It is taking some time for the Rangers to hire a head coach for the AHL Wolf Pack and there is a reason for that. The organization is not simply seeking to install a new staff in Hartford but rather is reimagining and pouring resources into the entire development structure.
“That job in Hartford as head coach has huge importance to it — huge,” team president John Davidson told The Post on Wednesday night. “We want someone there who is a great communicator, not only with the players, but with the other coaches and support personnel we’re going to have there.
“We’re putting more of everything into Hartford, from A to Z. You want to have a winning culture there, that’s to everyone’s advantage, you want to bring in high quality and character vets to establish a template for your kids, but the priority is development and you can never emphasize that enough. That’s where it starts. That’s the focus. That’s where it’s at.”
“It’s not only Hartford,” said Davidson, on the job for two weeks as the new head of the Rangers. “We’re adding development coaches so that when you’re drafted and become part of the organization, we’re going to be there for you, we’re going to be at your games all over the world, offering our support.
“As we’re planning, we’re going to have three development coaches. One will be based in Europe. Of course we’re going to work with the cooperation of the teams involved, we’re not going rogue as independent contractors. But we’re going to be a constant presence, not just pop in for a game here and there.
“We want to build up Ranger bloodlines from the time a player is drafted, through his development, until he gets to New York. We’re putting a lot into this.”
Davidson said that he, general manager Jeff Gorton and assistant GM/Hartford GM Chris Drury are going through the process of sorting through candidates, the latter two executives conducting preliminary interviews as the organization goes about fixing the decay that developed last season.
“NHL experience is not a requirement for the job,” Davidson said. “If a guy has it, great, but if not, so be it. We’re looking for someone with great communication skills and embraces the opportunity to develop players — to develop Rangers.
“You need a mix there, too. It can’t all be kids. It’s vital to have veterans who are there for more than the money, but set examples and take leadership roles. I can point to Mark Letestu who did that for us [Columbus] in Cleveland. That’s the kind of veteran we want in Hartford.
“Like I say, you want to develop a winning attitude, but you also don’t want to necessarily win an AHL championship with a team that has eight 32-year-olds. You want to win with young people, the way we were able to do with Lake Erie.”
That was 2015-16, when current Colorado coach Jared Bednar led the-then Columbus AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup championship with a mix of veterans and young guns featuring Zach Werenski, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
“We won a championship, which was great, but that wasn’t necessarily the objective,” Davidson said. “It was development.”
All this talk, all this focus, all of these resources (that means money, and lots of it, that cannot be capped by the NHL) and all of this commitment to the building process does not, however, mean the Rangers intend to roll over and wait for next April’s pingpong-ball bonanza. The Blueshirts intend to compete. They are not going to sit idly by on July 1 and allow their lambs to be led to the hockey slaughter.
“We’ve got to keep the faith and remain true to the program but at the same time, and this is very important, we have to be respectful of the veterans in the room. There has to be a balance. It’s very dangerous when players lose hope,” Davidson said. “I think that’s kind of what happened after the deadline, but I’ll tell you this, [coach] David Quinn had the team playing hard night in and night out. I think the coach did a hell of a job with the group.”
The draft takes place in two weeks. The Blueshirts have upcoming decisions regarding trades, buyouts and contract extensions as they create an off-Broadway development structure. The future may not be quite now, but Davidson and the Rangers will do everything they can to create the brightest one possible.
“You can’t shortcut this. There’s no magic potion, no silver bullet. You have to keep faith with the program,” the president said. ‘It’s not going to be easy, but for our fans, enjoy the ride, enjoy watching the kids grow. We’re doing this the right way.”
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