With their three-year-old rebuild seemingly coming to its end, the Rangers stunningly fired team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton Wednesday, hours before the Rangers hosted the Washington Capitals in their final game of the campaign at Madison Square Garden, and with just three games remaining in the 2020-21 season.
Reports surfaced about the firings in mid-afternoon, but the Rangers did not confirm the news for nearly three hours, when the team sent out a press release announcing that Davidson, the beloved former goaltender and TV analyst for the team, and Gorton were moving on, and associate general manager Chris Drury was taking over as president and GM.
Coach David Quinn was left in place, and was behind the bench for Wednesday’s game.
"We want to thank JD and Jeff for their contributions to the organization,’’ Madison Square Garden CEO and Knicks and Rangers owner James Dolan said in the release. "They are both great hockey professionals who worked hard for the Rangers, however, in order for the team to succeed in the manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership.
"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. We are confident he will effectively guide the team to ensure the long-term success we promised Rangers fans.’’
The release was sent out about 90 minutes before the team’s scheduled faceoff against the Capitals, and little less than 24 hours after the Rangers issued a statement declaring the organization’s dismay at the NHL’s decision Tuesday not to suspend Capitals forward Tom Wilson for his attack on Artemi Panarin in Monday’s game at the Garden.
Wilson, who was fined $5,000 by the league Tuesday for punching Pavel Buchnevich in that game, a 6-3 Rangers loss, was in the lineup for the Capitals on Wednesday.
The timing of the firing suggests the Wilson incident, in which he first punched Buchnevich while the Rangers forward was lying face down on the ice following a goalmouth scrum, then body slammed a helmetless Panarin down to the ice and began punching him, must have had something to do with the decision to make a change.
However, there were varying reports about the real reason for the firing of Davidson, who was hired away from the Columbus Blue Jackets in May 2019 to take over as president, and Gorton, who became the team’s GM in July 2015. Both men replaced Glen Sather, who first handed off his GM duties to Gorton, then retired as president, and now remains as an adviser to Dolan who will work to support Drury in his new positions.
Frank Seravalli, of TSN, tweeted that sources had informed him that Davidson and Gorton had tried to distance themselves from the team’s statement Tuesday. Darren Dreger, also of TSN, tweeted that his information was that the firings were not related to the statement at all, but came because ownership believed the Rangers had underachieved this season. The Rangers were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Monday’s loss to the Capitals.
The team missed the playoffs this season for the fourth straight year, but appeared to make progress in developing some of the young prospects Gorton had collected over the past three years, since the organization famously sent a letter to its fans in February 2018 announcing that the time had come to rebuild.
Defenseman K’Andre Miller and forward Vitaly Kravtsov, two of their three first round picks in 2018, made their NHL debuts for the club this season, with Miller instantly claiming a spot in the top two defense pairs. Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020, and Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick overall in 2019, both showed growth this season, and Adam Fox, the Jericho native who Gorton traded for from the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, emerged as a serious Norris Trophy candidate in his second NHL season.
The Rangers were the youngest team in the league for most of the season, until the Devils shipped out several veterans at last month’s trade deadline. For most of the season, they featured 10 players 23 or younger on the roster.