New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant got outcoached again
Photo credit:Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
By Michael Liu6 months ago
The New York Rangers being eliminated in seven games by the New Jersey Devils was a shock. This team moved a haul of picks and futures for an all-in push, bringing in elite talent like Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko to send them over the top after a 2022 Eastern Conference Final appearance.
But yet, they fell at the first hurdle.
It all started so well too. The Rangers dominated the Devils, to the tune of 10-2 goals through the first two games. Sure, New Jersey was the higher seed, but New York probably had the higher-end talent, better depth, and better goaltending. It showed through Game 1 and Game 2, where the Rangers just seemed to cut through their opposition like butter. And then, they just stopped showing up.
It’s hard to win in the postseason. It’s especially hard to win when your big guns stop performing. Artemi Panarin went goalless in the series, recording two assists with a -2 +/- rating. He currently has a cap hit of $11,642,857. Mika Zibanejad wasn’t much better, the $8,500,000 man recording only a goal and three assists in seven games. Jacob Trouba’s biggest contribution in the series was leveling Timo Meier with a legal but brutal hit.
Their young talent didn’t step up either. In a cap league where entry-level contracts have become such an integral part of a team’s success, the Rangers have been unable to extract much value from the cost-controlled years of their prized prospects. Former 2nd overall pick Kaapo Kaako put up a goal and an assist while playing on the third line. Heck, Alex Lafreniere, who was slotted in the top 6, looks like he’s about to be playing in Europe with the kind of impact that he had against the Devils.
The only reason why the series lasted as long as it did was Igor Shesterkin standing on his head and a multitude of power plays in Game 6. Otherwise, New Jersey just looked like they wanted it more. They outclassed New York in both hunger and hustle, and talent alone was nowhere near enough to carry the Rangers past this Devils team.
A lot of this comes down to the man behind the bench. Gerard Gallant found himself out of his depth against the Devils, which is really strange to be saying about a man who won the Jack Adams award in 2017-18. He’s constantly a sought-after commodity whenever he hits the coaching free agent market, fans clamouring for teams to replace their head coach with Gallant.
It doesn’t make sense, given his track record.
Yes, he brought the Vegas Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Yes, he had the Florida Panthers playing some of their most inspired hockey in a while during the 2015-16 NHL season. Yes, he helped the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season. But does that mean Gallant is a good coach?
He’s absolutely a fantastic player’s coach. Gallant’s simplistic approach gives his teams freedom to play to their strengths, showcasing individual talents and having a free-flowing approach to the game. It allows his teams to achieve some really nice-looking hockey while having the top 6 be the focal point of a team’s offence. It also helps that Gallant has gotten excellent goaltending from the likes of Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, and now Shesterkin. Since 2014-15, his teams have never finished the regular season under .500.
But come the postseason, that excellence doesn’t translate. Gallant has been on the end of some brutal playoff series defeats. Take the 2018-19 season with the Golden Knights, coming up against a San Jose Sharks team that they were expected to trounce. Vegas raced out to a 3-1 series lead, then proceeded to blow said lead in historic fashion, with Game 7’s comeback collapse the cherry on top of that sundae. Last season, Gallant’s Rangers went up 2-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, only to fall flat and lose in 6 games. It’s the second consecutive year that his team has blown a 2-0 lead, and that could be attributed to Gallant’s major downfall.
Throughout the post-game pressers, Gallant’s responses to his team’s underperformance didn’t seem convincing. He mainly asked them to put more effort in and get more pucks to the net. Contrast this to Lindy Ruff (who was actually an assistant coach for the Rangers just 3 seasons ago), who made calculated decisions to clog the middle of the ice, put more pressure on the puck, and keep New York’s main weapons to the perimeter.
It appears that Gallant struggles to make adjustments. He has been outclassed in a number of series now, with this Devils’ team being a glaring example of this. Man-management tactically is definitely not his strong suit, and as his opposition adjusts, oftentimes Gallant is left with his pants down. Tampa, who are notoriously good at neutralizing threats throughout a series, did exactly the same thing last year. New York didn’t have an answer.
Over the course of a season, this type of coaching style doesn’t really apply. But, in the playoffs, when teams are matched up against each other for up to seven games, the tactical side of the game becomes so much more important. There’s data to look at, matchups that players prefer, and results that you are seeing on the ice and have to adjust before it causes irreversible damage. Gallant just seemed slow to react, and his reactions were surface-level at best. Adjustments just weren’t his thing.
And what’s left for New York? Gallant was not good at developing young talent, often healthy scratching Kaako and Lafreniere or not putting them in situations for them to succeed. Zac Jones probably was the answer on the back end yet he didn’t seem to recognize that. Gallant didn’t manage to get the maximum potential out of his star players, especially with the calibre of acquisitions that came in at the deadline. It’s a bit of a mess, and even just after two years, Gallant’s sell-by date might have already passed.
This is all interesting to keep in mind as Vancouver also had themselves a player’s coach, one that liked to let his players play, do their thing, and saw a good string of regular season results to boot. This isn’t a diss at Bruce Boudreau – heck, that was the most fun Canucks’ hockey has been in the past three years. But more importantly, did that lead to any tangible results before the wheels fell off of the “Bruce, there it is” train? By no means is freedom bad – but having structure can be a critical key to having a team fit together. Especially in the postseason, that structure and the tactical awareness to make adjustments can be the difference between lifting the cup or getting knocked out in the first round.
Not saying that Boudreau didn’t have that savvy, or that the Canucks wouldn’t have had playoff success if they made it there. It’s just that 1-7 Game 7 record is pretty glaring on the resume.
As the offseason hits the Rangers head-on, important decisions have to be made. There’s no way that they’ll be able to resign their rentals, and their bench boss once again proved to be outclassed in the postseason. There will be some long, uncomfortable conversations that are past due to be had, and perhaps some change can come as a result.
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