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Rangers stars out of excuses and must deliver for Peter Laviolette

The burden of proof rests on Peter Laviolette, the eighth-winningest coach in NHL history, who has been hired by the Rangers for the express purpose of leading the motorcade through the Canyon of Heroes 12 months from now.

But the burden of proof lies equally with the top-end playing personnel that has chewed through two coaches in the last three seasons while indicting — who used that word? — both David Quinn and Gerard Gallant for deficiencies behind the bench and in the room.

Gallant walked the plank despite having led the Blueshirts to the fifth-best record in the league his two years in New York, but the athletes who came up so small in the seven-game defeat to the Devils do not get off the hook here after curling up in the fetal position three of the final four games of the series.

These players have used up their allotment of gripes. They are not going to fire another good coach and another good man. And they are not going to be let off the hook by Laviolette, hired Tuesday after a five-week search throughout which the 58-year-old was the leader in the clubhouse from Day 1.

This is a coach who demands accountability across the board, believes in structure, can deliver a withering rebuke or inspirational speech when called for and makes immediate in-game tactical adjustments.


The Rangers hired Peter Laviolette as their new head coach on Tuesday.
The Rangers hired Peter Laviolette as their new head coach on Tuesday.
AP

These are precisely the qualities the players on exit day informed president-general manager Chris Drury that they felt were missing under the previous regime. It is our understanding that the players wanted a coach who would run more challenging practices. They’ll get them.

Kristen Laviolette may differ, but this was not the sexiest hire and this was not the sexiest search. There is a same-old, same-old vibe to this. But Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy is on his third team. Florida coach Paul Maurice is on his fifth tour of NHL duty. Pete DeBoer of the conference finalist Stars is on his fifth team. The Devils’ Lindy Ruff began his coaching career in 1997.

Of course, everyone looks sexy posing with the Stanley Cup. Check out the 2005-06 Hurricanes team picture if you don’t believe me.

This most likely will not be the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. Peter Laviolette is a hired gun, brought in for a quick fix. The Islanders improved from 52 to 96 points his first year at the Coliseum. Carolina won the Cup in his second year. The Flyers went to the final his first year, the Predators in his third season in Nashville.


Rangers center Mika Zibanejad
Rangers center Mika Zibanejad
NHLI via Getty Images

Laviolette was not hired to be a development coach, but if Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko — to pick two names out of a pingpong-ball hopper — do not develop under his tutelage, the Rangers will go nowhere. These lottery twins are not luxury items, but necessities.

But Laviolette’s greatest challenge will be transforming the team from a regular-season Smoke Show into a snarly playoff opponent that can thrive in the dirty areas, shut down the neutral zone and control the middle of the ice.

It isn’t so much getting through to Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin — again, to pick two names out of a bucket — it is giving these players tools with which they can succeed in the spring the way they do through the winter. That is not exclusive to No. 93 and No. 10.

The Rangers will have a coach who believes in matching lines. I would expect Laviolette to construct a checking line as opposed to an alternate scoring line (aka The Kids) as the third unit even as it’s not readily apparent how he would go about pounding an inventory of square pegs into round holes.


Rangers winger Artemi Panarin
Rangers winger Artemi Panarin
NHLI via Getty Images

Make no mistake, the burden this year is going to also be borne by Drury and the hierarchy through a hellish cap scenario.

Criticisms of Laviolette’s treatment of young players — echoing those heard in these parts about Gallant, Quinn and Alain Vigneault — seem to be overblown. There may have been some curious decisions regarding use of some of the young’uns in Washington, but Laviolette took Nashville to the 2017 final with a core he nurtured that featured Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson.

It will be interesting to see how the Rangers fill out the staff. One of the criticisms of Laviolette that I’ve heard is that he has turned too much responsibility over to Kevin McCarthy, who has been the lead aide in each of his last four stops. The Caps ranked 16th and 22nd in the NHL on the power play the last two years. There might be reason to cut the cord here.

Laviolette has bite to him. This is going to be no stroll in the park for the Rangers, who need to become more hardscrabbled and much more difficult to play against. It is not about matching the 107 points from last season or the 110 points from two seasons ago. It is about winning 16 playoff games.

It was just over two years ago that the Tom Wilson Affair convulsed the Rangers organization. Now the Blueshirts have Wilson’s coach behind their bench.

Life comes at you fast when you don’t show up for Games 4, 5 and 7.

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