Accountability should be back in vogue under Gerard Gallant
As the Rangers near closer towards the opening of the 2021-22 season, we are starting to get a feel for what a Gerard Gallant coached team looks like. Line combos are starting to form. Tactics are being put into place. Narratives about Gallant’s personality are trickling there way into the press. One aspect of coaching that we’ve yet to hear or read about, is how Gallant will handle underperformers. What will happen to veterans who fail to execute? How will younger players be treated? It’s an open question at this point and we won’t know until we are further into the season. However this won’t be past Rangers teams, and we should expect Gerard Gallant will have some level of accountability for his players.
For me, the lack of accountability has been one of the Achilles heels of this organization dating back to Alain Vigneault’s hiring. And, if the Rangers are to take the next step and start competing for Cups on the regular, accountability has to be back in vogue.
Under David Quinn, the Rangers were mostly trying to develop young players. When you are in that stage of growth, it makes sense to give players some rope and not put guys in the “doghouse” too easily. Quinn mostly did well in that regard. You rarely saw our top kids sitting in the press box after bad games.
Where Quinn failed was with his management of veterans. The Rangers often gave up too many odd man rushes due to bad puck management just inside their blueline. In response, he asked players to dump the puck in and play more north/south in certain situations. A reasonable request given the chances they were giving up.
Did the players adjust?
They didn’t. And not only did you have guys like Ryan Strome apparently rolling his eyes about it to beat writers, but Quinn also expressed his frustration to the media stating, east/west hockey “has been a problem since I’ve been here.”
This can’t happen on a team trying to compete for Cups. If your coach asks you to adjust tactics, you do it. If you go out there and loaf it, you should get demoted to a lower line or ride pine. Perhaps Quinn didn’t deliver the message well or at all. Perhaps he did and the players just didn’t listen. Either way, the execution wasn’t there.
Alain Vigneault really wasn’t much better in this regard. If anything he kept some of the younger talent on the squad on a short leash. JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Jesper Fast’s minutes were often erratic. Tanner Glass received 10-12 minutes a night come hell or high water. We spilt a lot of internet ink in those days on Staal’s usage. To this day, I think those decisions probably cost us a Cup.
Anyway, I digress. The point is, I am hoping Gallant is a departure from our previous two coaches. Their inability to effectively manage our bench cost us. I want a different approach and a voice that commands respect.
As the Rangers get closer to a final roster, you can start to see what Gallant has envisioned for this team. There should be a good balance of two-way hockey up and down the roster, as opposed to just expecting the bottom six to play 200 feet.
I would expect to see some guys going up and down the lineup a bit throughout this season. Goodrow and Blais aren’t going to be locked in the bottom six. Mika, Strome, and Panarin are all offense. In certain situations, they will need to be paired with more well-rounded players.
Finally, one of the most important things Gallant has to get right is accountability on special teams. If we have stretches of going 0-4 on the PP, then I hope he’ll change up who is out there. Ditto the penalty kill. In short, minutes need to be earned across the board.
Of course, bench management is just one aspect of coaching. As the season kicks off, I’ll also be watching closely for tactics, formations, line matching strategies, etc. All of these elements together need to work for the Rangers to take the next step. Hopefully, Gallant is the one to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.