Rangers Rumors: Mike Babcock headlines coaching search

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have begun in earnest searching for their next head coach after the dismissal of Gerard Gallant. President and General Manager Chris Drury stated that he’s in search of the right fit and won’t rush into a decision.

“We’re not going to limit ourselves right now to any specific style or type of coach,” Drury stated on May 6. “We don’t have a set date in mind as of yet. We just want to get the right person, whenever that is.”

There’s a lot of speculation and almost a dozen names have been bandied about over the last few days. Let’s break some of them down.

Rangers Rumors: Coaching Search

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Laviolette (752-503-25-150)

The 58 year-old was fired by the Washington Capitals after they missed the playoffs this season but appears to be an early favorite to land the job. He’s without a doubt the safest bet and won the Stanley Cup back in 2005-2006. Mollie Walker of the NY Post also noted that Drury has a connection to Laviolette having played for him at the 2006 Olympics for Team USA. While Laviolette seems like a safe choice, a source pointed out that it’s been a long time since he had any real success and that could play against him. The last time he won a playoff series was 2017-18 with the Nashville Predators.

Mike Babcock (700-418-19-164)

He’s been fighting to get back behind an NHL bench for awhile after being dumped by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2019-20 season. The 60 year-old won a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings back in 2008 but his tactics to motivate players might make Mike Keenan blush. According to USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano the Rangers have made several calls and are doing their homework about bringing him in. Although it should be noted that Babcock last won a playoff series back in 2012-13 with the Wings.

Jay Pandolfo (NCAA – Boston University)

Here’s a name from out of left field, but the former New Jersey Devils gritty forward is an up-and-coming coach in the college ranks. This past season with BU, he posted a 29-11-0 record. The 48 year-old has been mentioned in several reports but Elliotte Friedman noted on his 32 Thoughts Podcast that Pandolfo is not seeking an NHL position at this time. That should be enough to rule him out.

Kris Knoblauch (AHL: 112-87-0-31)

Larry Brooks was the first to suggest Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Kris Knoblauch, who is considered a bright young mind in the game. The 44 year-old has no real NHL head coaching experience except for acting as a stand-in for both David Quinn and Gerard Gallant during bouts with COVID. He did serve as an assistant coach for Dave Hakstol with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2017 to 2019. In truth, Knoblauch might be the most logical choice but when was the last time you felt the Rangers were logical?

Patrick Roy  (130-92-24)

Chris Drury’s former teammate with the Colorado Avalanche is a proven winner as a player. Although his NHL coaching record with the Avs is solid, he and Joe Sakic did not see eye-to-eye before his departure. However, Roy did win the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year as a rookie bench boss with the Avs in 2014. He’s also been known to have a big temper, and that could be a combustible mix with the fiery Drury.

Assessing the Rangers coaching search

This really wasn’t the best time to fire a coach considering how limited the field of candidates appears to be.

Two names that have already been ruled out are Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter.

Regarding Quenneville, the NHL is unlikely to allow him back after he resigned due his involvement in the Kyle Beach scandal while coaching the Chicago Blackhawks. As for Sutter, who was fired by the Calgary Flames, the Rangers aren’t interested.

Another name being discussed is Jack Capuano due to his Team USA connections with Drury. One knowledgeable source pointed out to me that it’s unlikely the Rangers would bring in a coach that failed with the New York Islanders.

There ‘s also a possibility that Sheldon Keefe could become available if the Toronto Maple Leafs lose to the Florida Panthers.

At the end of the day, the Rangers coaching search is in its infancy. The biggest concern I have is how much influence does Glen Sather still have in the decision making process?

I noted after the firing of John Davidson and Jeff Gorton that Sather was counseling owner James Dolan. It wouldn’t surprise me if he isn’t giving input into this situation as well.

If that’s the case, it will only make it tougher on Drury to find a replacement he sees as a fit should Sather disagree.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore