Chris Drury crossed off the No. 1 item on his summer to-do list when he hired Gerard Gallant to be the 36th coach in Rangers history earlier this month. But the Rangers president and general manager is a long way from done with all he has to do as he prepares for the 2021-22 season.
Gallant is going to need a coaching staff, and in the press conference at which the new coach was introduced, Drury identified finding and hiring assistant coaches to work with Gallant is "probably’’ his top priority for now.
"I'm going to need to find some help in the front office as well,’’ Drury said. "Maybe [add] some scouting positions, assistant GM, things like that. I'm working away at it and when the time is right, we'll let everybody know."
Drury has more or less cleaned house since becoming the Rangers’ boss in the wake of the surprise firings of team president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton days before the season ended last month. He let go of coach David Quinn and his staff — except for goalie coach Benoit Allaire — after the season ended, because "it was time for a new voice, a new coach, some new leadership in the room.’’
But then he also got rid of Nickolai Bobrov, who had been the organization’s Director of European Scouting, among others.
In an offseason shortened by COVID-19, Drury has two drafts to get ready for this summer: an expansion draft on July 21 to stock the incoming Seattle Kraken, and the NHL draft, in which the Rangers have the 15th pick in the first round. Most of the work on both of those drafts has been done by now, but there are always last-minute contingencies to consider, plus potential trades that might present themselves around either draft.
For the expansion draft, teams will be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, with players who have played two or fewer professional seasons being exempt (so Adam Fox, goaltender Igor Shesterkin, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller don’t need to be protected). The Rangers don’t appear to have too many difficult decisions, deciding between Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell for the last protected forward spot should be about it.
After that, there are the usual summer items, such as re-signing the team’s own restricted free agents. Forward Pavel Buchnevich, coming off the best season of his career, is an RFA with arbitration rights who is in line for a significant raise over the $3.5 million he earned in 2020-21. And forwards Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier, as well as defenseman Libor Hajek, are all coming off entry level contracts and will need new deals. Shesterkin needs a new deal, as well. He is an RFA with arbitration rights.
Mika Zibanejad, who struggled the first half of the 2021 season after contracting COVID-19 at the start of training camp, is entering the final year of his contract and Drury is going to have to start talking contract extension with his No. 1 center. Ryan Strome, presently the No. 2 center, is entering the last season of his deal as well.
After all that, there is the actual task of improving the team as it tries to end a four-year playoff drought. Drury said at the Gallant press conference that he didn’t believe making the playoffs was "a mandate’’ for the Rangers, but he made it clear the expectation is the Rangers should be a playoff team in 2022. Late season games against the Islanders and Washington Capitals showed that the Rangers need to get tougher and grittier, so Drury is going to have to acquire those type of players.
And then there is Jack Eichel. Will the Rangers attempt to make a trade to get the disgruntled Buffalo Sabres center? Will they try to trade for some other big name?
It’s going to be a busy summer for Drury.