Upheaval at the Rangers Corral

More Blueshirt toughness needed. Back-to-back shutout losses to the Islanders triggered the Rangers house-cleaning. Chris Drury takes over as President and GM.

When the Islanders routed the Rangers in two straight games last week, it did more than thrust the Nassaumen into the playoffs. 

Based on the thunderbolt firing of John Davidson and Jeff Gorton by Madison Square Garden boss Jim Dolan yesterday, the Isles not only sealed the Blueshirts playoff doom and also played a key role the astonishing double-heave ho.

Think about it; the Rangers had been surging in the homestretch. A double-win over the Isles could have spun them right into playoff contention. Islanders fans genuinely worried.

Hot Rangers, cold Islanders was a possible scenario. Blueshirts fans -- and I do believe Madison Square Garden boss Jim Dolan -- would envision a dramatic spring to the Playoffs Finish Line.

What's more, the two-game series opened at Dolan's Garden. What could be a better opener for this passion play?

Well, the Islanders had the passion and the Rangers played like it was a "Who cares?" exhibition game. If you owned the home club, how would you feel?

Still, the Rangers had one more shot at redeeming themselves only this time at Nassau. The result?

The Islanders played like pros and the Blueshirts played like prose; a bad story. The Rangers were dull, drab and lifeless. That could have inspired Dolan to do his duty; make his team better.


Another factor could also have spurred the firing. While Davidson-Gorton loaded up with young talent, they lacked a grit player. It's significant that after Tom Wilson rode roughshod over the Rangers on Monday, Wilson did not leave the game.

The Caps merauder returned in the third period and not a Ranger laid a hand on him in retribution. Not one. 

Were I Jim Dolan and watched my team play appeaser to Wilson, I would question the brand of team my general staff had created.

When Conn Smythe masterminded the Toronto Maple Leafs four-Cup dynasty in the late 1940's his theme was, "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice."

Last night, the Rangers had yet another chance to at least lay a good hard bodycheck on Wilson. They wasted no time, igniting an off-the-opening-face-off line brawl. But it was too much failed fury.

Wilson was challenged as well and left the game with an "upper body injury," which may have been a wise way to get him to dressing room safety. His point already had been made.


THE JIVE: Two of the best-informed journalists on the scene include Larry Brooks of the New York Post and Elliotte Friedman of (Canada's) Sportsnet. 

In his overall assessment of the eruption on Seventh Avenue, Brooks directly noted the Islanders angle. "There's no question that the meek manner in which the Rangers were manhandled by the Islanders with the playoffs in sight added to Dolan's unease," Brooks asserted. "The prioritization of skill guys over will guys was noted. So was the absence of push-back."

Friedman wondered about the unusual timing with the regular season almost over. He was asked if there was a connection between the Rangers critical letter of NHL Player Safety's ruling on Tom Wilson and the dual firings. "It's hard to think that they are not connected," said Friedman, but he was only guessing. More than one source has insisted that neither Davidson nor Gorton had anything to do with the harsh criticism of George Parros of NHL Player Safety. It came from above.

Our expert analyst, Gus Vic, makes no bones about the fact that Dolan's expectation of a playoff team this season was too high."That this club will manage a winning record in this (tough) division was an accomplishment," says Vic. "Considering the opposition -- Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, Islanders -- the playoffs were going to be a longshot regardless of what Dolan was hoping for.

"I stand by what I said three weeks ago; that the final five games with the Islanders would reveal the needed blueprint to make the Rangers competitive as soon as next year. The club is this close: get two bottom six grit forwards and one of them should be good enough for the second line."


THE JIVE: His credentials are good. He's been with the Rangers long enough to know the personnel and -- based on other teams having sought him in the past -- is well-respected. What remains to be seen is whether he retains David Quinn as head coach. No question, Quinn's work has been scrutinized by the media and fans alike and the results are mixed. What really matters is that he was not a Drury choice and Chris easily could decide to bring in his own man; his own new staff. 

Really, Drury has it made. He's inheriting a young, talented squad whose full potential -- in the opinion of some, and mostly Dolan -- was not fully exploited by the coaching staff. As Gus Vic points out, all Drury has to do is add a couple of talented toughies and this team could easily be playoff bound. The mining was done by Davidson and Gorton and now Drury reaps the gold.


THE JIVE; When it comes to Blueshirt Country, the faithful had faith in Davidson. He'll go down in club history as one of the most popular of alumni, not to mention long-time MSG Networks broadcaster. For a fan reaction, I start with those who have studied the team for years. At the top of my list is author George Grimm, who has written two of the best hockey books of all-time: "We Did Everything But Win" and "Guardians Of The Goal."

Like just about everyone in captivity, Grimm was stunned by the announcement; but more than that. "I'm upset," says Grimm. "JD and Gorton assembled a good, young, talented team on the verge of becoming a contender. I'm very disgusted." I received the same reaction -- with more invective -- from David Perlmutter, a long-time sports fan who has viewed the Rangers for years. 

Acting in the role of a fan for the purposes of this analysis, Vic adds, "Perhaps Drury will deliver quickly as Bill Guerin has in Minnesota. But the truly unfortunate part is that the two men who built the foundation won't be around to finish the job."


THE JIVE: Nowhere has the name of Glen Sather emerged in any of he stories I've seen. But this much is certain; he's still on staff as an advisor and he's always had Jim Dolan's ear. Two things would have bothered Slats: 1. The Rangers missing the playoffs again; 2. The lack of toughness on the team.

Dolan's statement on the firings came straight to the point: "In order for the team to succeed in the manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership."  The Boss then alluded to "The Letter" of yesteryear which promised a rebuild. In essence he's saying "Enough already! I can't wait any longer.” And as for Drury, Dolan calls him "a strong leader." And, finally, "We're confident there will be the long-term success we promised Rangers fans."


THE JIVE: Jim Dolan owns the Rangers. It's his team. He wants to win and those two losses to the Islanders were the straws that broke the camel's back and cost JD and Gorton their jobs. The Bottom Line: Dolan got tired of waiting!