Hockey

Blueshirts Roundup: Gallant Introduced, Drury Speaks, Captain Coming? By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

“For me, it’s a priority. But at the end of the day, it has to be the right person. I’m not interested in just giving it to somebody to say we have a captain. But I think we have a lot of leaders in our room.” — Chris Drury on whether Rangers need to/will name a Captain.

Do you know what this statement from Drury makes me think of? Well, it makes me think of this slightly altered verse from Simon & Garfunkel’s hit song, Mrs. Robinson. (I’ve adapted it to fit the Rangers’ situation).

“Where have you gone, Mark Messier?

Blueshirts Nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Woo, woo, woo…”

A former Rangers’ Captain in his own right, current Team President/General Manager Chris Drury knows his team needs to formally designate a Captain if it’s going to take the next step forward. 

The Seventh Avenue Skaters haven’t had a Captain since Ryan McDonagh, who was traded to Tampa at the deadline in 2018. Prior to McDonagh it was Ryan Callahan, who himself was traded to Tampa at the deadline in 2014. And before Callahan, well that was Drury. We can keep going back, but the point is, not one of these Captains has led the team to the promised land since Mark Messier himself. 

And if you look at Messier’s overall career, you’ll see he was much more than just a goal-scorer. He could also dish the puck off with the best of them and didn’t mind getting down and dirty when the situation called for it. 

That’s the type of player the Blueshirts as a team now need to play like. They have the guys who can score (Mike Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, etc.). They have the guys who can set up plays (Adam Fox, Ryan Strome, etc). But who are the players willing to get down and dirty? And more importantly, where are the players who can do all three? 

That is Drury’s main task: scouring the trade and free agent markets for players — plural — who can contribute offensively while also providing the necessary grit the current Blueshirts lack.

During Gerard Gallant’s introductory press conference today, Drury told the media, “It’s hard not to watch these playoffs and notice the physicality, the energy, the effort, the intensity that it takes to win and succeed. We’re certainly going to need to play that way to have success in the regular season and in the playoffs. We’re always looking at ways to improve the lineup, to add different pieces…We all want harder players to play against and we’re no different.”

Drury has identified his team’s weakness. Good. Now, can he crack the code to fix it? That remains to be seen. His new Head Coach, Gerard Gallant certainly is going to need those types of players to be imported if he’s going to get the most out of his new team.

“When I was in Vegas, we went to training camp with a plan, we put our systems in place,” said Gallant. “And we expected everybody to play a 200-foot game. Everybody good defensively, everybody good offensively, everybody to have a role in your hockey team. That’s what’s important for me. It’s not going to take 15 guys to win, it’s going to 23 guys.”

Gallant continued by expressing his confidence that this is a team ready to take the next step. He was brought in to be the coach who shows them the way. Head Coach and General Manager appear to be in lockstep in regards to their vision for this team. But the real question is: are the Coach and his players going to be in lockstep? 

Now former Head Coach, David Quinn wanted his team to do all the things Gallant wants, but his star players insisted on doing things their way. They wanted more pretty passing. More East-West plays. They wanted the highlight reel. Quinn wanted the blood and sweat, the North-South hockey, the difficulty to play against. Both sides wanted wins. In the end, neither got what it wanted most — results! 

Quinn is currently out of a job, although there appears to be league-wide interest in having him come on board as an Assistant Coach somewhere. Meanwhile, the current roster is in wait-and-see mode regarding who will stay, who will go and who will be brought in. And the wins? Well, the wins are out there to be earned. 

If Gallant has his way, those wins will come via “them being the hardest working team in the league.” And that “hardest working team” is going to need a formal on-ice leader to set the tone, as well as a formal leader to set the tone in the dressing room and off the ice.

So, who will step up and be the next player to try and replicate Messier’s Cup-raising legacy? Some pundits think it’ll be Jacob Trouba. Others believe in Chris Kreider or Mika Zibanejad. None are perfect choices. But the Rangers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for Stanley Cup championships. 

Who is right for the job? We will see. But don’t expect Messier to walk through the doors to lace ‘em up again. That ship has sailed. 

“What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?

The Captain has left and gone away…”

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