLeod’s shorthanded winner in an uncompetitive 4-0 loss that was symbolic of how hot and cold they were, Fox was taken off the puck by Ondrej Palat.

The only player who played up to his contract was Shesterkin. Once the Devils established their dangerous speed in transition and turned up the heat on Shesterkin, it became a very tough series. Shesterkin made a lot of difficult saves while playing at a high level.

One of the biggest differences between last year’s roster and this past year was the lack of balance. Unlike 21-22, Drury supplied Gallant with star talent by adding Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane to round out the top six. However, despite Tarasenko finding chemistry with Zibanejad and Panarin, he lined up mostly with Trocheck. Kane was more limited due to his hip, which he revealed might need surgery this summer. He played through the injury that made him cheaper to acquire.

Of all the quotes that Gallant had after the first round, perhaps the one that doomed him was the one on talent that was asked by New York Post writer Mollie Walker. The way he responded to it was very telling. To paraphrase, you can have all the talent in the world. Having talent is nice. But you also need players who can forecheck. Unlike last year’s team, this team lacked that the entire season. They were never consistent and weren’t a good five-on-five team. When the power play didn’t perform, they lost in humiliating fashion.

As much criticism as he received for a lack of adjustments during the first round, Gallant did a good job last year by realizing that Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko worked best with Filip Chytil. It was the hard work and youthful energy of the Kid Line that was a key factor in the Rangers’ run to the Conference Finals a year ago. Unfortunately, they were unable to match that in the first round.

Drury also added Niko Mikkola in the Tarasenko deal from St. Louis. A solid, unspectacular player, he was a nice fit on the blue line. Not only did he work well with Braden Schneider, who better have a bigger role moving forward. But Mikkola subbed in for the injured Lindgren admirably on the first pair with Fox.

Motte was brought back for a second straight deadline. He had five goals and five assists in 24 games. His checking and penalty killing was an asset. Unfortunately, Motte and the fourth line that included Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey, who brought the grit Gallant wanted, were unable to establish much against the very fast Devils. Of all the players that spoke to the media on breakup day, Motte sounded amenable to a return. We’ll see what the organization decides.

With limited cap space due to both Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller needing new contracts due to being restricted free agents, the Rangers are in a tough position. They’re likely to lose both Kane and Tarasenko to free agency. Mikkola liked his time in New York City. But he probably will cost too much. Kane sounded ready to move on but had nothing but good things to say. Tarasenko also liked playing here. But he can command a nice salary, which likely means he’ll sign elsewhere.

One of the biggest reasons Gallant is out has to do with a shouting match he had with Drury. It came after a bad loss in Game Four. A game where the team fell flat. That allowed the Devils to tie the series. Supposedly, a lot of stuff has come out since Wednesday. Gallant didn’t like the roster he coached. It sounds like whatever happened led to his dismissal.

How much of a role did the leadership play? As we know, when players have their final meetings with the GM, things can change. After 2012-13, in which they lost to the Bruins, John Tortorella was let go of. Despite winning the President’s Trophy and guiding the previous team in 2011-12 to its first Conference Final appearance since 1997, Tortorella lost his job due to what key voices said, including Henrik Lundqvist.

It happens. What’s so bothersome is how this played out. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of Gallant, it feels like he’s taking the fall. The bottom line is that the organization dramatically changed the roster. They went from a grittier team that was built for the playoffs to a soft, predictable one that could easily be taken off their game. They were so bad in the seventh and deciding game that it set off alarms.

Was it all on the coach? Absolutely not. Unless you’ve lived in a vacuum, the core failed to meet expectations. The Kane trade really felt forced by upper management. It reeked of a Dolan/Sather move. There are no shortcuts to winning a championship. Especially when everyone knew Kane was less than his best.

Gallant looks like the good guy here. He didn’t deserve what he got. The organization never heard his call to make the roster tougher. Instead, they were too easy to play against. Even the Devils hit harder. All you had to do was look how dirty they got in front of Shesterkin. There was none of that from the Rangers. Only Kreider did it with most of the work on the power play.

Lafreniere, who’s become an easy target, also did some of the dirty work. However, no points is what resonates with the same fans who think Kakko was some star despite only a goal and assist. He doesn’t hit and isn’t a natural scorer. In many aspects, the Rangers have failed both former second and top picks by not properly developing them. They’ve learned on the job while playing secondary roles. That must change moving forward.

With Gallant gone, now what’s the plan? It better not be hiring Joel Quenneville. He is still on suspension by the league for what he knew about Kyle Beach being sexually assaulted while coaching the Blackhawks. I don’t care that he won three Cups. His checkered past shouldn’t make him a candidate. It would be a PR disaster. If they actually got permission and hired him, I’d boycott. I value high character and principles.

The same goes for retreads Darryl Sutter and Peter Laviolette. Both have won before. However, they have not been successful recently. As good as a coach as Sutter is, the Flames couldn’t wait to get rid of him. It took too long for Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri to adjust. The Flames went from reaching the second round last year to not even qualifying for the playoffs.

What has Laviolette done to change the perception of him? He won a Stanley Cup many moons ago in Carolina following the lockout. He also guided the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. After taking the Predators to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, he’s won only one round. The Capitals missed the playoffs. That was enough to part ways. They’re expected to hire top assistant Jeff Halpern.

Unless they elevate Wolf Pack coach Kris Knoblauch, who’s been successful everywhere, there aren’t many options. Currently, Hartford advanced to the third round of the AHL Playoffs after defeating Providence in four games. They’ve gotten better goaltending out of prospect Dylan Garand. He’s 5-1 with a 1.44 GAA and .954 save percentage in six games. He’s only 20 in his first pro season.

The one suggestion I’ll make is current Devils top assistant Andrew Brunette. The former Jack Adams winner who guided the Panthers to the President’s Trophy deserves another chance behind the bench. His offensive style should make him a strong candidate around the league.

With so much uncertainty surrounding how to fix a roster that is loaded with immovable contracts they invested in, they’re between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they have veterans who are now in their 30’s. On the other hand, they have younger players who, aside from Miller, need bigger roles. That includes new arrivals Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle.

I imagine Othmann would be better served spending some time in Hartford. They never did it with Kakko or Lafreniere. A critical mistake when they were blocked from having top six roles. Unless something drastic changes, what will be different?

The Rangers can change the coach. But it doesn’t mean anything. The Devils aren’t going anywhere. They’re better set up for the long-term. With up and coming teams like the Sabres and Senators improving, it’ll only get tougher. The organization (Dolan/Sather) is at a crossroads.


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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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2 Responses to Gallant, Rangers agree to part ways, organization deserves more blame for this mess

  1. hasan4978 says:

    I thought he did get a lot of say in personnel and how the team was structured two years ago…for some reason that evidently changed this year. Who knows why, I guess Dolan just couldn’t resist sticking his beak in a la the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks. I was wondering about the rumors of a Game 4 kerfuffle, guess there was something to that. Maybe that had something to do with his surprisingly terse presser when he called the team out for not showing up?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Felix says:

      He didn’t love the roster. That was obvious from some of his postgame commentary leading up to the first round. There were some warning signs. They didn’t play well in a couple of losses. Even in games they won, there was no consistency. He was definitely concerned after they qualified for the playoffs.

      Management (Dolan/Sather) forced Kane here. It was overkill. It was the worst secret that he had a hip issue that could require surgery. They went and got him anyway, hurting the cap and team structure.

      I’ve always been a huge fan of Kane. But he was a liability at five-on-five. He can drive play. But his skating obviously wasn’t as good. Outside of Game 2, he wasn’t much of a factor. He at least showed up in Game 7.

      This is about the way the team does things. They lied to the fans. The Letter didn’t last too long. Once they overpaid Panarin and Trouba, who I like, they committed too much money and years on the cap. Both Kreider and Zibanejad are signed long-term. Trocheck, too. The NMC’s don’t help but hinder the process to change the roster.

      The Carmelo reference is interesting. They could’ve waited and gotten him for less. At least he was a star who performed.

      Was Gallant perfect? Far from it. He had his flaws. Not being good at adjusting. Some of his postgame commentary. Too reliant on PP1. Guys overstaying shifts due to that.

      Even if Kakko/Lafreniere aren’t close to what was expected, have they been allowed to play top minutes and develop? The organization failed. Both needed more development in Hartford.

      What will change? Thank God Quenneville isn’t coming. I’d have no longer blogged on the Rangers. Lol


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