Jim Dolan’s place as one of the great villains of New York sports is almost entirely the result of his management of the Knicks, a team he’s famously meddled with to often disastrous results over the past two decades. By contrast, the Rangers, whom he also owns, have mostly been spared his interference: He’s largely left hockey decisions to his hockey people, and it’s no coincidence that the Rangers have been the much more successful team over that span.
Dolan’s hands-off approach is now a thing of the past. On Wednesday, he fired Rangers president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton, a move that shocked hockey insiders and infuriated the team’s fans. Davidson, in particular, is beloved in New York — both because of his long tenure as the Rangers’ Hall of Fame TV analyst and because he’d been ably overseeing a rebuilding process (begun by his predecessor) that has positioned the team to take a big step forward soon.
The firings were a baffling move of Knicksian proportions: Davidson had been on the job for just two years, and he appeared to have the team going in the right direction — stockpiling young players and draft picks exactly the way you’d want someone in his position to do. But Dolan had reportedly grown impatient with the team’s slow but steady progress.
There are real, long-term consequences to Dolan’s habit of capriciously overruling and discarding the people he has hired. He is a primary reason for the Knicks’ continued inability to sign the types of high-wattage stars that contenders are built around, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who went to the Nets instead. Under his watch, the team has simply become radioactive, and players are reluctant to spend their primes in such an unstable environment.
The very same week in 2019 that the Knicks whiffed on Durant, Irving, and others, the Rangers landed the top available player on the NHL market: star winger Artemi Panarin. The differences between Dolan’s two franchises had never been clearer: The Knicks couldn’t shake their reputation as a dysfunctional franchise rotting from the top, while the Rangers were viewed as a competent organization that had no trouble attracting elite players. The Rangers had earned this reputation over many years, but it can be lost much more quickly.
It’s a seeming coincidence that Dolan has begun meddling with the Rangers at the very moment the Knicks have finally again assembled a respectable team. But the timing is enough to drive a fan crazy: Just as one of Dolan’s teams is set to return to the playoffs with a bit of buzz, he’s inexplicably blown up the front office of his other one — in the midst of a wild week, no less — firing top executives for the first time in more than 20 years. Why can’t he just have nice things for once?
The silver lining for the Rangers is that the team’s new president and general manager — former team captain and Little League legend Chris Drury — had been a well-respected associate GM in the organization and was due to get a top job somewhere soon. But whatever firewall had protected the Rangers from the whims of their owner all these years is gone now. The Rangers are, more than ever, a Jim Dolan Team.