New York Rangers GM Chris Drury has made his first major move as coach David Quinn was relieved of his duties today.
Quinn was a first-time NHL head coach when he was brought in three years ago from Boston University and his ability to connect with young players was an obvious plus for a franchise that was looking to mine talent internally through drafting and developing.
Team success wasn’t immediate under Quinn, though New York was rebuilding and that was to be expected. The Rangers played in the 2020 qualification round last year and were swept by Carolina, but in an ordinary season they would not have qualified for the post-season at all. This year the team missed the dance completely, but again – that was to be expected, given that several of the team’s most prominent names were rookies or second-year players.
Clearly ownership wants to see more progress however and that led to Drury getting the GM and president job from the ousted Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, respectively. Now Drury begins the process of putting his stamp on the team and finding his new bench boss will be key.
Based on the circumstances, it feels like the Rangers will go with a veteran coach to replace Quinn and there are certainly candidates out there. Seattle, Columbus and Arizona also need new bench bosses so there will be competition, but the chance to coach an Original Six franchise with a ton of talent on board already – from Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox to young guns K’Andre Miller, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Igor Shesterkin – is pretty intriguing.
Should the Rangers want to go with experience, the obvious names are headlined by Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant, but John Tortorella is also on the market now and he does have experience as a former Rangers coach himself. Would ‘Torts’ want to step into that cauldron again at this point in his career? And would Drury want Tortorella back? These are big-time questions.
Because Quinn was a young first-time NHLer, it feels like the Rangers won’t go back to that well again for his replacement, but if they do, there is an internal hire that makes sense: Kris Knoblauch.
The coach of the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, Knoblauch has put in his time over the years, building up a very impressive resume. He does have recent NHL experience as an associate coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, but also a great track record with young talent that extends beyond the work he has been doing with the Wolf Pack. Knoblauch first made a name for himself in the WHL, where he led the Kootenay Ice to a championship in 2011. A few years later, he was Connor McDavid’s coach in junior with the Erie Otters. Knoblauch won OHL coach of the year honors in 2016, then helmed Erie to a championship in 2017 with a team led by Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Anthony Cirelli.
If Drury wants to go in an entirely different direction, he could dip back into his experience as a player, when he won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. His coach on that team was Bob Hartley, who just won a KHL championship with Avangard Omsk. Hartley’s KHL contract would have to get sorted out in order to get him back to North America – but the man has proven he can win titles and develop players.
Whichever direction Drury goes, he’ll have to make sure it’s someone he can back for multiple seasons because a number of NHL teams have been crushed by coaching carousels lately. It’s a big first hire for a new GM, but Drury has been waiting for his time to become an NHL executive – and now the moment is here.