After months of speculation and non-movement, the Rangers finally hired their next head coach: David Quinn of Boston University. Obviously, this happened a few days ago and the staff here has done a nice job trying to contextualize a hire that doesn’t really have a lot of concrete information surrounding it. For me, this was actually a good thing, as I had a couple days to try to digest the decision and its implications. As you can imagine, I have my own thoughts…
Let’s first look at what we know: Quinn has been the coach of BU since 2013. Prior to that, he was an assistant with Northeastern and head coach of University of Nebraska-Omaha. He then moved on to the USNDT before becoming an assistant at BU. After leaving BU, he joined the pro ranks, as a head coach in the AHL and an assistant in Colorado prior to taking his most recent gig at BU. All this since 1994. His individual stints at his alma mater (BU) were his longest, at 5 years. Once Quinn embarked on his coaching journey, he took opportunities to advance and strengthen his resume. Now, nothing about this tells us anything definitive about the man, but in the aggregate, it paints the picture of someone who is very ambitious. The decision to pursue the Rangers job only reaffirms the theory. I don’t really have a specific point with this, just interesting the paths people take.
So, what should we expect from Quinn? I truly believe the answer is that we have no idea, whatsoever. All the feedback is that he is a bright guy who enjoys working with young players. He has preached a philosophy of puck possession and controlled zone entries and engagement from the full five-man unit, offensively. These concepts are cornerstones of an offensive philosophy, but don’t necessarily tell us much about systems implementation or deployment. My hope is that he isn’t walking into the job with a pre-set expectation about how he is going to run the systems, but that he is willing to adapt them to the strengths and weaknesses of the roster.
To piggyback on the point above, like Quinn’s systems, the Rangers’ roster in and of itself is fluid at the moment. We have no idea what is going to happen at the Draft. We have no idea what of the current leadership core will be left at the start of the season. No idea what RFA’s will be leveraged into cheaper (and potentially better) long-term assets. The presence (or not) of players like Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, et al., would greatly influence our expectations and overall pecking order of deployment, seniority, etc., so setting expectations about how Quinn should handle certain aspects of his duties are a little premature.
That said, there are some differing theories about coaching philosophies versus front office roster construction being debated on the interhighway. Some believe that a coach should have a preferred way he likes to play and that he shouldn’t kowtow to players’ preferences and as professionals, they should be able to pick up the system. The front office should find players willing and able to fit that structure and ship out players who aren’t great fits.
My personal take is that the front office should do its best to ice the most talented 23-man group possible. While I do agree to some extent that the players have a responsibility to be adaptable to any reasonable system, I do believe it is incumbent on the coach to identify the strengths and weaknesses of his roster and put the players in the best possible position to succeed. If that means tweaking his personal preferences to maximize his available talent, so be it. We have seen some pretty rigid coaches in NY over the past decade plus, so someone who is willing to put their own views aside for the good of the team would be welcome.
Let’s talk about the criticisms of Quinn for a second. First, he wasn’t the Rangers’ first target. That would be Jim Montgomery, current coach of the Dallas Stars and formerly of the University of Denver. This isn’t a direct criticism of Quinn, per se, but it opens the door to negatively judge the hire. There are a million reasons that we are not privy to about why a candidate takes a certain job over another. He may want a team that is in a better position to contend, he may prefer the mid-west to NY, he and Jim Nill might have already purchased matching BFF heart necklaces. The point is it doesn’t matter. We will never know why Montgomery chose to pursue the Star’s opening over the Rangers and we need to work with what we have.
Secondly, one of Quinn’s biggest resume markers in the college ranks was his ability to recruit pro-level talent. Jack Eichel, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller and Jordan Greenway were all players that Quinn helped develop at BU. The criticism being what value does recruiting prowess have in the pro-game when top prospects are drafted? In addition, his coaching record, while solid, could have included a little more hardware when he had access to players of this caliber. His detractors are arguing that he actually underachieved when looking at the strength of his rosters. I guess these criticisms could be true. We don’t know at this point. There are million possibilities as to why his track record wasn’t more impressive. We will have to wait and see.
So, what is all this business about his history of “developing young players”? This was something that the Rangers organization was said to be prioritizing in their coaching search in the wake of Alain Vigneault’s departure. I think this is one of those general terms that can have many different meanings, depending on context. Is it the ability to play a really active, meaningful role in helping young players improve their skillsets? It is just being supportive and letting them work through their mistakes at that level? Is it help with emotional maturation and understanding the responsibilities players have to reach their full potential? It is all these things, and not necessarily any one in particular.
Like the Rangers’ current roster, the concept is fluid. Clearly, the organization was attracted to Quinn’s philosophy about the role of young players in the game, and his real work with this type of player will happen behind the scenes. For example, we will have no idea how much Quinn’s philosophy impacted a young player, versus, say Chris Kreider or Kevin Shattenkirk taking them under their wing. Point being, fostering an environment where young players feel comfortable and able to learn how to be a pro will be paramount for Quinn.
Do I think he was a good hire? Ultimately, I have no idea. Such is life when a non-NHL coach is selected. Hell, this is even true when an NHL coach is hired. When AV was brought on, I felt completely bait-and-switched about his progressive tactics and use of data to maximize matchups. There is always conjecture about a coach’s tendencies and they either manifest in their new environment or they don’t. Quinn just gave us less talking points.
What Quinn does represent is a philosophical shift in organizational thinking, which is refreshing. I am willing to be open minded until he shows me something that convinces me otherwise. I think he, too, as a rookie NHL head coach will have to take his lumps at times.
At the end of the day, the quality of players the team is able to dress every night will have far more impact than the coach. If David Quinn is able to bring professionalism, accountability and fairness to the Rangers’ dressing room, I am perfectly fine with his hire."My thoughts on David Quinn",