In 2018 when David Quinn officially became the head of the New York Rangers coaching staff, it was agreed to be a five-year contract. As Quinn enters the third season of his first stab at being a head NHL coach, he — like the rest of the organization — will continue to be evaluated.
The Rangers belong to the Metropolitan Division, which perpetually produces the toughest competition and is home to high-quality coaching. Just last season, two of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award were coaches of Metropolitan teams — both were also former Ranger head coaches.
Although Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy ultimately claimed the title, John Tortorella with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Alain Vigneault manning the Philadelphia Flyers were equally fine candidates for the prestigious recognition.
Last season wasn’t the first occasion their names were tossed into the award mix, however. Tortorella already snagged the award once after his 2003-04 season coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning and more recently in Columbus after the 2016-17 season. Vigneault also captured the award following his 2006-07 season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Both coaches garnered significant experience before they secured their awards — Tortorella’s inaugural coaching season was 1999, whereas Vigneault started in 1997. So, with Quinn a little farther than the halfway mark of his first NHL position could the annual distinction ever be in his future and could it be with the Rangers?
Firstly, it’s important to see how it all started.
Quinn’s Coaching History
Prior to Quinn’s arrival, Vigneault held the position for five seasons. After the midway point of his contract, it became clear things would not work out with him long-term and he was fired despite the apparent report that he signed an extension that would have held him through the 2019-20 season.
Thus, the replacement search commenced and Quinn entered the picture. At the time he was considered for the job he was coaching Boston University’s hockey team, a position he held since the 2013-14 season.
In those five years at the university, he posted a 105-67-21 record and encountered Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy, and Clayton Keller who are now some of the NHL’s finer young skills. He also led BU to four consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament appearances. Under his guidance, the BU Terriers also collected two Hockey East Tournament Championship titles during his second and last season.
He received plenty of recognition early in his coaching career at BU and was named both Hockey East Coach of the Year and New England Coach of the Year for the 2014-15 season. His ability to develop and maximize young players was widely praised.
Prior to his time at BU, Quinn served as an assistant coach to the Colorado Avalanche (2012-13), and also as the head coach for their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate the Lake Erie Monsters (2009-10 to 2011-12). Quinn was the first coach to lead the Monsters to their debut playoff run during only his second season of coaching the team.
Quinn accomplished much since he began his coaching career with Northeastern University as their assistant coach (1994-95 to 1995-96). He eventually took another assistant role at the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he was initially acquainted with BU coaching as their associate head coach.
He certainly has a proven winning record at the collegiate level, but could the 54-year-old prove himself once again at the professional level?
Areas of Coaching Specialty
Quinn prides himself on his teaching ability when it comes to developing hockey players. In fact, he stated if he weren’t coaching he would have selected teaching for his career path. Not only can Quinn benefit the game of younger players, but he possesses the talent to improve the whole roster. As proven by Sean Crimmins, several established Rangers’ skill sets improved under his sort time with the organization.
The former first-round pick of the 1984 Entry Draft has a coaching style that involves a lot of passion, which comes with emotion. A strong personality can either be a gift or a curse when it comes to leadership, but thus far Quinn’s steadfast and assertive nature bodes well for the franchise.
He’s a multidimensional leader in that he cares deeply about his players on a personal level. He truly respects his players and that is a key requirement in a lucrative player-coach relationship. On the ice, the Rhode Island-native is not afraid to sit any player and he holds each Ranger accountable, regardless of experience.
His collegiate coaching background allows him to better analyze the play of his own young players and the opposition. Season after season, the league is becoming younger, faster, and features more and more college-aged players. His familiarity with young players is an asset to build the team as a coach.
When he joined the organization, he made his vision quite clear. He strives to shape the team into a more physical, intense team with a stronger net-front presence — these have long been weak areas for the club.
The Award in Depth
There has never been a Ranger coach to win the Jack Adams. But several Jack Adams winners would go on to join the Rangers later in their careers. Another example is the first winner of the prestigious accolade.
The first-ever Jack Adams Award was given to Fred Shero, coach of the Flyers at the time. He was in the third year of his first NHL coaching position and helped guide the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup in 1973-74.
However, not every coach needs to capture a Cup with his first team to win the Award. The very next season LA Kings coach Bob Pulford was recognized as the league’s best coach in his third year. Despite Shero securing another Cup with his 1974-75 Flyers, Pulford stole the spotlight when he navigated his team to an impressive 27-point increase in the standings from the previous season.
Other Jack Adams recipients have been recognized for their success, which cultivated chemistry, turned the team around, and set franchise and league records. While Quinn’s relationships with his players helped to familiarize each other, he did not join the team and immediately increase the point total his first year.
Vigneault’s fourth season with the Rangers concluded in a 48-28-6 record, good for 102 points. His final season with New York was marked by a 34-39-9 record, which translated to 77 points.
After much change, Quinn came in and ended with a 32-36-14 record and 78 points. Despite a shortened season, he and the Rangers ended 37-28-5 with 79 points.
Clearly it’s slow progress, but it is still progress. It is even possible Quinn could have led the team to the 90-point tier had the season been a normal term.
Although he has not significantly increased the team’s points, there is still the lingering possibility he can do so in his final two years. Since he joined the team, the Rangers seem to be moving in the right direction.
A Closer Look at Quinn
This last season both Quinn and the Rangers got their first taste of the postseason together, and that early playoff experience was a wake-up call. The early playoff elimination was a good lesson for him — what he learned should translate into next season.
As for the next two seasons, his success with the franchise should not be judged solely on the numbers since it cannot provide the whole picture. If he truly learns as he goes in the NHL, that will determine his success as well.
It would have been unreasonable to expect him to join the team and immediately turn it around given the state of the inexperienced core. However, going forward he will need to lean on his experience and that involves testing the kids.
He should continue to emphasize speed and puck possession. Along with newly hired assistant coach Jacques Martin, the team could possess a structurally solid defense under their guidance. Seeing as defense was a weak link, an improvement in this area would fortify any argument for Quinn being a Jack Adams finalist.
The decision to hire a first-time NHL head coach for a young team shifting gears to contend again might have appeared like a questionable move at first, but Quinn has adjusted fine to his position. He’s already seen tough losses and watched his team go through the ups and downs.
The Rangers are in a transitional phase, trying to establish themselves as tough opponents. The importance of a well-rounded coach should not be undermined — any team can have talent but they will require strong guidance to take them to the next level.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.