The immediate and long-range quest to improve the Rangers for the 2017-18 National Hockey League season has begun.
Where it stops, only the Blueshirts’ high command — Glen Sather, Jeff Gorton, Alain Vigneault — will know after the Expansion Draft (June 21), Entry Draft (June 23-24) and Free Agent Frenzy play out their scripts.
But for now, the New Yorkers are on the lookout for a minor league coach since Ken Gernander was released as mentor of the Rangers’ AHL farm team in Hartford, the Wolf Pack.
Coincidentally, former NHL ace Chris Drury — most recently Rangers Assistant General Manager — was appointed GM of the Wolf Pack.
Drury moves into the chair previously occupied by Jim Schoenfeld, who now will focus on his duties as Rangers Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
Ever since Sather relinquished his General Manager role and moved Gorton up the general staff’s ladder, Jeff has been placing his choices into key roles.
One of them is Drury who was a prize hire, taking his position in the organization in September 2015 as Director of Player Development.
A year later, Drury was awarded the Assistant General Manager slot and became a major plus, helping the Blueshirts acquire rookie Jimmy Vesey despite several clubs — especially Buffalo — aiming to sign him.
Although he only played in the NHL for a “Cup of Coffee” — 12 games and five points (two goals, three assists) over three different seasons — Gernander had a long, successful career playing AHL hockey in Hartford.
“We want to thank Ken for his service and all of his contributions to the Wolf Pack and the Rangers organization,” said Gorton in a press release. “We wish him and his family all the best in his future endeavors.”
Gernander, whose team this past season finished last in its division and conference, told the Hartford Courant that he was considering several hockey options.
Writing in the Courant, columnist Jeff Jacobs quoted Gernander thusly: “Not to discuss any details, but I’ve been offered to stay in some capacity; not with the Wolf Pack but with the organization. It’s something I’m considering.”
Gorton has the option to fill the Wolf Pack coaching slot with Rangers aides or with someone outside of the organization.
Meanwhile, the Blueshirts received good news from abroad where Team USA clinched top seed in Group A at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship in Cologne, Germany.
Defeating Russia, 5-3 at the Men’s Worlds, the Rangers’ Kevin Hayes led his team to a victory with a pair of goals. It was Hayes’ second two-point game in a row.
Now it’s up to Drury to orchestrate a Wolf Pack team that will be armed with young talent which, hopefully, will move up to the big club.
Sather, Gorton & Co. now get into the nitty-gritty of improving the franchise. Meetings are slated ahead of the Drafts and free agency.
After that, a blueprint will be developed and honed to sharpness at training camp next September.
For now, there’s 20-20 hindsight among team members to eliminate next season what Mats Zuccarello said of this Spring’s playoff experience against Ottawa: “We had games we should have won.”