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David Quinn and playing to win

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The roster may be different, but the coach’s approach is unlikely to change

Winnipeg Jets v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and there’s one month left in the regular season for the New York Rangers. There will be no postseason appearance for David Quinn’s team, but the remaining games on the schedule are not without meaning.

The last chapter of the regular season presents an opportunity for Quinn and the Rangers to evaluate what they have and what they might need. For some, the ideal scenario here includes giving more ice time and bigger roles to younger players. In other words: making development the top priority. But we need to acknowledge that Quinn’s idea and even his definition of development could be — and likely is — different from what many of us think it is.

In this last month of hockey many Rangers fans are hoping for a team that is both entertaining and doomed to a downward spiral that results in a lottery pick finish. But losing in style is not in Quinn’s DNA. It’s been clear since May that his objective with this team has always been to win hockey games. He’s never been ignorant about the Rangers’ rebuild, but that has never impacted his approach. Accountability will always be Quinn’s first commandment.

In the Rangers’ first game after the deadline, Quinn scratched Filip Chytil in favor of Brendan Lemieux while keeping Brendan Smith — a natural defenseman — on the wing. These are the sort of decisions we’ve come to expect from New York’s new bench boss. And while those decisions may not line up with everyone’s idea of the best way to develop young players, we can’t claim that Quinn has been inconsistent. Which is why his priorities aren’t going to change with Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Adam McQuaid playing in different sweaters.

Quinn is coaching this team so that it plays to win. While Jeff Gorton and Quinn would undoubtedly love to see Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko pulling on a Rangers jersey and cap in Vancouver on June 21, this team isn’t going to intentionally tank. And they shouldn’t.

Los Angeles Kings v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There’s something to be said about how essential the “playing to win” mentality is and can be to player development and team culture. What kind of impact would it have on the development of younger plays and the locker room if the Rangers fully embraced the idea of tanking? We may not be able to measure the ill-effects of such an approach, but that doesn’t make it any less palatable. We can also speculate that there’s a real chance that it could be damaging to the development of younger players, which is something that this organization needs to take seriously.

The reality is that the Rangers are going to lose most of their final 18 games this season, but that won’t be enough to get them a bottom-three finish in the standings. There are currently eight teams with records that are worse than the Blueshirts and several of them have rosters that are undoubtedly worse than Quinn’s current lineup.

With any luck, we’ll see Quinn give the kids a chance to play while he continues to play to win. At times, it’s hard to understand how Chytil is supposed to improve his game if he’s not in the lineup, but there is real value in practicing with the team and being under Quinn’s direct tutelage. After all, this is the coach who’s going to be here next year. Until there are glaring signs to the contrary, these are David Quinn’s Rangers.