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From firings to fisticuffs, it was a crazy day in Rangers land

Rangers' Anthony Bitetto (22) and Washington Capitals' Michael

Rangers' Anthony Bitetto (22) and Washington Capitals' Michael Raffl (17) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Credit: AP/Bruce Bennett

Well, at least the Rangers made sense for 39 months.

That was the timeline from advising fans they would be rebuilding to where we were as of Wednesday morning:

A talented, steadily improving, extremely young team that had missed the playoffs, recently been pushed around by the Islanders and Capitals and frustrated fans but was looking toward a bright near future.

Then: Boom!

 

The Rangers fired team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton, one of the most shocking New York sports house-cleanings in memory, given the timing and its popular victims.

In a release, MSG Sports executive chairman James Dolan thanked Davidson and Gorton for their efforts but said, "In order for the team to succeed in the manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership."

So, what happened? The real story figures to unfold over time.

But the fact it followed a series of recent humiliations surely did not help, the nadir coming on Monday when the Capitals’ Tom Wilson threw around and/or pummeled various Rangers, who seemed powerless to respond.

The league did not help with its inadequate $5,000 fine and non-suspension of Wilson, which led directly to at an embarrassing, 1970s-style spectacle early in Wednesday night’s rematch at the Garden, which the Capitals won, 4-2.

There were six fights in the first five minutes, three at the drop of the puck. The first time Wilson came onto the ice, Brendan Smith went after him. There were 100 minutes of penalties assessed in the first period, 141 overall.

"I thought that it should have been handled before this game and it wasn’t," Smith said later, "so unfortunately it had to be kind of on my shoulders, and I thought I took it."

Said Ryan Strome, who had a rare fight, too, "We felt the need to take matters into our own hands a little bit and I thought it was a great response, really showed a lot from our team . . . My only wish was that the Garden was full to be rockin’ after what happened the first five minutes."

Good for the Rangers for standing up for themselves, not so good for the league to have put them in that position.

But despite Wednesday night’s forceful response, the No. 1 offseason priority will be adding more toughness to the roster.

That will be the job of new president and GM Chris Drury, who could well turn out to be the right guy to carry this ball into the end zone from the 10-yard line.

"Chris is a very sought-after executive and a strong leader, who has proven himself to be one of the top young minds in hockey," Dolan said. "We are confident he will effectively guide the team to ensure the long-term success we promised Rangers fans."

The circumstances of his elevation were bizarre and messy, but that doesn’t mean this will not work out well in the end.

He is only 44, has been coveted by other organizations and was ready to step up to the big chair.

He has won championships as a player everywhere from Little League baseball to NCAA hockey to the NHL and knows the Rangers inside and out.

Drury’s new status also figures to be good news for coach David Quinn, whom Drury backed for the job in 2018. Drury praised Davidson and Gorton after the game but also noted his long history with Drury.

So, again, this was not the way one might want to go about getting a big promotion, but it is done, and perhaps by this time next year it all will make perfect sense.

But on Wednesday, little seemed to make sense at the Garden, from the makeover in the front office to the NHL-driven mayhem on the ice.

New York Sports