Assessing New York Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant at midway point of season
Earlier this season, I took a look at New York Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant. At the time, the Rangers were 6-3-3 and off to a very solid start. I also said that it was way too soon to be making any definitive remarks and/or assessments about the new bench boss.
When Blueshirts hired the 58 year veteran with nine NHL seasons of coaching experience it was to take this team to the next level. There were some preconceived notions about him as they are with many coaches, but he has lived up to all the best ones.
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Rangers are tied for 4th in the NHL’s overall standings with a record of 30-13-4 for 64 points. Which is also tied for first in the Metro Division. Let’s look back and see how the initial assessment from November holds up.
Gerard Gallant: The Good
Great motivator: The Rangers have found ways to win this season that was lacking for several years during the rebuild. Prime examples of games where they did bend but not break are wins in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Seattle. All those games were on the road and decided in the third period or later.
Update: One of the things the Rangers have become known for is their resiliency. They have 10 come from behind victories and have not lost more than two regulation games in a row all season.
Player’s coach: When Gallant was hired, several people went on record lauding his communication with players. Team Canada’s GM Roberto Luongo commended Gallant’s work in winning Gold at the WC this summer. He noted how players would run through a wall for him. Jaromir Jagr said the veterans on the team will love him. He attributed that to Gallant being a star player in his playing days and understanding what that meant. So far, the players are responding to him.
Update: This was one of the main reason’s why Gallant has been so successful in his career. “I think he brings a good attitude,” Jacob Trouba praised in December. “He expects you to work hard. If you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world, but you’re expected to bring a certain level of effort and show up for work every day. When things are needed to be said, he says them and when they don’t, he lets you play hockey. That’s pretty nice as a player.”
Excellent in-game management: One of the key qualities the Rangers were looking for in their search for a new coach was someone who had a “feel” for the game. A veteran that could make the appropriate moves and get results. One prime example happened in Toronto when he paired Panarin and Zibanejad midway through the game and they picked up the OT winner.
Update: This one continues to hold true. Gallant has been able to push the right buttons during games to get the most out of his players. Whether that be moving Artemi Panarin to the first line in games where the team needs a jolt or using rookie Braden Schneider to replace Adam Fox when he was injured, he has his finger on the pulse of this team.
Favors veterans over kids: Sometimes a positive for one player could be a negative for others. Make no mistake about it, Gallant is looking to win hockey games not develop kids. That’s concerning since Alexis Lafrenière has found himself on the 4th line in his sophomore year and rookie Nils Lundkvist has been scratched several times. One could counter that he’s sticking with Kaapo Kakko on the second line RW, but if we’re being honest what other options does he have? Also rolling out Greg McKegg on the 4th line, or promoting Kevin Rooney to the third line when Morgan Barron is sitting in Hartford doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As for scratching Lundkvist, has Jarred Tinordi been better? The answer is no.
Update: This also still holds very true. It’s understandable and hard to argue due to the Rangers record. However, many would love to see a player like Morgan Barron over Greg McGegg. Alexis Lafrenière has also struggled with ice time under Gallant, but seems to still be developing.
Overvalues grit over skill: This may also go hand and hand with favoring veterans over kids. I get valuing grit, which many of the veterans on this team bring. GM Chris Drury went out and got players like Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, and Sammy Blais for that purpose. However, was keeping Dryden Hunt on the roster over Vitali Kravtsov worth the consequences? That’s a big negative.
Update: In fairness, the entire Kravtsov issue seems to predate Gallant. This one probably doesn’t hold up as well since the start of the season.
Developing young players: To be fair, Gallant has had some success with younger players, at least in Florida. We are 12 games in and I’m likely not seeing everything when it comes to Lafrenière and Lundkvist. Both young players have had their struggles for certain. My issue is that others seem to as well but aren’t being dropped to the 4th line or scratched. Jury is still out here, but the red flag is up.
Update: This is going to be a matter of perspective for many. It is still too early to judge Gallant on his player development skills in NY. Kaapo Kakko has gotten plenty of ice time, and Braden Schneider looks just fine under him. If Lafrenière can take the next step soon, then we can settle this one.
Relying too much on feel: The NHL is moving more and more to analytics. This isn’t breaking news, but Gallant isn’t a big numbers guy. It’s supposedly why he was unceremoniously fired from the Panthers and eventually with the Golden Knights. With so many teams using that data to make some decisions, Gallant may rely too much on his gut. That’s great when it works, but when it doesn’t it’s hard to explain some choices without numbers to back your moves.
Update: Yeah…I’m not going to question his gut on how to run this team and win games. Would you?
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