Rangers Find Right Coach for the Job in Gerard Gallant

The New York Rangers recently announced that they hired Gerard Gallant to be the 36th bench boss in franchise history. The announcement comes just about one month after they let go of their now former coach, David Quinn. Quinn spent the last three seasons as the head coach of the team. During that time he amassed a record of 96-87-25 over the span of three seasons, although only one of them was a full season. Gallant was considered to be the best free agent coach available on the market. On top of that, Gallant could also be the perfect hire for the Rangers and some of the issues the team struggles with at the moment. His tough attitude, motivation skills and leadership are very likely just what the team needs to take the next step in their rebuild.

Gallant is a Proven NHL Coach and Competitor

If experience was what the Rangers wanted, Gallant is already a good man for the job. He has coached 541 games over the course of nine seasons, with a record of 270-216-51. He also had four ties back when they were still a thing in the NHL during his first season of coaching in 2003-04. Gallant spent three years with three different teams, starting out with the Columbus Blue Jackets, then going to the Florida Panthers before finally landing a job as the first head coach in the history of the Vegas Golden Knights. He won the Jack Adams Award for best head coach in the league with the Golden Knights during their first season, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final where they fell to the Washington Capitals in five games.

Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights
Head Coach Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights poses for a portrait with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (L) and the Jack Adams Award at the 2018 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 20, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Gallant added to his trophy case earlier this month at the World Championship, winning gold as the coach of Team Canada. His team started the tournament with a very poor 0-3 start in which they were outscored 10-2, including a 5-1 loss to Team USA. They ended the qualifying games on a 3-2 loss to the defending champions Finland in penalty shots. They then went on to outscore their opponents 8-5 in the playoffs while avenging their losses to Team USA and Team Finland. 

Gallant has shown the ability to rally his troops and make very impressive runs. The Golden Knights saw the most successful inaugural season in the history of North American professional sports as an expansion team. The self-proclaimed “Golden Misfits” were exactly that, a team of players that 30 other general managers either left exposed in the expansion draft or traded to ensure a specific player was not drafted. (From “Sunday’s NHL playoffs: ‘Golden Misfits’ reach Stanley Cup Finals,” Detroit News, 05/20/2018) Gallant got the most out of a squad that’s previous highest point total was 57 in David Perron. Gallant’s World Championship squad showed enough resilience to rally back from a very precarious situation and came out on top. 

Gallant’s Abilities Could Make Him Ideal Fit for the Job

Gallant could be the right man for the Rangers job at the moment given his coaching abilities. He’s shown he can get his players to elevate their play in big games, something the Rangers really struggled with this season. The team was right there in the hunt for a playoff spot at the end of the season, but when it mattered most, failed to perform. For example, the Rangers were shut out in two consecutive games to the New York Islanders while still in the thick of the playoff hunt at the tail end of the season. (From “Rangers pushed to brink of elimination with another shutout loss to Isles,” Newsday, 05/02/2021). The Rangers went 2-6 against the Islanders, being outscored 20-8 and getting shutout three times.

The Rangers have been under fire for a lot of flat play and being unable to elevate their game over the past two seasons, starting with their early exit from the playoff bubble in the spring of 2020. Gallant has shown he can get that from his players — it is exactly what the Rangers need given their tendency to get outmatched in important games. Gallant even calls himself a player’s coach, but understands when he needs to get serious and get tough with his players. 

Gerard Gallant Vegas Golden Knights
Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While he was with the Panthers, Gallant oversaw a team with a mix of veterans and youth, much like the Rangers have now, assuming nobody finds themselves as part of a trade. He oversaw the rise of young players like Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trochek, all of whom were 21 years old or younger. Ekblad won the Calder Trophy in Gallant’s first season with the club and the other players all came into their own as dangerous offensive players. In the case of Barkov, a future Selkie winner and truly elite center. Gallant has shown through them that he can help younger players succeed in the NHL, and he will be counted on to do that again in New York. 

The Rangers have plenty of young players themselves. They had five players 21 or under at the end of last season and are expected to have 20-year-old Nils Lundkvist next year after he signed his entry-level contract. Gallant will be tasked with continuing the development of players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden and K’Andre Miller, while likely having Morgan Barron, Zac Jones and Lundkvist also on the roster. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren are also still growing as players — it can be easy to forget since the two sophomores were the bona fide top pairing on the team last season, and especially since Fox is one of the finalists for the Norris. 

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On top of the glutton of youth, the Rangers still have a bona fide top center in Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich has evolved into a top two-way threat, Chris Kreider is always dangerous with his size and speed, Ryan Strome has shown he is a legit top-six center and who could forget the elite talent in Artemi Panarin. On paper, the Rangers have a fantastic core and Gallant should be able to maximize the abundance of talent. Even though the Rangers rode their star power for as long as they could, it could not help them clear some of the top teams in their division, including their top scorer in Zibanejad.

Whether or not Gallant can actually find a recipe to get more out of the Rangers’ star players and youth is only going to be answered in time, but he does have the support of one NHL legend who played under Gallant in Florida. (From “Gerard Gallant is ideal choice to solve issue that haunted the Rangers,” from New York Post, 06/15/2021) This man in particular is a former Ranger by the name of Jaromir Jagr. He had great insight as to what we can expect of Gallant in an interview with the New York Post.

Team Canada 2021 World Championship
Team Canada’s head coach Gerard Gallant and Assistant coach Mike Kelly, IIHF Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship, on May 26, 2021 (Photo by GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Images)

“You can’t threaten to send players down or take away their ice time. That does not work,” Jagr said. This is an important statement because it is a far cry from what the Rangers got used to for the last three years under Quinn. If players made mistakes, they would often find themselves riding the bench for extended periods of time. On a team with so much youth, that is not always the best approach. 

The young players are going to make mistakes — it is almost inevitable. Benching a player for making a mistake can ensure they try not to make the same mistake again, but it can also backfire and have them playing scared, afraid to make another mistake because it results in them reacquainting themselves with the bench. Jagr also said that Gallant does not hold grudges against his players — they make a mistake, he lets them know and sends them back out. 

Having the right head coach can play a big factor in a team’s success as the Islanders have shown. The year before Barry Trotz took the helm on Long Island, the Islanders gave up more goals than anyone else in the NHL. In Trotz’s first season, the team gave up the fewest goals in the entire league. That is not to say the Rangers will see the same results, but merely showing how much of an impact a good coach can make. 

The Rangers hope that Gallant can help this team find the next level and there is a good chance he can get them back into the playoff picture. He may very well be the right man to get them back in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers have a very strong lineup and as the kids continue to develop, it will only get stronger, especially with Gallant at the helm.

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