So we know the template that Gerard Gallant will establish when he steps behind the bench next year as the head coach of a Rangers team whose lone identity last year was being young.
“I want us to be the hardest working team in the league. I want us to compete hard, to battle hard, to make teams say, ‘You know what, that team works hard and competes for 60 minutes,’” Gallant said Tuesday morning during his introductory press briefing. “We can do a lot of good things. We can be skilled, we can be talented, but if the work doesn’t come first, all the skill and talent doesn’t get you too far down the road.
“You start at 7 o’clock, you start at 7 o’clock. You’ve got 82 games to play, you get ready for every one. I want to make sure we work hard every night and compete every night.”
There is skill and there is talent, some of it exceptional. Tampa Bay long had exceptional skill and talent but did not win anything until the Lightning became a much harder team to play against. They did that by acquiring players with size, stiffness and sandpaper.
President-general manager Chris Drury shared a split screen with his coach during the virtual event. It will be his responsibility to remake the Rangers in the image of teams that have had success in the postseason, not only this year, but through this era of playoff hockey in which brawn has become at least equally important as skill.
“It’s hard to watch these playoffs and not notice the physicality, the energy, the effort and the intensity it takes to win and succeed,” Drury said. “We’re certainly going to need to play that way to have success in the regular season and the playoffs.
“We’re always looking at ways to improve the lineup and add different pieces just like every team in the league, and every team in the league is watching these playoffs. We all want harder players to play against and we’re no different.”
Gallant is 57 years old. He had success in Florida, taking the woebegone Puddy Tats to the playoffs, and then success in Vegas, taking the first-year Golden Knights to the Cup final. But he was kicked to the curb 22 games into his third year in Florida and then gone 49 games into his third season in Vegas.
“I still have a hard time going back and looking at it and saying, ‘Why did I get fired?’” Gallant said. “I think I did a great job for both those organizations [but] things happen, it’s out of my hands.
“I come to the rink every day with a smile on my face, I’ve got a great job, great opportunities and you work hard and do the best that you can. When you get fired, I try to move on as quick as possible. I’m not going to live in the past, I’m going to move forward and look forward to my next opportunity with the Rangers.”
Gallant’s teams play four-line, puck-pressure hockey with emphasis on an aggressive forecheck and neutral-zone forecheck with a defensive posture meant to produce turnovers and trigger transition counter-attacks.
“I hate talking about the past but when I was in Vegas we went to training camp with a plan, put our systems in place and we expected everybody to play a 200-foot game with everybody good defensively and everybody good offensively,” the coach said. “Everybody has to have a role on your hockey team.
“It’s not going to take 15 guys to win, it’s going to take 23 players on the roster to win games every night. I try to make every player important to our hockey team, everybody has a role to play and the expectation is, ‘Do your role, play your role and we’ll win hockey games.’”
The Panthers, in particular, had a core of exceptional young talents featuring Aleksandar Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau. The Rangers are loaded with young and precocious talent including 2020 first-overall Alexis Lafreniere and 2019 second-overall Kaapo Kakko.
“You give [young players] the opportunity and hopefully they take the opportunity and ice time they get and excel with it,” Gallant said. “I don’t think young players can sit on the fourth line and get a lot out of that.
“You’ve got to give them the opportunity to play. We know we’ve got some very talented young hockey players who are going to get every opportunity to play but they have got to fit into our program. They’ve got to make sure they’re playing every night and are deserving of ice time.
“It’s a fine line for coaches,” said the coach. “You want to develop players but you also want to win every night. That’s where we’re at right now so we’re going to try to win a hockey game and hope that those young players are going to be part of our team winning hockey games every night.”