The Rangers announced two big moves today for the Hartford Wolf Pack, their AHL affiliate. Head Coach Ken Gernander has been fired, while Rangers’ Assistant General Manager Chris Drury takes over for Jim Schoenfeld as Hartford’s General Manager; Schoenfeld retains his own AGM duties with the Rangers. Hartford is coming off their second-straight season of missing the playoffs, and in 2016-2017 they were the worst team in the AHL. As such, a facelift is unsurprising.
Schoenfeld had been Hartford’s GM for the previous 14 seasons, so his departure is not to be taken lightly. He built a consistently competitive team in Hartford for most of the 2000s. However, Hartford had missed the playoffs three out of the last four seasons. Over the last few seasons, the Wolf Pack have lacked difference makers at the AHL level. Part of that may be lack of prospects, but veteran point-per-game AHLers that most successful teams have (think Kris Newbury or Chris Mueller) were missing. Acquiring Taylor Beck was a great move in that direction, but too little too late. That all being said, Schoenfeld is 64 years old. Drury has become Gorton’s trusted right-hand man and is ready for more responsibility. It’s very possible that decreasing Schoenfeld’s AHL responsibilities and increasing Drury’s was a passing of the torch the team was preparing for regardless of results.
Gernander’s firing is not a light one, either, as it is the franchise equivalent of the Rangers firing Brian Leetch or Rod Gilbert. He’s arguably the most important player in Wolf Pack history, has been their head coach for 11 years, and has been with the team in some capacity every year since its inception in 1997. Gernander did have some success as head coach in Hartford. His 2014-2015 team finished first in the Northeast Division and reached the Conference Final. On a development level, he oversaw the promotions of many Rangers during his tenure, including Artem Anisimov, J.T. Miller, and Brady Skjei.
However, the last few years were messy in Hartford, and during this past season almost every prospect had either a mediocre or poor showing. The Rangers should want to see more growth from Adam Tambellini, Robin Kovacs, Boo Nieves, John Gilmour, and others. Meanwhile, a whole slew of free agent prospect signings will be added to Hartford next season. The Rangers have gotten the most out of their top prospects the last few years, but not many depth prospects have grown into NHLers. That is something they’ll want to correct going forward, and new coaching blood could help that process.