President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton lost their jobs, and then the team started settling scores with the Washington Capitals two days after Tom Wilson attacked two Rangers.
A day of upheaval for the Rangers started with the ouster of two top executives and ended with a game between two teams that had a score to settle.
Hours after the firing of President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton, the Rangers began their game against the Washington Capitals with a choreographed show of vengeance that led to three simultaneous fights after the opening face-off.
Chris Drury, 44, the associate general manager, will become the team’s new president and general manager. Drury, the N.H.L. rookie of the year in 1999, spent the last four seasons of his playing career with the Rangers and joined the team’s front office in 2015. Glen Sather, who has been a senior adviser with the team since 2019, will work with Drury during the transition period.
“Chris is a very sought-after executive and a strong leader, who has proven himself to be one of the top young minds in hockey,” the team owner, James L. Dolan, said in a statement. “We are confident he will effectively guide the team to ensure the long-term success we promised Rangers fans.”
The tumult at Madison Square Garden began less than 24 hours after the Rangers had rebuked the N.H.L.’s player safety chief, George Parros, for not suspending Washington winger Tom Wilson after he punched Rangers forwards Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich during a scrum in Monday’s game at the Garden. The league on Tuesday fined Wilson $5,000, the maximum allowable amount, and the Rangers later released a scathing statement criticizing the league for not issuing harsher discipline.
On the ice, a team out of playoff contention immediately showed its anger. Rangers center Kevin Rooney fought with Nic Dowd; winger Phil Di Giuseppe battled Washington’s Garnet Hathaway; and Colin Blackwell traded punches with Capitals forward Carl Hagelin.
It took 50 seconds for Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith to confront Wilson, shoving him into the boards at the Rangers bench before the two began trading punches. There were six fights in the first five minutes and a combined 100 penalty minutes assessed in the first period.
“I had no beef with anybody else on their team,” Smith said. “I thought it should have been handled before this game and it wasn’t. I felt it had to be on my shoulders, and I took it.”
Wilson was loudly booed by the several thousand fans in the Garden every time he was on the ice. Which wasn’t for long. Wilson played 2 minutes, 36 seconds and accumulated 15 penalty minutes before leaving the game with an upper-body injury.
The Rangers lost their fourth game in a row, 4-2, and have two games remaining. The Capitals’ T.J. Oshie had a hat-trick in his first game back in the lineup since the death of his father, Tim. The Rangers were eliminated from playoff contention on Monday, when they lost, 6-3, to the Capitals, who are headed to the postseason.
Gorton, 52, became the general manager when Sather stepped aside in July 2015 after 15 years in the job. Sather remained as the team’s president until 2019, when Davidson was hired. Gorton and Davidson were overseeing a rebuild that began in earnest with a letter sent to the fan base in February 2018.
The Rangers have not made the traditional playoffs since the 2016-17 season, though they participated in last year’s postseason format, which was expanded because the coronavirus pandemic had interrupted the season.
“We want to thank JD and Jeff for their contributions to the organization,” Dolan said in a statement. “They are both great hockey professionals who worked hard for the Rangers, however, in order for the team to succeed in the manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership.”
Davidson, 68, said at his introductory news conference two years ago that he was eager to work with Gorton and Coach David Quinn to develop a culture of accountability with the Rangers. Quinn, the former men’s hockey coach at Boston University, is finishing his third season behind the Rangers’ bench.
Since the 2018 letter, the Rangers have made six first-round draft picks, including the heralded forwards Kaapo Kakko at No. 2 in 2019 and Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1 in 2020.
“There are no quick fixes,’’ Davidson said when he was hired. “It’s hard work, it’s patience and it’s having the proper resolve.”
Davidson left his mark on the Rangers before his tenure as president. He played 222 games in goal for the team and led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1979. He became a broadcaster with MSG in 1983 and left in 2006 to become president of the St. Louis Blues for six years before assuming the same role with Columbus, where he was until 2019.
Another former Rangers stalwart, Mark Messier, stumped for himself during a radio appearance Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve made it very clear that I’ve been standing by ready to help out in any way for many years,’’ Messier, who led the team to a Stanley Cup title in 1994, said on “The Michael Kay Show.” “I don’t really know what else to say.”