As the Rangers’ bye week comes to an end, let’s look behind the bench at head coach David Quinn, and his journey to New York.
First, let’s take a step back and look at his experience and road to becoming the Rangers’ bench boss. Drafted by the Minnesota North Stars 13th overall in 1984, Quinn opted to continue playing at the NCAA level, with Boston University — where he’s spent the majority of his hockey career to date.
When his playing career was cut short due to a rare disorder, Hemophilia B, he retired from hockey. A few years later, when he found funding for medication, he tried to mount a comeback. While he didn’t make the cut for the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, his professional career continued in the AHL and IHL, though he never made it to the NHL.
When one door closed, another opened with coaching. Quinn first was an NCAA assistant with Northeastern University (1993-94 and 1995-96), then the University of Nebraska Omaha (1999 - 2002), before returning to Boston University (2004 - 2009). From the NCAA level, Quinn moved on the AHL for his first head coaching gig, with the Lake Erie Monsters, the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate. After coaching for their AHL team for three years, Quinn became an assistant coach for the Avalanche for the 2012-13 season.
Quinn returned to his alma mater in 2013 as the head coach. During his five seasons with the Terriers, the team led a 105-68-21 record.
Then came his first NHL head coaching experience. Hired on May 23, 2018 with a 5 year contract worth $12 million, Quinn became the 35th head coach in Rangers’ franchise history. At the time, he was the last of three NCAA coaches hired over a two year period. As of December 2019, Quinn also became the last of those three NCAA coaches that still has a job with an NHL team.
Quinn was brought in to lead a rebuilding job, and having worked with so many younger players, with an emphasis on development at the NCAA and AHL levels, he seemed to be an ideal coach for their job. With Boston University, he worked with numerous skilled players who went on to the NHL including Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres), Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins), Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes), Brady Tkachuk (Ottawa Senators), Jordan Greenway (Minnesota Wild), and Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars). The downside of coaching so many skilled players at the NCAA level was dealing with a revolving door as players, as many made the jump to the NHL quicker than others. But, that also prepared him to lead a rebuilding team who moved numerous players at the trade deadline.
In Quinn’s first season as an NHL head coach, he stated that the team was going to need patience if they wanted to get better. He was expected to further develop the talents of the young players like he had as a collegiate coach. However, as the season progressed, it was observed that Quinn often played favorites. He shook up lines, frequently moved players around to find which players clicked — even if it meant not giving the young players as much ice time as some of the veterans — and benched players to hold them accountable. The Blueshirts finished with a record of 32-36-14 and 7th in the Metropolitan Division, and missed the playoffs.
Currently in the middle of his second season with the Rangers, Quinn has been vocal about the players he likes seeing together and when players are not performing the way he expects them to. When Panarin was out before the All Star Break with an upper body injury, Quinn point blank said the team was very different with the absence of the “superstar.” He also stated that Panarin’s linemates, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast, were not as good without Panarin. Yet, players still speak highly of him and the one positive thing that has been a constant for the coach with his players has been having open communication with them.
Strome spoke of Quinn and his coaching style with the New York Post’s Steve Serby last week, giving fans another look at the coach’s relationships with his players.
Very intense, but for me, he’s been really good. I think he’s very fair. He expects a lot out of his players and he demands hard work and effort, but the rest of it he’s very fair with. He’s really good for young players, at the same time though he’s been great for me. He’s really let me play and I think let me grow into the next step of my development as a player. (New York Post)
The 2019-20 Rangers would have to surpass five teams to reach the second wild card spot, to have a chance at the postseason. But to do that, there’s a lot of work to be done — and there may not be enough time for that for the building team this season.
For starters, the Rangers will need to stop puck watching and “playing the perimeter,” as Quinn stated in Thursday’s post-practice press conference, to avoid creating higher scoring chances for the opposition. Quinn also emphasized shooting instead of passing up opportunities in an effort to generate more offense. But even with those adjustments, the playoffs may not be within reach. But how much of that is on Quinn right now, and how much of that is out of his control?
The mindset coming out of the break:— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 30, 2020
"Our approach is to put ourselves in the best position to win a hockey game tomorrow night, and it really is that simple, and we are that shortsighted. That's all it comes down to." pic.twitter.com/PNiK4KNSyd
With three and a half years left on his contract, and a Rangers team that’s starting to take shape after numerous sell offs at the deadline, it’s worth asking whether Quinn is still a good fit for this team. While a coach can be the right fit for a team at the time of their hiring, a lot can change over time — and with his history in mind, there’s only so much NHL experience to go off of when analyzing his coaching abilities.
Since this is still a rebuilding year, and the playoffs never really seemed within reach to start, it’s not too much of a concern this year. But when will missing the playoffs become an issue for Quinn? Is that what will determine whether he’s the right fit as the Rangers progress?