In case you missed it, Lindy Ruff –despite his documented issues as a defense coach— is a front runner for the head coaching job with the New Jersey Devils. Believe it or not, he has a legitimate shot at the job, per Elliotte Friedman.
Ruff came to the Rangers at the end of the Alain Vigneault era, and has had terrible results as the coach in charge of the defense. He deserves a lot of blame for the defense issues that have plagued the Rangers. Or does he?
Ok yes he does, but not all of it.
Miscast In His Role
That is something to be very wary of. While Ruff has never been a good defensive coach, his weaknesses were exacerbated in New York. It’s pretty clear that Ruff is miscast as an assistant coach in charge of defense. I made a crack that it is comparable to putting me in charge of jersey colors.
AV never had strong defenses, relying almost entirely on elite goaltending with the Rangers and Vancouver. It’s a little bit tougher to gauge David Quinn due to a number of factors (team quality, tenure), but he hasn’t had good results either. In both of those situations, a strong defensive coach is needed to, at the very least, get the most out of his players.
It Wasn’t His System (primer)
This one we should know – the head coach runs the system he wants. AV ran a hybrid overload/man coverage in the defensive zone. This system was great at pressuring the go-zone between the top of the circle and the blue line, but was extraordinarily susceptible to sustained pressure.
DQ gives up the blue line by design. That is something AV didn’t do, so it’s clear the system changed despite the defensive coach staying the same. Assistant coaches operate within the system of the head coach. It’s an important point to understand.
The Team Had Flaws
Let’s be real, Ruff didn’t get here when the Rangers were at their peak. Marc Staal aged beyond usefulness. Kevin Shattenkirk tore his meniscus and never recovered. The Rangers went into a rebuild halfway through his first season.
The best defensemen Ruff had for more than half a season were Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo. It wasn’t until this year that the Blueshirts actually built a somewhat competent base around them. It’s no surprise that with better personnel –and some time to adjust– the Rangers started turning it around in December.
Yet He Still Had Issues
The point of a coach is to get the most out of his players. That was something Ruff could not do. We got a solid game and a half of McDonagh-Shattenkirk. We got Staal-Holden rammed down our throats. Rob O’Gara got a better shot than Ryan Graves. This list goes on, but it’s not everything.
If the Devils hire Ruff, it is certainly addition by subtraction for the Rangers. They need a coach that can get the best out of a defense core that is still learning at the NHL level. But Lindy Ruff going to New Jersey won’t magically solve all that ails the Rangers defense. The funny thing here is the timing of his rumored departure. The Rangers are on the upswing, and it’s entirely possible they become contenders sooner rather than later.