David Quinn stepped to the lectern, scanning left and right as he readied a deadpan quip.
“So that happened,” he said, before taking questions from a room of reporters.
The Rangers coach served up that understated reaction to a stunning on-ice performance: five goals from Mika Zibanejad, on March 6, 2020. Quinn might have thought the same about the events of early this past week, and his team’s season as a whole.
▪ In February, the team’s second-highest-paid defenseman (Tony DeAngelo) and hot goaltending prospect (Alexandar Georgiev) got into a fight that led to the ostracism of the former, who had just signed a two-year, $9.6 million deal. DeAngelo had spent election season popping off on social media, against the wishes of the team.
▪ Later in February, superstar forward Artemi Panarin took a two-week leave of absence to deal with the aftermath of what appeared to be a politically motivated story from his native Russia.
▪ And then there was this past week, with L’affaire Tom Wilson, the team statement that called for George Parros’s job, the removal of general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson, and the elevation of associate GM Chris Drury to fill both of those roles.
Just another quiet week on Broadway.
So, what happens to Quinn, the favorite son of Cranston, R.I., who was hired out of Boston University in 2018? Drury, a fellow ex-Terrier, will decide his fate in the coming weeks. Maybe Quinn, who took a slight step back in his third season is the answer. Or, would a first-time GM/president hire a more veteran coach if Arizona moves on from Rick Tocchet, or Vancouver from Travis Green?
If the Kraken don’t wind up with expansion whisperer Gerard Gallant, someone else will. If Carolina (for some reason) doesn’t extend Rod Brind’Amour’s contract, the Rangers wouldn’t be the only team interested. (Seattle, headed by former Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, would be an obvious fit.)
More so than ever, it seems apparent that James Dolan will have a say.
As owner of both the Rangers and the NBA’s Knicks, Dolan has been involved, unpredictable, and misunderstood. He shows up nightly to watch the Knicks, which have largely been awful under his control, despite being the world’s third-most valuable franchise (estimated at $5 billion net worth, according to Forbes). He has reportedly pushed for ill-fated trades (Carmelo Anthony, a pending free agent who wanted to play basketball in New York anyway), and had critics tossed from Madison Square Garden (not just random loudmouths either; Knicks legend Charles Oakley charged that security assaulted him).
Dolan has generally left the NHL’s most valuable franchise, his Rangers ($1.65 billion), alone. Until this past week.
Dolan, notoriously adverse to the press, told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that he didn’t like the direction of the team, the “overall spirit and culture” he felt was lacking. That, in his view, was the “key component to us being a Stanley Cup contender.” Right now, Dolan told Brooks, the Rangers have enough talent. They just don’t have the togetherness.
Glen Sather, 77, will stay on as an adviser. It sounds like he’s singing from the same hymn book as his boss.
“I was proud of the way they reacted,” Sather said of Wednesday’s “Slap Shot” redux against the Capitals. “They all stuck together, they worked hard, they defended each other, and that’s part of the team-building process a young team has to go through. You need a certain element of being able to defend your players, and it has to come from within the team. They certainly did that last night.”
Will Dolan be more involved now? If he believes the Rangers really are that close, will he mortgage the future to steer Jack Eichel to Broadway? Gorton reportedly already kicked those tires. At his boss’s behest, will Drury sweeten the pot?
And what about the rest of the management team? Mark Messier openly campaigned for a job, any job, on New York radio this past week. There’s also former netminder Kevin Weekes, who has interviewed for several GM positions in recent years.
As Dolan showed with his statement about Parros that drew a $250,000 fine from the NHL, money isn’t much of a concern.
The eyebrows remain raised.
“We’re all surprised,” Quinn said of the shakeup. “We felt good about what we’ve done up to this point.”
Gorton and Davidson should have. Three years after the Rangers wrote a letter to fans promising a thoughtful, sustainable rebuild, they were seemingly on track. They brought in free agent stars both established (Panarin) and budding (Harvard’s Adam Fox), kept heart and soul Chris Kreider, added young talent (Ryan Lindgren) via smart trades, and lucked into blue-chippers at the draft (No. 2 Kaapo Kakko, No. 1 Alexis Lafreniere).
The team even transitioned from the Henrik Lundqvist era and handed the keys to the promising Igor Shesterkin/Georgiev tandem.
Gorton, who robbed Ottawa of Zibanejad in a deal, was managing the No. 14 team in the NHL standings when he was canned.
The first big summer of Drury’s management career is coming in 2022, when Fox and Kakko will need second contracts, and Zibanejad — who could be a No. 2 center at that point — is unrestricted.
It seems unlikely Gorton, of Melrose and Bridgewater State, won’t be running someone else’s team by then. If Davidson isn’t in a head office somewhere, here’s hoping the beloved former broadcaster is calling games again.
Gloves are off when it comes to Wilson
Speaking of opinions we’d like to hear, what did Zdeno Chara think of Tom Wilson Week?
Doubt we’ll ever know. Just in case, your eager pucks correspondent ran that question by Chara’s people, and was politely, albeit swiftly, shot down.
Chara, likely the only player east of Vegas (Ryan Reaves) who can handle his teammate in a fight, may not be talking, but seemingly everyone else weighed in on Wilson. He was the ideal hockey player or a modern-day Ogie Ogilthorpe.
My take? I was Wilsoned out in 2018, to be honest. What he did Monday — using Pavel Buchnevich’s head as tom-toms and rag-dolling a helmetless Artemi Panarin — wasn’t the most unsavory act of his career, but it sure deserved more than a $5,000 fine. He was out of control and could have seriously injured Panarin, who sustained an unspecified injury.
Given Wilson’s lengthy rap sheet, the league should have sent a stronger message.
“Nothing I say right now is going to change anybody’s opinion,” Wilson said Friday. “They’ve already made that up.”
At minimum, he should have been suspended for Wednesday’s rematch with the Rangers. If so, there might not have been a line brawl off the opening faceoff, six fights in the first 4:14, and 141 PIMs doled out in all.
“Slap Shot” was, in part, a satire of the goonery of the 1970s, which had gotten out of hand. Nothing close to that happens today, which was part of what made Wednesday appointment viewing. Right or wrong, hatred sells. No question some lapsed hockey fans tuned in to see Wilson get his comeuppance. (NBCSN ratings had yet to emerge as of Friday afternoon, but supporting anecdotal evidence was found in my text messages, Twitter feed, and e-mail inbox.)
The NHL wants some level of violence in the game, though the concussion lawsuits in recent history won’t let the league speak that above a whisper. Angry hockey is still good hockey. Is there a pregame hype video in an arena that doesn’t show a home team player punching an opponent in the jaw?
Given what we know about head injuries, that’s hard to square. The fighting, I still grapple with. I love the speed and skill, but I loathe that some players are addled for decades. And yet, I still watch.
This past week, Derek Sanderson was saying his kids like today’s stickhandling-happy game more than he does.
“Fighting. Courage. Stand up and take nothing from anybody,” Sanderson said over the phone, when asked what would draw new fans. “Defend a teammate. Jump in. Don’t let anything happen. You take a shot at my guy, I’m taking a shot at you. That’s entertaining.”
We were speaking before the Wilson situation, but my guess is most of the Big, Bad Bruins would have agreed with him. Likewise, plenty of players today.
“I mean, I’m old school,” said Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, 24. “I don’t know if line brawls are fun to watch . . . I feel like both teams were willing. It’s part of the game, man.”
POINTS IN HIS FAVOR
McDavid’s stats measure up to the best
What other choice is there for the Hart Trophy than Connor McDavid, who entered the weekend 4 points shy of 100 with four games to go? We are witnessing once-in-a-generation stuff.
A hundred points in 56 games equals 1.79 points per game. That rate has been achieved 26 times by 11 players, including Wayne Gretzky (11 times), Mario Lemieux (six), and Phil Esposito (two).
As of Thursday — before collecting three assists in a 6-3 loss — McDavid was at 1.82 points per game. It was the highest mark since 1996, when Lemieux (2.30) and Jaromir Jagr (1.82) hit that number. Lemieux (1.77 in 2001) and Sidney Crosby (1.61 in 2011) are the only players to finish above 1.60 since 2000.
On 29 occasions has someone recorded 100 points or more through their team’s first 56 games. Most recently: Lemieux (116) and Jagr (104) in 1996.
Are there weak defensive teams in the North Division? Sure. Is McDavid overwhelming some of those goalies over and over? Oh, yeah. Would he have the same numbers if he had to play Vegas, the Islanders, Carolina, Boston, or Colorado, the top five teams in goals-against average? Maybe not, but 12 of the bottom 14 defensive teams play outside of Canada.
Thankfully, we’ll get to watch him in the playoffs. Entering the weekend, Toronto and Edmonton had guaranteed home ice for the first round, having locked up the top two spots in Canada.
Lacrosse move opens new possibilities
They call it the lacrosse move, the Michigan, or the Svech. No one calls it the Geekie.
But Morgan Geekie might have stumbled onto something.
While the Hurricanes forward botched a scoop-and-stuff move in Tuesday’s game against Chicago, it caused a chain reaction that led to an easy goal for his teammate, and conceivably gave creative offensive minds something else to consider on the attack.
After Geekie darted around the net and cut back, forcing netminder Collin Delia and defenseman Duncan Keith to follow him from the other side of the cage, he lifted the puck onto the forehand side of his blade, only to have it roll off before he could do anything with it.
The move made Keith hack at his stick, and more critically, Delia throw his shoulders at the near corner of the net. With those two Blackhawks committed, Geekie backhanded the loose puck to the slot, where a charging Nino Niederreiter cashed it into an open side.
Could faking a lacrosse move lead to scoring chances? With the game so tightly checked, players should be looking at any way to open up ice.
“It was great, actually,” said Carolina teammate Andrei Svechnikov, who has twice pulled off the move made famous by Michigan’s Mike Legg in 1996. “Sometimes it works, or you fake it. It was a nice pass by him. An empty net.”
Geekie, recalled from the Hurricanes’ taxi squad amid injuries, isn’t a stickhandling wizard. But he does have a unique spin on things.
“At the end of the day,” Geekie mused on Zoom, “you can’t out-pizza the Hut, you know what I mean?”
Something to cheer about in Buffalo
Forget the bleak outlook in Buffalo — Michael Houser, take a bow.
Toiling in the ECHL the last six seasons (210 games), the 28-year-old netminder was recalled amid injuries and made 82 saves in back-to-back wins over the Islanders. His most recent start before Monday: March 7, 2020.
Born with bilateral clubfeet, the Youngstown, Ohio, native reportedly underwent 14 surgeries before the age of 2.
“I think everyone’s just happy to win,” Houser said, before taking a beating Thursday in his adopted hometown, Pittsburgh. “I’m sure they’re happy for me personally, as well. We only have a few games left. To feel good heading into the summer is big.”
Marchand has a fan in Sanderson
Derek Sanderson’s favorite Bruin of today — no surprise — is Brad Marchand.
“The first time I saw him was in an exhibition game his rookie year,” Sanderson recalled. “He came down outside with such speed. I was stunned at how quickly he could stop, turn, come back against the grain. Much like [Connor] McDavid. He could come back on himself and nobody’s quick enough to pick him up.
“Two huge guys took a whack at him, but he didn’t care. He threw it under the goalie’s arm. It hit the crossbar, the post, and went out. All of this is in a space of maybe 3½ feet. Just a remarkable sense of where you are and what you’re doing. He’s as good as any forward out there.
“Whether there was anyone else on that team or not, he would be worth the price of admission. You can’t understand this game and not appreciate Brad Marchand.”
Sanderson, 74, is doing well after recent back surgery. He gave an update on ex-teammate Eddie Westfall, still swingin’ at 80: “He had a new heart, new hip, and he’s still shooting 75.”
If we’re looking at Lady Byng candidates, why not top-pair Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin? Entering weekend play, the Slavin ranked 28th in ice time and had two penalty minutes (and it was a puck-over-glass call) . . . Kudos to Tyler Seguin, who after six months and 51 games rehabbing his surgically repaired right hip scored twice in his first two games back. It brightened the Stars’ slim playoff hopes . . . Nice guy, that Milan Lucic, waiving his no-move clause so Calgary won’t have to protect him for the Seattle expansion draft. Should the Kraken grab him, he’d be closer to home in Vancouver . . . Don’t think we’ll see Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen in the playoffs. Mike Smith’s backup allowed four goals on four Vancouver shots before his exit Thursday. That hadn’t happened since 1989 (Minnesota’s Don Beaupre) . . . One of the lead TV voices for the upcoming TNT coverage will be Kenny Albert, late of NBC. He will be calling the Stanley Cup Final in four of the next seven years. Eddie Olczyk will reportedly become Turner’s lead analyst. Ray Ferraro is in line for the same role at ESPN . . . The AHL season, slated to start Oct. 15, will include relocated affiliates for the Canucks (Utica, N.Y., to Abbotsford, British Columbia) and Devils (Binghamton, N.Y., to Utica, N.Y.) . . . Sabres coach Don Granato is a believer in Anders Bjork, who scored twice and added a shootout goal in Tuesday’s win. “He’s dynamic,” Granato said. “Hell of a good kid and teammate, too.” . . . David Backes said Wednesday’s tearful goodbye in St. Louis was a sweet ending. “The ultimate professional,” said former Bruins teammate Jake DeBrusk . . . Quite a moment for T.J. Oshie, netting a hat trick Wednesday following the death of his father, Tim, of Alzheimer’s at 56. “We are trying to be there for him and take care of him,” teammate Nic Dowd said, “and he ends up taking care of us” . . . Happy Mother’s Day to all moms, especially mine, who always encouraged me to be myself and follow my dreams.