From one star’s lips to the Rangers stars’ ears: Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad are going to enjoy and benefit from playing for Gerard Gallant.
That’s the way an interested and educated observer named Jaromir Jagr sees it. And he should know, having thrived in Florida in his mid-40s under the Rangers’ new head coach.
“He is tough but friendly and he is honest with the players,” Jagr told The Post on Tuesday from his home in the Czech Republic. “In my opinion, with the players having so much power, that is the way a coach has to be. You can’t threaten to send players down or take away their ice time. That does not work.
“You have to be honest with the top guys and create trust with them. You have to be tough but you have to create the [environment] so players want to play for you and will do extra. That’s the way I see it. And that’s the way he is, not only with the top guys but with everyone, no matter who you are.”
As last season evolved, it became clear that a disconnect had developed between David Quinn and his marquee forwards. There was an ongoing push-and-pull over style that was never quite resolved. It is not clear that the club’s big guns had faith that Quinn was the right man to take the team to the next level. None of this should be an issue with Gallant, hired on Monday by incoming president-general manager Chris Drury.
“It’s going to be good for the players, and the star players are going to like it because he knows how to relate to them,” said Jagr, who at age 49 will begin his 23rd pro season late this summer, playing for his hometown Kladno team of which he is the owner.
“And the reason for that is that he was a very good player, he was a star in the NHL, playing with a star like Stevie Yzerman in Detroit. So he knows what the stars need. Nobody can really tell you that. It’s something you have to feel. It’s something you have to know. You need the personal experience. That’s a big advantage.”
Gallant had an 11-year career in the NHL as a power winger, spending nine seasons with the Red Wings before finishing in Tampa Bay. He recorded 211 goals and 480 points in 615 games, scoring between 34 and 39 goals four straight seasons beginning with 1986-87.
“He knows what the stars need, but if they are not playing well, it doesn’t matter who they are, they won’t get the normal ice time,” Jagr said. “One of the other things I really like about the way he coaches is that he doesn’t change lines that often. He doesn’t mix up things just to do something.”
Jagr registered 66 points (27-39) under Gallant during 2015-16 as the future Hall-of-Famer turned 44 years of age on Feb. 15 of that season and finished fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy in leading the Puddy Tats to the playoffs. That was the year he played on a line with 20-year-old Aleksandar Barkov in the middle and 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau on the left.
“We had a really good year but if we were bad, we were benched,” Jagr said. “Gallant doesn’t give a [expletive] who you are. But the next game, it was back to normal. He doesn’t hold grudges or carry things over.”
Barkov was a blossoming greenhorn, so was Huberdeau and so was 19-year-old Aaron Ekblad on the blue line. Jagr was not green. Neither was Willie Mitchell or Brian Campbell or Jussi Jokinen or Roberto Luongo.
“He doesn’t judge players by whether they’re old or young,” Jagr said of the 57-year-old Gallant. “It’s about whether he can trust you as a player. That doesn’t have to do with age.”
If there is one knock on Gallant, it is that he is not a wizard when it comes to installing systems and making in-game adjustments. Jagr said he thought that was exaggerated but that it was important to have strong assistants. He mentioned Mike Kelly, who was Gallant’s assistant in Florida and Vegas and was behind the Team Canada bench with him during the recent World Championships. Kelly is currently director of hockey operations for OHL Oshawa.
“Everyone in smart now with systems. In my opinion, that’s not the most important quality for a coach,” Jagr said. “The most important thing, the way I see it, is getting the players to trust you and play hard for you and believe in you.”
Jagr, of course, thrived under the spotlight in New York, posting one of the greatest seasons in franchise history with his club-record 54-goal, 123-point 2005-06 campaign. He knows what it takes to make it here.
“New York is a special place. There is a lot of pressure and it is not for everyone,” he said. “But I think Gallant has a great personality for New York. I think he will do very well. I think it’s going to be very good for the Rangers.”