What Happens Next for the New York Rangers?

John Davidson and Jeff Gorton are out. Chris Drury has been promoted to President and GM. Senior Advisor Glen Sather will assist Drury during this transition, and will continue to consult the team. These are all things that were announced Wednesday.

When I first saw the news, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t a fake account. Then I refreshed and the news was full on blast coming from every major insider and team reporter. The immediate news was that the team made a drastic change atop the organization.

The immediate question was why?

The Rangers are in the third year of a rebuild announced with a letter to the fans in 2018. In that time they’ve won two draft lotteries, signed an MVP caliber free agent in Artemiy Panarin, and acquired a Norris Trophy contending defenseman in Adam Fox. They also had goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin step onto the scene and play at a level which suggests he could be a positive fixture for the team for quite some time. By all accounts, you could say the team was moving in the right direction, and things were looking up for next season given the growth of the roster, the cap space the team should have available, and bevy of assets at their disposal. In any other division, the Rangers are a playoff team.

Initially there were reports that the move was related to the Rangers’ statement on Twitter regarding the league not suspending Tom Wilson.

Later on there were reports about James Dolan not being happy with the state of the rebuild, and this being something that had been considered for awhile. In the immediate aftermath there was a lot of stuff out there, and to be honest I am not so interested in the exact particulars at this given time.

The team’s official release which also characterized the moves as Davidson and Gorton “leaving the organization” includes a quote from Dolan that said: “We want to thank JD and Jeff for their contributions to the organization. They are both great hockey professionals who worked hard for the Rangers, however, in order for the team to succeed in the manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership.”

With all of that said, what happens next?

There’s a lot of questions to be answered, and here are just a few of immediate importance.

Does David Quinn Return Next Season?

This is the first question to be answered, and I imagine we’ll have an answer shortly after the season ends.

There’s bound to be some significant turnover in the front office because although Drury isn’t new to the organization, he’s going to be in a position to chose his own people.

Although it is important to mention he was part of the process that led to Quinn getting hired. In all honesty, there’s valid reasons to keep and fire David Quinn, and his fate could come down to Drury and Dolan’s confidence in his ability to execute the vision in place.

If JD and JG were truly fired because the team wasn’t making progress quick enough, Quinn owns some of that, and any lack of confidence in him should be dealt with swiftly. But there’s also the chance the organization wants to give him another chance with an improved roster for a full 82-game season before pulling the plug. And then there’s his relationship with Jack Eichel, if a deal came to fruition.

How Quickly, and Aggressively is a Jack Eichel Trade Pursued?

On that note... The Rangers and Jack Eichel have been linked for a long time, and before the start of this season Bob McKenzie mentioned that New York was among the interested teams.

With James Dolan taking a more public interest in the team, you can bet he’s going to look for the team to make a splash. For all we know the Rangers may be curious to see if Eichel would welcome the chance to play for his former college coach if the star pivot decides he’s finally had enough with Buffalo. The problem for the Rangers then becomes entering a bidding war situation that forces them to deal more assets than they previously would have considered. Allegedly, there were players the Rangers wouldn’t consider trading for Eichel, but I wonder if now that list is a little smaller.

JD and JG likely would have checked in on Eichel again this summer, but if the price was too high they’d likely stay along the path of patience. That patience path is all but likely gone out the window. Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome both have one year left on their contract following this season, and a move for Eichel would change the makeup of the team and result in one of them leaving the organization.

Acquiring Eichel is going to cost a considerable amount, and it will be fascinating to see how the Rangers walk this tight rope. Especially considering Eichel counts $10 million against the salary cap, so any deal would have to involve current players leaving, unless the Rangers were to make some side deals with the Seattle Kraken to free up space ahead of the Expansion Draft.

How Far Will Team Go in Remaking Roster to Add More “Will”?

In terms of free agents, Buchnevich, Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Igor Shesterkin are restricted free agents. Brendan Smith and Phil Di Giuseppe are UFAs. Before factoring in a likely buyout of Tony DeAngelo, and any of the above returning, the team will have a roster size of 17 with $25,866,032 in cap space. Not everyone will be back, and there’s bound to be a transformation of sorts that could see some skilled players sent out to make room for players with an edge.

And this isn’t essentially a month thing as @HockeyStatMiner points out the team is in a good position financially, but it comes down to where is everyone going to play?

We’ve already seen the reality that is Chris Kreider, and his $6.5 million cap hit, as a third line left wing. And that’s not something that will make sense for the long term, especially when you consider he’s already 30.

According to Larry Brooks, the Rangers prioritization of “skill” over “will” players is something that stood out to James Dolan. That and the team’s inability to pushback.

But the GM — and Davidson — seemed to ignore the meaning of last summer’s beatdown by Carolina under the bubble by not fortifying the roster with grit and strength to support all of the finesse-oriented athletes. Maybe the hierarchy was hamstrung by cap constraints. Maybe they were going to get to it this summer.

But this was a deficiency everyone could see coming well before it manifested itself throughout the season and with finality in those games against the Islanders. This was Army being humiliated by Navy three times within two weeks, though the seeds of Dolan’s discontent had been sown before that.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that having a balanced roster makes sense, but grit and jam are old school hockey concepts that are a bit overrated in my opinion. Often times there are skilled players who can also bring that to the table, but that isn’t good enough. There’s been a lot of talk about the Rangers not having someone to answer for Tom Wilson the other, but there’s a few things that also need to be mentioned.

No. 1 is that the incident occurred while the Rangers were on the power play. How often is it that you are going to be in a situation like that and have to answer for something? I’d say not very often, because a team killing a penalty doesn’t want to be in a position where they become even more disadvantaged. Secondly: Ryan Lindgren, Chris Kreider, and Jacob Trouba were out of the lineup with injuries. All three of them have proven to be physical players who will stick up for their teammates.

All of that said, the idea of bringing in “will” players at the expense of skill players is asinine. We saw in the past that the Rangers had interest in Matt Martin and Zdeno Chara. Neither of those individuals will make sense for the team next year, nor do any who just check the box of being tough.

If the concept of will is along the lines of a young version of a player like Wayne Simmonds, who in his prime was a tough competitor while also putting up points, that’s completely fine. The Rangers thought there were getting someone like that years ago when they traded for Ryane Clowe, but that didn’t exactly work out. My personal pick would be someone like Blake Coleman who has skill, is a very competitive player, and also has solid underlying numbers. That would be a much better option than someone like Nick Foligno, who pretty much represents the type of player the Rangers pursued in prior years.

In any case though, if the Rangers were to pursue someone via free agency or trade, they’d have to move someone out. Pavel Buchnevich one of the team’s grittier players is having a career year and deserves a contract extension, but could he be an asset used in a deal to balance the roster. The same could be said about Filip Chytil. If the Rangers attempt to make a trade for a center and try and re-sign one of Zibanejad/Strome, could he be part of the package that brings in someone like Eichel?

There’s other questions that require answering, but I feel they are secondary to the ones posed above. In many respects, this summer was always going to be an important one for the Rangers. It was going to be an opportunity to take stock in how ready the team was to contend, who proved they could be part of the solution, and what type of players were needed to push the organization in the right direction. This season was a very weird year full of unforeseen challenges, and it all sorta snowballed on the team. And because of this year and a few other things, Davidson is out of a job after returning to New York in 2019, and Gorton departs a franchise he joined back in 2007.

In the long run speeding up the timeline just a bit may not bite the Rangers, but you have to hope that the team doesn’t push too far too fast and squander away trade chips. There will be a time and place to evaluate Gorton’s net value to the organization in terms of the moves that he made, but that’s not today. The Rangers have assembled a pretty good group of prospects and players of varying ages, and arguably are a handful of pieces away from becoming a playoff contender. Some of the eventual pieces needed arguably are already on the roster, but just need some time to develop.

It’s safe to say that a few of the above won’t be back, and the Rangers could make some draft picks available in addition to prospects like Nils Lundkvist, Braden Schneider, Matthew Robertson, and so on.

Make no mistake, this summer is a major inflection point for the organization, and it will become very clear how soon the organization expects to win a championship. To this point the mantra has been patience, patience, patience. In some respects you could say the Rangers are going back to embracing John Tortorella’s old mantra of “safe is death,” and with that in mind... giddy up and brace for a bumpy ride.