Gerard Gallant said he’s preparing to help the New York Rangers become a perennial Stanley Cup Playoff team again, starting as soon as next season.
“It’s a team that is ready to take off,” Gallant said Tuesday.
Gallant was officially named the Rangers’ new coach, the 36th in team history, last Wednesday, replacing David Quinn, who was fired May 12. Gallant is the first major hire by new general manager Chris Drury, who was promoted from associate GM on May 5.
The Rangers have not played a best-of-7 playoff series since 2017, a six-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Second Round. They were swept in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2020.
New York made the playoffs 11 times in a 12-year span from 2005-17, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, when they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Rangers (27-23-6) failed to qualify for the playoffs this season, finishing fifth in the eight-team MassMutal East Division. The top four teams qualified for the postseason.
“We got a good team, we got a good lineup,” Gallant said. “When I first talked to Chris about the opportunity and the job, I felt real good leaving the interview. I felt real comfortable with Chris. I said to my wife, ‘I hope this works out because New York would be a great spot to go.’ It’s a high-market team and it’s a good hockey team. Any time a coach looks at a team and looks at an opportunity to get a job with a team like this, you’re excited about that. And I’m really excited. The main thing is that we’ve got a [heck] of a hockey team and we can move forward and we can be a good team for a long time if we do the right things and if we play the right way.”
Drury said he targeted Gallant immediately after firing Quinn and his entire coaching staff because he was looking for an experienced coach who had won at multiple levels.
He first interviewed Gallant before the coach guided Canada to first place at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia last month.
“I think he captures the room, whatever room he walks into,” Drury said. “I’m excited to see what he’s going to do with our group.”
Gallant led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, 2017-18, when he won the Jack Adams Award voted as the top coach in the NHL. Vegas made the playoffs the following season before Gallant was replaced by Peter DeBoer on Jan. 16, 2020.
He is 270-216-51 with four ties in 541 NHL games as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Golden Knights, and 18-15 in 33 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Gallant was also a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2015-16, when he coached the Panthers to a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Islanders.
The Panthers improved by 25 points in Gallant’s first season with them, in 2014-15.
Gallant also coached Saint John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the Memorial Cup championship in 2011.
“I just think at the end of the day he was the perfect fit for what we’re trying to accomplish here to move this team and this organization forward,” Drury said.
Gallant said he thinks the Rangers are built to play the same way the Golden Knights did under him: fast, aggressive, always pushing up the ice, smart defensively and rolling four lines and three defense pairs.
“I want it to be the hardest working team in the League,” Gallant said. “I want us to compete hard, to battle hard, to make teams say, ‘You know what, that team works hard every night, they compete for 60 minutes and that’s why they’re winning hockey games every night.'”
He compared working with forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad when they were young players for the Panthers to the opportunity he’ll have to coach the Rangers’ bevy of young players, including forwards Alexis Lafreniere, 19, and Kaapo Kakko, 20.
Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, scored 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 56 games as a rookie this season. Kakko, the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 48 games during his second NHL season.
“High-end talent, high-end skill; let’s take it to the next level,” Gallant said.
The Rangers should expect to have a captain next season too, with Drury saying it’s a priority to name one. They haven’t had anyone wear the ‘C’ on their jersey since former captain Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 26, 2018.
Gallant must get his full staff together, a process he hopes to have completed in the next few weeks, he said.
Then it’s on to the 2021 NHL Draft on July 23-24. The Rangers have the No. 15 pick in the first round.
The free agent market will open July 28 and the Rangers expect to be active in trying to sign players who fit the way Gallant wants the team to play, with energy, speed and physicality.
“My goal and our hope is that we’re a playoff team next year,” Drury said. “Is it a mandate? I don’t believe so. But I want everyone to come back and know that that’s where we want to be and with the talent on this team where we should be.”