On Tuesday morning, the New York Rangers’ General Manager Jeff Gorton announced a couple of personnel changes related to the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ American Hockey League-affiliate. Wolf Pack Head Coach Ken Gernander has been relieved of his duties behind the bench. A replacement has yet to be determined.
Gernander served as the Wolf Pack’s Head Coach for the past 10 seasons, posting a 388-304-84 record in 776 games. He guided Hartford to the playoffs in five of his 10 seasons as the team’s Head Coach and helped the Wolf Pack advance to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014-15. Unfortunately, the Wolf Pack finished dead last in the AHL this season, and has missed postseason action four of the last five seasons.
“We want to thank Ken for his service and all of his contributions to the Wolf Pack and the Rangers organization,” Gorton said. “We wish him and his family all the best in his future endeavors.”
In addition, Rangers Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld has relinquished his duties as General Manager of the Wolf Pack and Rangers Assistant General Manager Chris Drury will assume the role of General Manager of the Wolf Pack. Drury completed his first season as Assistant General Manager in 2016-17 after being promoted to the post on September 2, 2016. He served as Director of Player Development for one season after rejoining the Rangers organization on September 4, 2015.
“I want to thank Ken for his tireless work and dedication to the Wolf Pack and the Rangers organization,” Schoenfeld said. “He represented the organization the right way, both on and off the ice. I have had the good fortune working closely with Kenny as a player, assistant coach, and head coach over the last 12 years and wish him all the best going forward.”
Schoenfeld will instead focus his attention in New York where Gorton will certainly need a helping hand given the arduous task of not only the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but the Vegas expansion draft just days prior.
The Rangers surprised everyone – probably themselves included – when they defeated the Montréal Canadiens in six games in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the shock was equally felt when the Blueshirts bowed out to the Ottawa Senators is as many games in the Conference Semifinals.
Expecting more from a team with world-class goaltending; a fast and talented squad; and a group of players mostly under 30 years of age, personnel changes are of no surprise. Here, Gorton is showing his commitment to making the New York Rangers a team that can rely on its home-grown talent within its own prospect pool. Often times, former General Manager Glen “Slats” Sather would mortgage the future to put a winning team on the ice in the present. And while I don’t blame Sather, nor do I disagree with the moves he had made, I have already expressed my concerns with such a strategy, one in which the GM acts now, and worries later.
But for the first time since 2012, the New York Rangers appear to be heading into the draft with a first-round pick. In 2012, the Rangers chose defenseman Brady Skjei 28th-overall. Skjei has developed nicely since then. He just finished a stellar rookie season in which he posted five goals, and 34 assists in 80 games. He has been most effective using his skating abilities in being able to move the puck quickly and efficiently out of the zone. His skating has led to his confidence with the puck, and he will undoubtedly continue to improve and develop.
But Skjei is not the norm for this organization. And Tuesday morning, Gorton acknowledged this with his personnel changes, committing to improve the entire organization from the top all the way on down – because that’s how real changes occur. Giving up draft picks in recent years means the Rangers have sought acquire talent outside of the draft. In the last few weeks, the Rangers have signed several NCAA free agents including Neal Pionk, Vince Pedrie, and Vinni Lettieri.
Also signed as free agents were Alexei Bereglazov from the KHL, and Dawson Leedahl. Leedahl went undrafted but just experienced his breakout season with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League where he posted 89 points in 71 games.
Chris Drury will certainly have his hands full in Hartford from now on. It is now known that Drury was instrumental in convincing then-free agent Jimmy Vesey to sign with the Rangers. He also played a pivotal role in convincing Pavel Buchnevich to make his trek to North America. Given this ability to influence young players, I believe he will have a positive impact on the young talent playing for the Wolf Pack. And it will start when he names a head coach.
So while it seemed like the Rangers might suffer on Broadway for a couple of seasons, it appears Gorton is moving a shaking while giving significant consideration to the future of the franchise. Perhaps this really is the end of the Slats-era.