The Rangers introduced Gerard Gallant on Tuesday as the 36th coach in franchise history. Nobody said he better guide the team to the playoffs next season, but the implication was there.
"My goal and our hope is that we're a playoff team next year,’’ Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury said as he presented Gallant to the media. "Is it a mandate? I don't believe so, but I want everyone to come back and know that that's where we want to be. And, with the talent on this team, where we should be.’’
The desire to take the next step — from young, rebuilding team to playoff team — was the reason Drury fired former coach David Quinn after the season, and the reason Drury himself was promoted after the late-season firings of John Davidson and Jeff Gorton. It was why Gallant was at the top of Drury’s wish list from the minute he let Quinn go.
"Gerard was a guy that I targeted right from Day 1," Drury said. "I just think, at the end of the day, he was a perfect fit for what we're trying to accomplish here.’’
Gallant, 57, is coming off coaching Canada to a gold-medal performance in the World Championships despite the Canadians having lost their first three games in the tournament. Before that, he guided the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18, earning Coach of the Year honors for his efforts. And before that, he coached a young Florida Panthers team to a club-record 47 wins and a 103-point season in 2015-16.
And he likes what he sees in the Rangers’ roster.
"I think they've got a real good lineup,’’ Gallant said of the Blueshirts. "Obviously, when you look at their team, you see the young players, you see the veteran talent they've got, they're just a team ready to take the [next] step.’’
Gallant, who was fired by the Golden Knights during the 2019-20 season, was eager to get back in the game, he said.
"I'm very fortunate to get this opportunity,’’ he said. "I'd like to thank Jim [Dolan, the owner of the Rangers, the Knicks and Madison Square Garden] and Chris for the opportunity to be the next Rangers head coach. It’s a very exciting time for me and my family. I'm looking forward to going to New York to get settled, get my staff together, and get right down to work.’’
Gallant said he believes the Rangers can play the same style Vegas did when he coached there.
"Definitely,’’ he said. "When I was in Vegas — I hate talking about the past — we went to training camp with a plan. We put our systems in place, and we expected everybody to play a 200-foot game — everybody good defensively, everybody good offensively, everybody to have a role on the hockey team.
"I want [the Rangers] to be the hardest working team in the league,’’ he said. "We can do a lot of good things, we can be skilled, and we can be talented. But if the work doesn't come first, the skill and talent doesn't get too far down the road."
Gallant said he will give opportunities to the Rangers’ young players, including 19-year-old Alexis Lafreniere and 20-year-old Kaapo Kakko, who he praised as having "high-end talent, high-end skill.’’ But he conceded there is a balance he’ll have to strike.
"It's a fine line for the coaches,’’ he said. "You want to develop players, but you also want to win every night . . . So we're going to try to win a hockey game, and hopefully those young players are a big part of our team winning those games every night.’’