State of the Rebuild: Coaching

With the 2018 Trade Deadline now passed, the crew here at Blue Seat Blogs has decided to take a step back and assess the New York Rangersrebuild so far. We’re just over one year into this grand experiment, and in that time the Rangers have taken strides forward. They’ve turned over most of the roster, created significant salary cap flexibility, and stockpiled draft picks. But asset management is just one part of the intertwining process that is creating a contending hockey team. Today, I’ll be offering my assessment of the coaching, particularly the appointment of David Quinn and whether he’s the right guy for the job. On Thursday, Pat will share his take on GMJG’s transactions thus far, and on Friday, Dave will tackle player development

Last Sunday, the Rangers played a wildly entertaining game against the division rival Capitals. In and among the chaos of Brady Skjei’s last minute game-tying goal, I tweeted the following, which got a much larger reaction than I expected:

I think this sentiment resonated with Rangerstown in part because of recency bias. The Rangers have played objectively better hockey over the last six weeks than they did the six weeks prior to that. The Blueshirts are 10-8-2 over their last 20 games, with nine of those wins coming in regulation or overtime (bear in mind, they have just 21 ROW all season). A cursory look at the stats (fancy and otherwise) shows that the team has made real strides over the last six weeks.

In the 20 games from January 10 through February 24, the Rangers posted a respectable 48.45 score-adjusted CF%, and created 50.68% of the high danger chances at 5v5. Their power play has been fourth-best in the NHL in that time, converting at a 26.3% clip and the penalty kill has been successful 81.3% of the time, good for 12th in the league.

It’s always difficult to pin down the cause-and-effect relationship between improved performance and the factors behind it, but I do think Quinn and his staff deserve some credit here. The Rangers have been better at limiting Grade-A chances against, and when they’ve had the puck, they’ve been able to sustain possession (even though it hasn’t always led to a high quantity of shots). The Rangers have shown the ability to forecheck, recover pucks and keep the other team hemmed in, something that rarely occurred the last two seasons under Alain Vigneault.

The most impressive part: Quinn has coaxed these results out of a roster that is – to put it nicely – short on talent. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers are a collection of bottom six forwards, bottom pair defensemen and young players in the early stages of development.

Stepping back from the last 20 games though, it’s clear that Quinn has successfully established an identity and gotten the players to buy into it. When hockey players talk about things like “trusting the system” and “structure,” this is generally what they’re referring to. Good coaches get their teams to play a recognizable style, but also adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the roster. This Rangers team certainly has more of an “edge” than recent iterations, though Quinn certainly doesn’t sacrifice skill or punish players explicitly for taking risks.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Quinn’s tenure so far has been his ability to keep the Rangers culture intact. It is very easy for a rebuilding team to slip into prolonged periods of malaise, and for the culture of a franchise to turn downright toxic as the losses mount. That problem can then manifest itself in a variety of ways and take years to solve (see: Oilers, Edmonton). While they never achieved the ultimate goal, the Rangers have been an objectively successful franchise for the last decade-plus. David Quinn is a big part of the reason that the Rangers have been able to thread the needle during this transitional period, balancing a real desire to win every game with the realities of the rebuild.

Of course, Quinn isn’t perfect. Dave will get into player development more deeply on Friday, but there have been several instances throughout the season where Quinn has chosen to give minutes to veteran players over younger ones for (seemingly) arbitrary reasons. Quinn tends to take a traditional view on how he constructs defense pairs, meaning that an “offensive defensemen” always needs to be balanced out by a “stay-at-home” guy, hence the reliance on pairs like Staal-Pionk and Skjei-McQuaid. He also seems to have only a passing interest in advanced stats, but that generally falls in line with the rest of the organization.

Lastly, it’s certainly fair to ask whether Quinn is the right coach long-term. There are legitimate concerns about his system, which often sacrifices the defensive blue line in order to protect against slot-line passes. The problem with that, of course, is that it leaves elite shooters with lots of time and space at the top of the circle. Quinn tends to – at times – value “grit” and “effort” over talent, though I challenge you to name an NHL coach that doesn’t follow a similar thought process. It’s also fair to wonder if those relatively positive results and stats I detailed above would be slightly better if Quinn simply optimized his lineups.

Ultimately though, the answer to the question “Is David Quinn the right coach for the New York Rangers at present?” is yes. He’s a thoughtful, passionate coach who has done a credible job balancing player development and the overall state of the franchise with remaining competitive on a nightly basis. The Rangers are rarely an easy opponent, and the players have bought in. It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds over the next couple of seasons, particularly if the Rangers are able to land some elite talent and begin competing in earnest once again.

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  • I beg to differ with the following: “The most impressive part: Quinn has coaxed these results out of a roster that is – to put it nicely – short on talent. Outside of Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers are a collection of bottom six forwards, bottom pair defensemen and young players in the early stages of development.” In 90% of those games he had Zucc … and Hayes played in the majority of those games as well. Those are 2 additional Top 6 players … and Buchnevich, who has always been on again off again was for a part of that time playing “on again” — when he’s on, he’s Top 6 … I also don’t think Skjei or DeAngelo can be categorized so easily as “bottom pair d’men”.

    It’s still impressive and the roster compared to contending teams is definitely not on par, but there’s no reason to describe that comparison with such hyperbole.

    • Why bother Tanto? This is just a formulaic post which required no knowledge of what was actually going on. Insulting Ranger skaters, especially defensemen, has become a way of life here. Why have the Rangers been better of late? Zuccarello came to life and was on fire. Quinn realized his forward corps was incredibly thin and starting playing Zuccarello and Zibanejad 40 minutes a game (hyperbole) and didn’t bother much with a fourth line. Hank broke out of his December slump and Georgiev started putting it together, so there was better goaltending. Pionk, the one Ranger defensemen who actually can’t play, got hurt.

      • Should add that Pionk has been better post-injury, maybe I’m wrong but it seems his load lightened up with the emergence of ADA and slightly better play out of Shattenkirk. Skjei, with some hiccups here and there, has also been better for a majority of those last 20 games.

        • very true — bizarrely Pionk was blocking both Shattenkirk and DeAngelo — and yes, Skjei has looked better of late. If some kids develop, the Rangers could have a decent defense as early as next year. The forward corps looks years away.

  • That’s a good and well thought out assessment. I would add that he inherited a tough situation in the rebuild; the fact that everyone knew players like Zucc in particular and Hayes would not be around at some point. That’s not an easy situation to deal with, but he kept the team together. He also had some AV hangover(lack of effort) to some extent. And he does not have the right players to play in his system of hockey, but he shaped the guys he had in the right direction. There are somethings to question about him, maybe not scratching Mark Staal? Counter that with how well Zib and Kreider have played and Vesey has stepped it up this year. ADA is also really coming into his own. The young kids need tough love, and he’s shown that works; the veterans don’t need that at this point. Is Staal blocking young kids from playing by being in the line up? Sort of, but probably not. I don’t think Lindgren and Hajek are NHL ready. So they’re not being blocked. Claesson should probably play more, but he’s been hurt and is he the future? Probably more of a stop gap serviceable D man. Pionk and ADA play the right side so he did not block them out of a spot. McQuad was hurt for a stretch and so was Shatty and Claesson. He’s probably mostly blocked Smith, so no problem.

    All in all I think he’s done a good job. Since the bye week we have actually consistently played pretty well. We have had some good come from behind wins and ties. We’ve blown a few too. The trajectory is pointed in the right direction.

    • Hajek not AHL ready.

      Day responded well to his demotion, I wonder if Hajek would benefit from a couple of weekends down East as well.

      • I don’t know. There was just so much talent at defense in Hartford that one has to suspect that there is a coaching problem. The Rangers had four #1 picks at Traverse City and were I think one of the favorites going in, but the guys coaching that unit achieved nothing — presumably the same guys who focus on development in Hartford.

        Of course, looking at Day and Halverson, maybe the Rangers should send all of their prospects to Maine.

        • I think a huge part is learning a new system vs playing a simple game at camp.

          In Hartford, Bigras was a train wreck to play with while there were too many D to actually understand D partner tendencies.

      • … and yet Hajek looked quite good in training camp, so good in fact that is we weren’t so over loaded with bloated one way contracts on d’ he might have been given an NHL test run.

      • Finally someone giving an accurate assessment of Hajek,there are some on here who think he’s the next great shutdown Dman without ever watching him play other then maybe camp where he did look good,I’m sure we’d all like him to become that guy but he’s far from it at this point.

  • I think the coach is doing a fine job. They are not the deepest of talented teams, but they give a strong effort every nite. No one is “mailing it in”, and when they do, they tend to hear it from the coach or take a seat in the pressbox.

    They now have an identity as a hard working team, something to be proud of.

    We do need to address the whole coaching staff. I almost have to give a pass to the offensive coach as he does not have the tools, but is getting them to crash the corners, making the game more applicable to a grinders team than a run & gun team. I cannot say the same for the defensive coach. While he also does not have the greatest tools, I think his system is flawed. There has to be a defensive scheme that can work with this group. Unsure if it is a zone overload or some other scheme, but whatever is currently in use needs to change.

    Getting back to Quinn, he seems to have the attitude to preach and teach, and as we continue to provide him with youth, this is a trait that cannot be overlooked.

    • Defence is always the last thing to come together, I’d say it’s starting to happen both in New York & in Hartford, though sometimes they get caught up in firewagon hockey at times.

      I’d rather be exciting and lose rather than boring and lose.

      I like what Quinn has been doing; at least he’s communicating with players rather than chewing his decade old piece of gum. He’s getting them to play the right way, won’t stand for a lack of effort.

      Now who are the 4 call ups?

  • competitive nightly, hard working, accountable with modest results.
    much unlike things would sound if this team was god awful.
    not competitive, weak pushovers and players virtually unaccountable for lack of effort.
    better to be honest and hard working than a throw in the towel tanker.

  • “He also seems to have only a passing interest in advanced stats, but that generally falls in line with the rest of the organization.”


    And which franchise uses stats the best?

  • Quinn has done a fine job. I have quarreled with his lineups at times, and I have criticized his defensive scheme, but the team plays hard for him.He has developed Tony DeAngelo far better than that kid had a chance to under AV. He has given Buchnevich some necessary tough love as well. He has even seemed to have adjusted that defensive scheme a bit recently, or perhaps the players are executing it better after learning it.

    Losing both Hayes and Zuccarello is going to make it tougher on the team and they are likely to sttruggle to compete, but I think that Quinn will retain their faith in him. That is very important and in some respects more important than x’s and O’s.

  • He has them playing hard for the most part. Holds them accountable when they fall short. He is sitting who deserves it like chyltl tonight.

  • At this time this coach sucks! I hope he changes. Rookie year, pond hockey thinking and held unaccountable.

    • I don’t think he sucks. He inherited a team which for many of the players may not be right for his system. We have 1 good forward line and many problems on D. I will say that his biggest mistake is playing Staal way too much.
      Gorton is a very average GM who except for the Brassard trade, his trade rating is C- at best. He needs to be in sync with Quinn. He wasn’t with AV. And trading for a low rated goalie in the 2nd round – well, he should have overruled that decision.

  • I was going to remark on how much this roster had to change because the FO let AV “lose players” on the bench. But truth is its what Slats and Gorton wanted. The game had passed AV by and he was not held accountable. Still not held accountable for skating 3 D with broken bones in the SCF. Say what you will, if I was one of those guys I wouldn’t have wanted to play for him either. So FO its all on you… keep going and keep building smart. The moves on Zucc and Hayes were business and need to be respected,
    By the way, that Lias kid has played really well. I think a lot of us will be more than surprised! Big difference between writing and playing, eeh?

  • Say whatever you want about Quinn, you can question line decisions and pairings BUT you can’t question if the team has bought in to him:
    Zibanejad said. “But even more than that, we have guys who compete their asses off. Our work ethic is completely different than it was last year. Even this game, with our first period, down 2-0, I think we would have collapsed against this kind of team and it would have been 6-1 in the third period. But we don’t do that this year. …
    They had every reason to fold, sellers at the deadline, down 2-0 and they didn’t.

  • AV was literally the best coach we have had since Keenan, but you guys are (still) shockingly too dense to realize it. Torts inherited a good squad from a great coach (Renney, who developed a WORSE team than now and you guys NEVER give credit to) while Torts wasted the best years of hanks career on teaching a team to fall down instead of breaking out, and in ONE year AV had literally the same squad in the finals and then the best team in the league in 2015 and one Zucc concussion away from a cup. And you clowns all worship Zucc and yet your golden boy Torts has him in HARTFORD or the pressure box for most of his tenure. His career along with many others came ALIVE under AV bc he taught this team how to actually play the sport in modern times. But all you guys understand is brute force or brian leetches, so in the absence of both you’re the same fans that booed Rozival everytime he touched the puck when he was a plus 36 and then had to go watch him win two cups, and now will do the same as we pay Girardi to win in Tampa Bay. You guys are fun when we are winning but when the chips are down you’d eat your own children. It’s gross and worse than gross it’s just dumb. Best coaches in the last 25 years? AV, Renney, THEN Torts, and then an Incomplete for Quinn (who I like, but you will be turning on by November of next year) and an utter F for everyone else since 95. Show AV some respect, he gave us the best years of our rangers fan lives, and if torts hadn’t run Gaborik out of town I bet AV woulda given us a cup…

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