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The Rangers had no intention of firing John Tortorella following the 2012-13 season through which the coach battled incessantly with his top players, was unhappy with the makeup of a transformed roster and ended with a one-step-back, second-round defeat by eventual Cup champion Boston.
But when one high profile player after another after another (after another) told then-general manager Glen Sather that the team could no longer endure the constant tension created by the coach’s confrontational style and that a change was necessary behind the bench, Tortorella was out within 24 hours.
Now, this reference does not relate to the possibility of a Tortorella II in New York, but it is about the impact of exit meetings. The Rangers will have theirs Monday with newly installed president-general manager Chris Drury. And the team’s high-profile players will have their say about life under David Quinn. Their input could be critical if Drury enters the meetings undecided about the fate of the head coach, who is three-fifths of the way through his five-year contract.
We are on the cusp of Phase II of the reconstruction effort that hopefully will include a cease-and-desist order aimed at stopping the proliferation of information on how many players age 23 and under are in the lineup on any given night.
A cease-and-desist order should be issued as well to stop the constant measurement of whether (and how far) the Rangers are or were ahead of schedule. If they were, or are, it is because of the 2019 signing of free agent Artemi Panarin and the explosion into elite status of Mika Zibanejad (and much more about No. 93 in the days and weeks to come).
This summer is about the next step and looking forward. Drury has a mandate to transform the collection of assets he inherited from the previous regime into a more finished product capable of making the playoffs and contending for the Cup. Too soon? I don’t think so. I also think that it is time and that is why I did not go into hysterics upon learning of the front office changes. I think the hierarchy set the bar too low for the 2020-21 season and was in danger of doing so for next season, as well, and that is the essence of why John Davidson and Jeff Gorton were dismissed.
Drury is as meticulous a man as you will meet. He keeps everything close. And he is tough. Anyone who thinks that Drury is going to be some sort of puppet for Dolan or for Glen Sather does not know him. Anyone who thinks that Drury accepted this assignment without assurance of autonomy has no idea who he is. His soft-spoken nature often camouflages his steel spine. In that way, from a distance, he reminds me of Steve Yzerman. There could be worse comparisons.
So the decision on Quinn by Drury will not be influenced by their Boston University kinship. It will not be colored by the fact that Drury was an enthusiastic supporter of Quinn when he became a candidate to succeed Alain Vigneault behind the bench following 2017-18.
And, unfair as this might be, it will not be about whether Quinn deserves another chance off past performance and this time with a roster that is expected to be fortified with players who have attributes he has coveted throughout his tenure. And though Quinn is as fine and compassionate an individual you would ever hope to know and the Rangers would ever have behind the bench, it is not about that either.
It simply will be about whether Drury has confidence in Quinn to be the coach who can take the team to the next level or whether the chief hockey executive believes the Rangers need a coach with more experience and a background of NHL success to take the baton and take over the team. Remember that when Quinn was hired, the Rangers were looking for a developmental coach. That train has left Penn Station.
There is a queue of experienced coaches — a couple with Stanley Cups on their coaching resumes, a couple with Cups won as a player—forming to succeed Quinn even while he is still in place. Tortorella is available for a reunion, Mike Babcock is out there looking for a way back in, Rick Tocchet will be on the market, Gerard Gallant is seeking a job and so is Bruce Boudreau.
And never forget that Drury played the first four years of his career in Colorado with Patrick Roy, currently the GM-coach of Quebec in the QMJHL and who might have a special affinity for Alexis Lafreniere.
The decision should not be long in coming, though it has been three years in the making. Drury has been watching intently. He was on the ice with the team for that 10-day stretch that Quinn was away. The decision may have been made before these exit meetings.
The Rangers have made changes in the front office. They will make changes in the lineup. The smart money is on a change behind the bench as well.
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