I listed my top-25 off-season questions last week. Throughout the summer and early-fall, I will cover each of those questions, hoping to finish before the draft or free agent, Rather than place a link to each one in the first paragraph, I will post the link following the completion of each blog in the table below that contains all 25 questions.
In this blog, I tackle question #4: "Is David Quinn the right coach for the team moving forward? How concerning is his inability to adjust in-game and between games? If no, who might be under consideration? (update: does he need to make the playoffs and/or win a round, due to winning the lottery and sweep at the hands of Carolina, to keep his job?)" Part of this question was tackled way back during the pandemic when I wrote an analysis of each player, bridging off Larry Brooks' columns of the same. For Quinn, the blog was titled David Quinn: is the right coach to lead this team forward.
Here is a portion of what Brooks wrote in his column:
Coaching is also, and more so, about the ability to teach. That takes the ability to connect with pupils, whether they may be fifth-graders or professional athletes. Coaching is also about the ability to motivate individuals to create a common bond with their teammates. That takes the ability to communicate.
And coaching is about building relationships. This isn’t the past, where coaches could survive and perhaps thrive by being martinets. At least not in pro sports and not in the NHL. Not these days. Relationship-building takes compassion. It takes humanity.
And that is where I begin with David Quinn, the growing and evolving coach of the Rangers. I begin with the humanity, his commitment to creating bonds with his players that extend beyond the dimensions of the rink. Passion is one element of character; compassion is something else. Quinn has both.
He is tough and he is caring and he has been able to maintain that balance while making the jump from a life well spent in college hockey to the pros. His ability to create relationships with his players is not incidental to his success behind the bench. It is not a footnote to his story
In this era, a coach who screams as much, as loudly, as consistently and as pointedly as Quinn does at practice, better have another kinder, gentler way of communicating with his team and his players in order to produce the desired results. Quinn does. It is not quite accurate to suggest that benching/scratching players hurts the coach as much as it does the players, but it is in the realm of possibility.
The summer addition of Artemi Panarin accelerated the rebuild. The Rangers would be something very different without him. Because even while signing Panarin and trading for Jacob Trouba, the Rangers did not attempt to find a shortcut through the rebuild process. Kids did not sit so veterans would get more minutes in an effort to win games. That would have been difficult, anyway, given the demographics of the roster and lineup. It was common for the Blueshirts to dress nine players aged 24 and younger. The future was never sacrificed for the present, but winning was never a secondary objective. Developing players is distinct from turning the NHL into a development league. Quinn has understood that from the start.
We all know Quinn favors more of a north-south, smashmouth, get-to-the net approach to the game than much of his personnel is naturally comfortable with playing. To that extent, it has been a bit of taffy pull with some of the talent. It has taken a lot of cajoling and, in some cases (cough, cough, Pavel Buchnevich), it has taken the occasional benching to get the point across. Some points need to be continually reinforced with some players more than others.
It hasn’t been a 100 percent success story. Quinn wasn’t 100 percent on with Lias Andersson, whose breakdown with the organization has at least some measure of shared responsibility. And I’m not sure the coach was 100 percent on this season with Kaapo Kakko, whose rookie year was filled with fits and starts and a larger dose of frustration than most hockey people would have envisioned.
But the coach’s work with Buchnevich has produced results. Same for his handling of Filip Chytil. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren blossomed as rookies and Tony DeAngelo, benched/scratched a couple of dozen times two years ago, emerged as a blue-line offensive force this season. Mika Zibanejad has evolved into a star playing for Quinn, a coach who rides his horses.
The coach acted decisively. And though the whole thing has left a sour taste in many mouths, Quinn made the move from The King to Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev without creating a damaging goaltending controversy.
There were still too many nights on which the Rangers seemed flat and way too many dead periods within games. That’s obviously at least partially on the coach. The team went into funks in which forechecking was all but nonexistent.
The defense-zone structure and coverage improved significantly from Year 1 to Year 2 of Quinn’s tenure, but I have never quite seen anything like the way the team consistently cedes its blue line on the rush while back-back-backing in on its own net and thus leaving acres of wide open space and good ice for enemy attackers. If that’s the plan, well, it’s time for another.
The Rangers are young, learning and developing and are far from a finished product. But they are competing and contending for a playoff spot at the same time. A large part of that is Panarin. A large part is Zibanejad. A large part is Shesterkin.
And a large part of that is David Quinn
This is what i wrote at the time:
Quinn entered the season a question mark in the minds of many Rangers' fans. Despite progress made by the team this year, he has yet to fully convince all that he is the right man for the job. In my view, I think the team has the perfect person to lead the squad forward and to the next level. Is he perfect? No. Does he have the right qualities to succeed in this town? In my opinion, yes.
The weakness Brooks' highlight are no question check marks against Quinn. The defense constantly ceding the blue line. New York coming out flat and having dead spots in games hat lasted for minutes or periods. Quinn's handling of Andersson after a good training camp and Kakko. Plus, as pointed out to me in the blog comments, his retention of Lindy Ruff, which is another hot button topic.
All of the above are true. But look at all the positives in terms of the growth by individual players. Then add in the teaching, the constant teachings. The desire not to accept mediocrity or allow bad habits to become the norm. His connection with the players despite the tough love - which at times looked a bit over the top - was evident throughout the season.
The three-headed goalie situation still has yet to be fully resolved. Plus, maybe not enough respect or information was shared with Henrik Lundqvist. But on balance, a situation that could have torn the squad apart was handled with sensitivity and for the most part, the right goalie was played. Maybe not in every game, but overall, fairly well.
Quinn still has at times too thin of a skin. Plus, his deficiencies still need to be remediated, but they should be for the most part, fixable. New York is in a position to take another step forward next season. To me at least, they have the right man at the helm behind the bench.
What I wrote back then still applies now. The performance of the team in the play-in round does have to be considered. New York looked unprepared in the first two games, though, part of Game 1 might be attributed to losing Jesper Fast a minute into the contest. But, Quinn needed to do a better job of re-focusing the team and adjusting. The latter point is still an area of concern, as in-game modifications and tweaks look to be a challenge all too frequently.
Chris Kreider spoke after the series of how the team needs to learn what being physical is. Doesn't mean trying to blow up every opponent with a check but it's playing through checks to create chances. Part of this might have been due to the youth of the team and Kredier admitted he needed to do a better job of reigning in his teammates. This is where Quinn needed to step in and reinforce the points he had been making and get the team to adjust. Quinn should have highlighted this after the first period or Game 1 and continued to mention this over and over until the lesson sunk in.
We also have remarked that Quinn at times acts as if he is coaching a college team. Part of the attractiveness of bringing him was the youth on this team. That is still the case but he also needs to recognize the veterans on the team and releasing the reigns at time. Many of us wanted to see Vitali Kravtsov suit up in the third game, as other rookies have made an impact or at least dressed in the playoffs. Not activating him might have been the right move, but also opened Quinn up for criticism, seeing that Filip Chytil opened the year in the minors, Lias Andersson should have started the season on the parent club and Kravtov went back home. Not every situation was because of Quinn, but collectively, the optic is not good.
Lindy Ruff is now in NJ. If the D struggles, the easy target is no longer in town, meaning the klieg lights will shine on Quinn and the system he deploys. Why who is brought in to run the D has to look at the talent and see if the system utilized makes sense.
New York winning the lottery for Alexis Lafreniere and the existing pipeline ups the pressure on Quinn. Growth is not linear, so the team could regress before progressing forward. If that happens and/or the young talent doesn't continue to grow and the calls for Quinn;'s job will grow louder. I still think he is the right coach, but a poor showing this year and he could be on the outside looking in. We have seen many coaches helm young talent until they are ready to win and then a veteran coach is brought in to take the team to the next level. This could be the case here in New York. Time will tell.
I still think Quinn is the right coach, flaws and warts and all, but he needs to get New York to the next level to retain his job.
6) Can Filip Chytil be the second line center if Strome is not brought back? (update: is his future at center or wing?)
7) With Nils Lundkvist and K'Andre Miller in the pipeline, does New York have enough D to get the next level?
8) Will Vitali Kravtsov be in the Opening Night lineup?
9) Is Pavel Buchnevich now "expendable" due to Lafreniere coming on board or will the Rangers regret dealing him based on his untapped potential? (new)
10) Do the Rangers need to name a captain? If so, should that be Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider? Regardless of your view, did Kreider's comments in the Game 3 press conference sway your view?
11) Which is the true Brett Howden, the one that did little from October to March or the one we saw against Carolina?
12) Do you view the three-game sweep as a good learning experience, as mentioned by several including Davidson, for the neophytes on the team or is it too early to make that call?
13) Were you satisfied with the growth seen from Kappo Kakko and what's your realistic view as to what we should expect in years 2 and 3?
14) If Lundqvist is not back, do you want Alexandar Georgiev as Igor Shesterkin's 2020-21 backup or are you dealing him for additional assets? If bringing him back next year, are you signing him for more than one season?
15) Are you concerned with Artemiy Panarin's small late-season swoon? No goals in the last eight games before the pandemic and just one goal in the three-game sweep?
16) What is the identity of this Rangers' team? Do we know? Is one needed?
17) Can Brendan Lemiuex repeat how he played in Game 3 against Carolina or was that the aberration and not the norm?
18) What should be done with Lias Andersson? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
19) Who will be Jacob Trouba's partner next season if it's not Smith? (from Tommy G on 8/7)
20) How does the looming Expansion Draft affect the decision made for a particular signing/trade/buyout? (from Hedgedog 8/8)
21) If buying one player out, presuming that it's not Lundqvist for a variety of reasons, is it Staal or Smith, or do you not buyout anyone?22) Presuming Lafreniere is the pick, on which line does he start the season? If New York makes no major acquisitions, what is your top-nine and fourth line? Is Morgan Barron on the team to start the season? (new)
23) Who do you want to target in free agency or via trade? (please be realistic in your proposals. That applies to who New York could get and what they would give up, so no 4-for-1 offers where the team grossly overpays. (new)
24) Does Gord Murphy end up on the coaching staff for 2020-21 or is someone else brought in to helm the defense and the penalty kill? (new)
25) When do you think New York contends for the Cup? 2021-22, 22-23 or other? (new)