This wasn’t as much about past performance as future intentions. This wasn’t at all about missing the playoffs this year but rather the possibility of missing them again next year and maybe the year after that while following a long and winding rebuild road.
Information is at a premium when it concerns the thought process of Garden and Rangers CEO Jim Dolan, who until this moment had resisted anything like this intervention on the hockey side of the business.
In that sense, this is shocking.
But sources indicate that Dolan’s vision of the future, and more specifically the immediate future, clashed with the blueprint embraced by now-former team president John Davidson and now-former general manager Jeff Gorton, both dismissed Wednesday. Three years after The Letter and only two years after luring Davidson from Columbus to oversee the program, philosophies diverged.
Davidson, who had overseen bottom-up rebuilds in St. Louis and Columbus that failed to reach fruition under his tenure, had continued to preach patience under a slow-walk philosophy. Gorton presumably was not only JD’s acolyte, but a true believer.
After four years out of the playoffs, Dolan had begun to question the administration of the program whose long view does not exactly jibe with the roster whose marquee players Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider will be between 28 and 30 when next season commences and are likely to be diminished by the time the promise coalesces.
Since the adoption of the hard cap, there have been 20 instances in which teams missed the playoffs at least four consecutive seasons. Four straight stretched into at least six straight on seven occasions. Of the 18 teams to miss at least four straight times, only the 2012 and 2014 Kings have won the Cup in the aftermath, though the Maple Leafs have a shot this season, five years after ending a seven-year drought and 17 years after winning their last playoff round.
There is a Part B to this: There is no question that the meek manner in which the Rangers were manhandled by the Islanders when the playoffs were still in sight added to Dolan’s urgency here. The prioritization of skill guys over will guys was noted. So was an absence of pushback.
It is safe to suggest that this was something Dolan was not willing to abide as a part of the process, a position perhaps influenced by the unexpected success of his blue-collar Knicks team that is being led by a new regime.
Gorton did outstanding work in assembling a stockpile of promising pieces (certainly aided by lottery wins in both 2019 and 2020 that yielded Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere) in addition to pulling off home-run trades that brought the likes of Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller to Broadway.
But the GM — and Davidson — seemed to ignore the meaning of last summer’s beatdown by Carolina under the bubble by not fortifying the roster with grit and strength to support all of the finesse-oriented athletes. Maybe the hierarchy was hamstrung by cap constraints. Maybe they were going to get to it this summer.
But this was a deficiency everyone could see coming well before it manifested itself throughout the season and with finality in those games against the Islanders. This was Army being humiliated by Navy three times within two weeks, though the seeds of Dolan’s discontent had been sown before that.
Again. This represents shock treatment for those who believed the rebuild was not only on schedule but way ahead of what could have been anticipated in March 2018. A year ago maybe it was.
But it did not seem that way this season, even as the team kept adding promising pieces to the mix. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that one could admire the accumulation of prospects but still look at the operation sideways. I never could quite see the plotted path that would take the Rangers from here to the promised land. I did not sense urgency in adopting a course-correction, which, by the way, does not equate to seeking short-cuts.
And obviously neither could Dolan, who has one more vote than I do in this matter.
Chris Drury, the former Blueshirts captain who has spent six years in the front office, the last five as Gorton’s assistant GM, is expected to assume the dual role of president and general manager. Presumably, support will be added.
Drury has gained universal respect within the industry and from competing organizations and was asked to interview for vacant GM positions in Florida and Pittsburgh before withdrawing his candidacy. As part of his job description as Hartford GM, he hired Kris Knoblauch as Wolf Pack head coach. He also played a significant role in the 2018 Rangers coaching search that ended with the hiring of David Quinn to a five-year contract. Drury now will be responsible for deciding Quinn’s fate behind the bench.
There would be one guiding principle here for Drury, and that is whether he believes Quinn has the right stuff to lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup. That’s it. If the answer is no, there is no reason to dally. That would be the case even if Arizona’s Rick Tocchet were not looming as a free agent.
This was a day of upheaval in a season of upheaval for the Rangers. The Letter is in the past. The past is in the rearview mirror with Davidson and Gorton. This is all about the future. Development has left Penn Station.
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