The New York Rangers reportedly added assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Mike Kelly to serve under head coach Gerard Gallant, according to Larry Brooks of The New York Post. As announced several days ago, the Rangers have yet to select a third assistant but have a solid staff with their two newest additions (from ‘Rangers add two assistants to Gerard Gallant’s staff’, New York Post, 7/12/2021).
The trio is set to replace head coach David Quinn and assistants Jacques Martin, David Oliver, and Greg Brown. The former were released from the organization last month in an effort to allow the club to go in a new direction. With an abundance of young talent to work with, it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff can work alongside the players and how far they will run this season. Yet, what experience do Murphy and Kelly have that prompted Gallant to hire them?
Gord Murphy’s Coaching Background
Murphy’s promotion from assistant to the Rangers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, to join the Rangers is a sensical move due to his familiarity, especially with the organization, but also Gallant’s coaching style. Murphy joined the Wolf Pack staff back in 2019.
This is not the first time Rangers fans have seen Murphy behind the bench, however. Most recently, due to COVID protocols this past season, Murphy helped fill in for Quinn and Martin, along with others from the coaching staff. The Blueshirts went 4-2 under Murphy, Hartford and head coach Kris Knoblauch’s guidance.
Murphy will be at the helm of the defensive corps in New York. As a credentialed assistant leader, he will be no stranger to working with the blueliners, “he’s been around an awful long time, both as a player and … an assistant coach. He understands the game the way it was played and the way it’s played now. He can relate to everybody” said NHL analyst and Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster, Steve Coates several seasons back.
The former Flyers and Florida Panthers assistant crossed paths with Gallant back when Murphy was an assistant for the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was Murphy’s first role as an assistant in the NHL. He spent a total of seven seasons with Columbus’s staff from 2002-03 until 2009-10.
The Ontario native’s most recent stint with the Flyers ended during his fifth season in Philadelphia when the organization’s management completed a partial front office clearing. Though issues with the “entire group” were cited back in 2018, it is clear management was not thrilled with Murphy’s main task of developing the young defensemen.
Despite such conjecture, Flyers defender, Shayne Gostisbehere, said of Murphy, “he was my first D-coach in the NHL. He helped me a lot, complete my game sort of in some ways.” As the second-ever defensive coach for most of the young defensive Rangers’ core, his job will be even more integral for development and success.
It is no secret the organization is ready to take the next step. The team is ready to roll out of the rebuild phase and take the leap towards contending for the Stanley Cup. With the change in leadership as general manager (GM), Chris Drury emphasized, the staff is confident in their hiring decisions.
Mike Kelly’s Coaching Background
Kelly was the Assistant Coach with the Vegas Golden Knights and coached under Gallant from 2017-18 to the 2019-20 season. In addition to his experience in Vegas, he also served an assistant role with the Vancouver Canucks, and more recently, with the Panthers, like Murphy. Gallant and Kelly have a history that goes back further as well between the NHL and at the junior level in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Back in 2017, when Kelly joined the Vegas squad former GM, George McPhee spoke highly of the assistant when he stated, “his experience as a coach at various levels within professional hockey and as a recent assistant coach under Gerard with the Panthers made him a well-rounded candidate.”
Kelly emphasizes the importance of intangibles such as work ethic, high levels of competitiveness, and unabashed willingness to defend your teammate. If the former duo can bring the magic they brought to Vegas, it will be good news for the Rangers. Gallant already outlined his vision on Broadway, in which he expressed his confidence he is prepared to replicate the legacy he left in Vegas.
Gallant’s success with Kelly beside him cultivates the confidence he will take over Brown’s role just fine. The 61-year-old was a part of various World Junior Championship (WJC) coaching staffs, similar to Murphy. Their experience behind the bench in these tournaments helps sharpen their tools to work with younger players.
Coaching Imperatives this Season
Martin came in last season and turned the team’s penalty kill around dramatically. Hired prior to the 2020-21 season, the Rangers finished with a 77.39% penalty-kill (PK%), which landed them ninth-worst in the league during the regular season. The following season, the team ended with the tenth best PK% at 82.2% out of the 31 teams.
Continuing to be a strong team on the penalty-kill is necessary for success, as this was a large part of the team’s identity. Especially with the schedule set up going back to the typical league-wide version, the Rangers will once again meet top teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vegas Golden Knights with top PK% numbers.
Ideally, the coaching staff will come in and allow opportunities for the young and developing that were not handed out as often previously. The staff should implement a style of consistent physicality, something Quinn harped on but was not an aspect of the game that translated over.
Since the defensive department is largely comprised of young second and third-year players, special attention will need to be given to this group. Solid and skilled joined by Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, this is a core the team would build around in the upcoming seasons, which emphasizes their steady development.
The Rangers finished just above average last season on the power play, though they had one of the highest amounts of opportunities. The third and final assistant hire will take charge of the forward core and specialize in power-play effectiveness. This is also an area of importance but out of reach for Kelly and Murphy. Regardless, the organization is joined by two seasoned coaches to start this upcoming 2021-22 season behind the bench.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and earned a degree in Communications and English. After she moved to Pittsburgh for school, she fell in love with the vibrant hockey community but she was raised in a household that rooted for a different team — the New York Rangers. Rachel covers the Rangers at thehockeywriters.com and she can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.