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With Rangers reeling from shock shakeup, Mark Messier remains waiting in wings

Mark Messier Rangers
Rangers legend Mark Messier
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Mark Messier’s appearance on the Michael Kay Show was yet another cry to be noticed by the New York Rangers, saying exactly what we believe MSG and team CEO James Dolan wants to hear.

Shortly after the shocking dismissals of president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton, Messier appeared on the ESPN radio show to remind Dolan that he’s standing by in any capacity to finish the rebuild that had been put into hyperdrive by the previous regime.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’ve been standing by ready to help out in any way for many years,” Messier, who spent 10 seasons with the Rangers and captained them to the 1994 Stanley Cup, said. “I don’t really know what else to say.”

Granted, no one really knows what to say after Dolan’s head-scratching decision to gut the front office.

Gorton had been the GM since 2015, helping the Rangers transition from perennial playoff contender to a rebuilding side that many believed was ahead of schedule.

After penning a letter to fans in 2018 alerting them of the rebuild, Gorton catapulted the process by signing superstar Artemi Panarin to join with eventual 40-goal scorer, Mika Zibanejad, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators in 2016 for veteran glue guy, Derick Brassard.

They came out on or near the top of two-straight NHL Draft lotteries, nabbing Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in 2019 — the year Davidson joined the Rangers as team president to oversee the final steps of the rebuild — before snagging Alexis Lafreniere with the top selection last year.

There were also the acquisitions of Ryan Strome — who revamped his career alongside Panarin on Broadway to become a playmaking center — and the long-term core of their defense in Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, and Ryan Lindgren.

But the suddenly impatient Dolan that saw his Knicks be a laughing stock in the NBA for nearly two decades was ready to pull the plug on Gorton and Davidson’s efforts after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years — their one postseason appearance coming in the Stanley Cup play-in qualifiers after the COVID-19 hiatus last summer.

The overarching problem with the rebuild, however, was that the team failed to address its glaring lack of physicality, which came to light during that three-game sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Prioritizing an abundance of skill over grinders to build a well-rounded group, the Rangers have lagged behind more physical teams — coming to a head in recent weeks.

After three embarrassing losses to the crosstown-rival Islanders, the Rangers were bullied by the Washington Capitals earlier this week when Tom Wilson battered Pavel Buchnevich and nearly injured Panarin seriously when he slammed the helmetless star down to the ice.

That’s what appeared to be the last straw for Dolan before showing Gorton and Davidson the door.

“In my opinion, if you’re going to win, you got to be able to win in the street and the alley,” Messier said. “I particularly would not have built the team that didn’t have answers in this regard.”

Chris Drury, another former Rangers captain who spent the last five years as Gorton’s assistant GM, will act as president and GM for the final act of the regular season, which ends Saturday.

Meanwhile, the future of head coach David Quinn remains unknown. He holds a position that was once a promising prospect for Messier back in 2013 when former Rangers GM and current senior adviser and alternate governor, Glen Sather, approached the Hall of Famer about the job before hiring Alain Vigneault.

“Hockey is what I do, it’s what I’ve done my whole life,” Messier said, adding that he is “1,000% sure” he could coach this team.

“You either are a hockey person or you’re not. There’s not one person that’s perfect for any job. Whether you’re a coach or a manager, you need people and support around you to help you in areas that you’re deficient in.”

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