Time Chrisis: Drury on the Fast Track

Phil Kocher
@ me

Phil Kocher

Managing Editor at Cleared for Contact
I believe in Nate Silver, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Christopher Hitchens, and hockey analytics.
Blogging between diaper changes.
Phil Kocher
@ me

It’s been a little more than a week since the Rangers made a couple of significant announcements regarding their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack. The first was the firing of long-time head coach Ken Gernander who was let go following the Pack’s worst regular season in history. The second, and more important, was the announcement that Chris Drury is team’s new General Manager, with Jim Schoenfeld stepping down from the post.

Anyone with a pulse on the Wolfpack this season probably wasn’t surprised by the news given the especially poor result of the season. However, Drury’s promotion, specifically, was surprising given how quickly he’s been climbing the rungs of the Rangers’ management ladder. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to name a faster-rising star among the front office ranks of the NHL. For all the praise heaped on up-and-comers and soon to be’s like Mike Futa, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Claude Loiselle, and Julien BriseBois, Drury’s rise has been meteoric by comparison.

Futa, who has spent ten years with the L.A. Kings, was only promoted to AGM this past April. Dubas, who has been employed with the Leafs for the last four years, was recently granted permission to interview with the Colorado Avalanche. Fenton has been an AGM with the Predators since 2006 and has yet to make the jump despite numerous GM openings around the league over the last number of years. Loiselle has worked as an AGM for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, a pro scout for the Anaheim Ducks, and most recently, a hockey operations consultant for the Arizona Coyotes, but has yet to convince an NHL club he’s their man. And BriseBois has been climbing at his own pace for more than ten years between the Montréal Canadiens and Lightning, though he may be closest to a GM position of all if things continue to go south in Montréal for Marc Bergevin.

Drury retired, as a Ranger, from the NHL after 12 seasons in August of 2011 after accepting a buyout of the final year of his contract. It was an unceremonious ending for a heart-and-soul player who was also the Rangers’ captain. However, in just three short years since being hired to the Rangers front office, beginning in September of 2015, he’s gone from being named Director of Player Development, to Assistant General Manager of the New York Rangers, to General Manager of the Hartford Wolfpack (while retaining his AGM title with the Rangers). Those aren’t just significant leaps. They’re significant leaps made within a very short length of time.

As part of his duties as Director of Player Development, Drury also oversaw and evaluated college players — a market the Rangers have been very active in signing free agents from since. While it can’t be measured with certainty just how hands on he’s been with every signing on that front, the Rangers have signed six college free agents, including Adam Chapie, John Gilmour, Jimmy Vesey, Chris Nell, Vinni Lettieri, Vince Pedrie, and Neal Pionk since his hiring. They also re-signed Mat Bodie in July of 2016 and were reportedly interested in Mike Vecchione, who opted for a contract with the Flyers. Vesey is already a Rangers regular and Pionk, Pedrie, and potentially Lettieri are expected to compete for roster spots in camp this summer. Perhaps, too, they’ll approach Will Buchter, the 2017 Hobey Baker winner, who could potentially follow the same path that lead both Kevin Hayes and Vesey to the Rangers this August.

Beyond the ascension of his titles, he’s also been individually credited with helping the Rangers land Vesey’s services in free agency last summer as well as helping to convince Pavel Buchnevich to forego future years in the KHL to begin his NHL career. Both players are expected to be cornerstone figures for the Rangers’ forward group going forward, potentially as soon as next season.

His successive promotions give a clear indication not only of his value to the Rangers, but his value to the league, especially when you consider the permission request to interview him regarding the then open GM position in Buffalo was blocked by the Blueshirts a month ago. He certainly appears poised and on the fast track to an NHL General Manager’s position. The question is, will it be with the Rangers?

Remember, Jeff Gorton, 49, cut his teeth for years with the Rangers organization before finally succeeding Glen Sather to become the eleventh GM in Rangers history in 2015. It’s not inconceivable that he would accept a promotion to relinquish the GM reigns in favor of naming Drury his successor, but that would probably require a significant career bump, possibly to Team President. A title held, likely emeritus, by Glen Sather. Not to mention the fact he may not have much interest in walking away from a Rangers club he’s still in the process of putting his stamp on.

At this rate, and especially if Drury is successful in restoring success to the Wolfpack, he’ll be a top-of-the-pile candidate for future NHL GM vacancies. The Rangers may block those attempts, too, but they can’t do so in perpetuity. At some point, it’ll be time for them to shit or get off the pot. Whether that means promoting Drury, just as they did Gorton—who was also requested around the league—or allowing him to advance his career outside the organization remains to be seen, but his star will continue to rise, with or without their blessing.

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