Al Arbour did not expect Mike Bossy to play the same way as Duane Sutter, but the Islanders’ Hall of Fame coach most certainly did hold his Hall of Fame right winger to the same standards he applied to the bottom-sixer.
Let’s be clear. It irritated No. 22 to no end to be pulled off the ice for defensive-zone draws in tight games his first few seasons, even while he was scoring 50-plus goals year after year after year. But Bossy learned about the defensive side of the puck.
Lo and behold, Bossy evolved into one of the NHL’s premier penalty killers and two-way players. He was expected to be — and became — more than arguably, the greatest sniper in league history.
Similarly, Peter Laviolette surely will not expect Artemi Panarin to play the same way as Tyler Pitlick. But the Rangers’ incoming head coach will hold No. 10 to the same standards he will apply to the putative fourth-liner.
There’s not going to be one way for the elite and another for the common folk. There is, rather, going to be the Rangers Way.
“When it comes to a system, and it’s not always perfect with regard to the details of how that goes, but I do believe a team has to get on the same page,” Laviolette said Wednesday, a day in advance of the club’s first on-ice camp sessions. “That’s my job and responsibility to take a group that at the end of training camp we call the New York Rangers and get them on the same page.”
Asked a hypothetical about a player who might have a tendency to play on the perimeter rather than get in on the forecheck, Laviolette’s response left no room for interpretation.
“That guy will forecheck,” said this coach who believes in puck pursuit and puck pressure.
It’s Day 1 of 2023-24. You can be excused for rolling your eyes. Every incoming head coach pledges to put his stamp on his new team. Every one of them insists he will change the culture. Some do and most don’t.
Be skeptical about changing a team that for years — probably since Alain Vigneault replaced John Tortorella on the 2013-14 bench — has kind of fixated on east-west, one extra pass and picture-perfect plays rather than grinding, hard-edged goals that come from dirty areas.
And if you want to talk about heritage, then we have to go back to Emile Francis’ white-collar teams that could out-skill anyone, but did not have the muscle and approach to take down either Bobby Orr and the Animals or The Broad Street Bullies.
In these cases, nice guys finished second or third or fourth.
It’s in the (frozen) water.
So, can Laviolette succeed in changing the culture? Will he and his staff of assistants hold players accountable? And why would we expect Laviolette to succeed when others did not?
Well. In the first case, the players — the veterans, the leaders — have asked to be held accountable. They want to be coached. That was the prevailing theme of exit meetings with general manager Chris Drury on breakup day.
Plus, this core that formed in 2019-20 has chewed through two coaches in three seasons. David Quinn was too oppressive for them. Gerard Gallant was too disengaged for them. I doubt that this group fires another coach. No-move clauses begin to evaporate after the season. Important players will go before this coach does.
“There’s a lot of talent and there’s a lot of skill on this team and I understand that,” Laviolette said, touching on a point he had made in his introductory press briefing in June. “I also can talk about teams that I’ve coached that have had some success. There’s a certain identity to the way they play.
“I can also talk about teams that make it deep into the playoffs. There’s a certain attitude they play with as well. There’s a work ethic that goes behind that. I think it’s a combination of both. I’ve never wanted to be only a skilled team and I’ve never wanted really to be just a hard-working team.
“If you can combine the two and get them on the same page,” he said. “That’s the purpose of training camp. It’s to establish your identity. It’s to work on it.”
Thursday’s work day begins at 8 a.m.
The Rangers had best come ready.
The coach expects nothing less.
From each and every one of them.
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