Just 41 games into his NHL career, head coach David Quinn has taken on the project that is the New York Rangers with composure. A season filled with trial and error for the former Boston University coach has landed him a 17-17-7 record just about halfway through the season, going 3-4-3 in the last 10 games. He’s been the face of the rebuild and a five-year, $12 million contract is proof that the front office has faith that Quinn can spearhead the growth they’re hoping for.
When Quinn was named head coach at the end of May, he had a reputation of being a player’s coach. He has a knack for developing young talent. It was a known fact around Hockey East that BU’s winning culture and fierce style of play came from the top down. And fans were excited for that kind of reputation to come to New York.
I took a look back at Quinn’s strengths and weaknesses so far this season while also taking into consideration the state of the organization and that it’s his first professional gig.
Quinn Has Lived Up to the Reputation
With a lot of new young talent, he has been tested to make decisions based on a player’s development. His most recent choice to make Filip Chytil a healthy scratch for the first time this season in Monday’s 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues was intended to be a teaching moment for the 19-year-old.
Chytil logged minutes in the first 37 games this season, but Quinn considered the decision to be “easy” given Chytil’s minus-seven for the month of December along with his low, four-point (one goal, three assists) production. Quinn slotted Boo Nieves, who hadn’t been performing at center, in at left wing to replace Chytil, and the 2012 draft pick netted his second goal of the season.
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) December 28, 2018
Lias Andersson has fluctuated between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Rangers because he hasn’t done enough to identify himself as a solid NHL-caliber player. Quinn has recognized that and made the necessary choices to ensure Andersson gets more consistent ice time. That is the best thing for the Swede right now as he is not yet at the same level as the other centers.
Some will argue that keeping him in the NHL is the right decision for the sake of the rebuild. But there can only be so many developing players on a roster. It would also be uncharacteristic of the Rangers to completely throw-in the towel this early in the season. Quinn keeping Andersson in Hartford is just Quinn doing what he does best, managing a developing player.
Growing Pains Nothing New for NHL Coaches
After a 3-7-1 start, Rangers fans confirmed their worries that this wasn’t going to be the prettiest of seasons. The fact that the team has both veteran and young players, I was curious to see how Quinn was going to handle the veterans, particularly Henrik Lundqvist, who has been playing in the NHL since around the same time as Quinn’s first college hockey gig at Northeastern (1994 to 1996).
Quinn definitely overestimated the King. The Rangers’ 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday was Lundqvist’s 30th start in the opening 39 games. In one of his worst showings of the season, the 36-year-old was pulled shortly into the third period after allowing six goals on 18 shots.
Quinn didn’t hesitate to own up to the fact that he put a tired Lundqvist in front of a team he hasn’t beaten in the last eight regular season contests. Despite admitting that he should’ve pulled his netminder earlier, Quinn was more frustrated that the team had just embarrassingly allowed seven goals – an appropriate deflect.
Having a franchise goaltender like Lundqvist is any brand new coach’s dream as it’s one less thing to worry about. But given how the opening half of the season has played out and Lundqvist’s average 12-11-7 record, what Quinn does from here on out with goaltending is important. It’s something to keep an eye on going forward in measuring how he does in his first professional season.
Rangers Find Happy Medium in Quinn
Before Quinn there was Alain Vigneault, a stern coach who was rather emotionless behind the bench. Apart from a handful of pressers that saw signs of dry humor from the 57-year-old, Vigneault was bland. And before him there was John Tortorella, who is without a doubt the biggest hot head in the NHL, and that includes players. There is nothing more entertaining than a Tortorella press conference after his team takes a bad loss. Love him or hate him, the guy gives the media and fans what they want – but even Tortorella was too much of a scene for New York.
I’d place Quinn somewhere in the middle between the two former coaches. He’s blunt when explaining his decisions, which shows his self-confidence, but has acted poised when admitting mistakes.
He’s been transparent about his expectations and what he deems unacceptable. He has put a lot of emphasis on effort from the start and has shown that he will not hesitate to put a player on the bench for not giving over 100 percent. Transitioning from a statuesque coach like Vigneault, who didn’t seem to say a word from behind the bench, Quinn’s collaboration with his players has been even more noticeable.
He’s been opinionated when he’s had to be, whether it was on officiating, bad hits or evaluating his own team’s play. He is particular about the things he speaks up about, which is a glowing attribute for fans who lived through Tortorella. I’d consider Quinn to be a blend of the two former Ranger coaches, with all the best traits from both, mixed with motivation to prove himself at the NHL level. It’s a recipe, I think, for success.
A senior sports journalism major at the University of Massachusetts with bylines in the New York Post, Stan Fischler’s newsletter The Fischler Report and the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA.