Gerard Gallant’s tenure with the NY Rangers was brief, successful, a failure, and a number of questions about what could have been. Gallant won 99 games in his two seasons with the Rangers, reaching a surprise Conference Final in his first year. However he will be remembered for his final season, where stubbornness and defaulting to veterans became the norm, hurting the Rangers potential to make a Stanley Cup run.
What went right with Gerard Gallant
To say nothing went right with Gerard Gallant at the helm last season wouldn’t be fair. The team won 47 games and put up 107 points. They arguable left points on the table due to unexpectedly poor performances in the 3v3 OT and shootout. The Rangers went 10-13 (4-3 in the shootout, 6-10 in OT) in overtime/shootout, which is below expectations given the firepower up front and Igor Shesterkin in net.
We can go into what-ifs about a better record in these coin tosses, but that would be a fool’s errand. Instead, it’s important to note the context in that 107 points, which could have been different should the puck bounced a different way in a handful of games.
Gallant also got a lot out of scoring chances last season. The Rangers were not good at generating consistent offense, but they were certainly good at finishing the chances they got. That is likely more on the players than on Gallant, but again it would be unfair to give all the positives to the players and all the negatives to the coach.
What went wrong with Gallant
Coaches rarely get fired –and let’s be real, Gerard Gallant was fired– after two playoff appearances in the first two years. However Gallant was let go. All of the issues with Gallant are broken down into three categories:
- Lineup decisions
- System implementation
The Rangers were rolling in October and November, at least in the product on the ice. Poor goaltending to start the season sank them early, and it led to many thinking the Rangers weren’t as good as they were. But in fact, the Rangers were a pretty solid team up and down the lineup when both Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere were getting top-six minutes and Zac Jones was in the lineup.
However after one bad period against Detroit in November, Gallant blew everything up and went back to old reliable, which wasn’t reliable. He reunited the Kid Line, which was effective but inconsistent, which took both Kakko and Lafreniere out of the top six. Instead, Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow saw significant time there until the Vlad Tarasenko trade.
While Zac Jones may not have been ready for bigger NHL minutes, replacing him with Ben Harpur was another move by Gallant that raised eyebrows. Harpur was not good, and there’s a strong argument that even Libor Hajek was better. Yet Harpur was there, making the Rangers worse while Jones, who wasn’t nearly as bad, played in the AHL. This is less about Jones and more about Gallant’s decision to consistently play Harpur.
Then came the Patrick Kane trade, where PP1 was completely blown up for no good reason. It made sense to try Kane with Artemi Panarin at even strength, but with PP1 humming along, there was no need to change that up. Instead, the chaos that ensued all but decimated any momentum the Rangers had.
In the end, we were sold on roles for each player and line. The coach did not deliver with his lineup decisions.
System? What system? When Gerard Gallant came on board, he was known for a bit of an aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck and zone defense at even strength. Instead what we got was no forecheck and no defense, relying on Igor Shesterkin to bail the Rangers out. The big gripes were an inability to generate consistent offense, in which both the forecheck and the lack of a breakout system played a role.
The Rangers, simply put, did not forecheck well. The blame is certainly on multiple parties, including the players, but in the end it all falls on the coach. And the coach could not get the buy-in he needed for the “system” he wanted to play. This was very evident in some of the exit interview comments, where players really didn’t know what they should be doing at even strength.
Perhaps more glaring than the forecheck was the lack of a defensive zone exit plan. If Adam Fox wasn’t on the ice, then the Rangers simply could not get out of their own zone effectively. We can point to the lack of another puck mover, something Jones would have alleviated, but the Rangers also had K’Andre Miller. Fox is an elite defenseman regardless of system, but Miller and Jones would need some direction and consistency.
Instead, the Rangers relied on glass-and-out, which is a turnover.
Players get blame, and they deserve the blame. However players also need to be able to read the play and anticipate open lanes. This only happens when it is a natural instinct to know where teammates will be. Without a proper zone exit strategy, there was no anticipation.
The Rangers played slow, and a lack of a system is at the root of the issue. There is a difference between individual speed and team speed. The Rangers are not a fast team, but they aren’t a slow team either. The way the Devils skated circles around them was more about the lack of a system and anticipation, thus looking slow with the extra 1-2 seconds to figure out what to do with the puck. That mattered more than the Devils better individual speed.
Playing slow is a coach issue, a Gerard Gallant issue.
Personality / Stubbornness
What a coach says to the media in pre/post game interviews doesn’t matter. I repeat. Interviews don’t matter. Everything in hockey interviews is vanilla and canned, so we don’t get much out of it.
However where Gerard Gallant shot himself in the foot was with stubbornness, which played into both the system (or lack thereof) and the lineup decisions. Stubbornness about Jones led to a rumored argument with Chris Drury, and it appeared to be one of the many reasons why Gallant was let go. Instead, we had an ineffective third pair that couldn’t move the puck to save their lives. We know how that turned out.
Stubbornness in defaulting to veterans like Barclay Goodrow led to a lack of offense at even strength. Goodrow is not an offensively inclined player, yet was trusted with top-six minutes far too often. Ditto Jimmy Vesey, who at least was a net-positive in other aspects of his game.
Stubbornness in forcing Kane and Panarin together, despite a clear issue with Kane’s hip and no actual chemistry at even strength or on the powerplay. Stubbornness in forcing the Kid Line together despite inconsistent results, especially in the playoffs. Coaches have a short shelf life. And now we know why.
In the end, Gerard Gallant got the least out of his roster. They were not a sum of their parts. They were a bunch of players trying to figure out what to do, and were slow because of it.