Last night, news broke that Jacques Martin might be Lindy Ruff’s replacement as Assistant Coach for the NY Rangers. The news was a little surprising, since it came on a Sunday night of a relatively inactive week. As per usual, I have thoughts.
1. It makes sense that the Rangers are looking at someone to replace Ruff. Ruff was in charge of coaching the defensive structure, and logically speaking, finding a replacement was on the agenda. What I do find interesting is that the Rangers are again leaning towards a coach who has been around the block. That said, Martin is not Ruff.
2. Whereas Ruff’s teams did not have defensive success, Martin’s teams did. Martin won a pair of Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. He did so with a defense unit leaning heavily on Trevor Daley, Olli Maata, and Brian Doumoulin in their top-four in 2015-2016. Ron Hainsey replaced Olli Maata the following season. He didn’t exactly have a Murderer’s Row of defensive stalwarts.
3. That’s where Martin’s success is – he makes the full team better despite the parts. He’s a lot like Barry Trotz in that regard. The team is better than the sum of the parts, and he gets complete buy-in. While in Pittsburgh, Martin liked to play a hybrid zone defense, ranging from an overload to force turnovers and a low zone collapse to protect high priced real estate. It’s a simple system that has its flaws, but works. Sometimes, less is more. He also ran a 1-2-2 forecheck in his head coaching days, which is the exact forecheck the Rangers use, relatively inconsistently.
4. The big part here is that Martin has has prior success. During his stint with the Penguins, they were usually top-half finishers in CA/60 and xGA/60. At least until the wheels starting coming off in 2018-2019. The outlier is 2016-2017, where the Penguins won a Cup but were a bottom team in both categories. But that team played better in the playoffs. It is worth noting that those teams were generally top finishers in xGF% as well. (Research through Natural Stat Trick.)
5. When Ruff left, we noted that the Rangers wouldn’t see that change immediately. Adding Martin likely adds some stability to the position, as the Rangers look to grow some of their young defense. This is a critical aspect too, as this group will likely grow together for the foreseeable future.
6. This might come with a slight adjustment period. The system the Rangers will run is still going to be David Quinn’s call. It’s just going to be on Martin to execute and find the right buttons to push. It’s still unclear whether or not Quinn will change up the system with Martin on board. I wouldn’t expect that. Remember that the issue wasn’t necessarily defensive zone coverage, it was giving up the blue line by design. We will notice that change almost immediately, if it happens, based on when/where the defense steps up on an entry.
7. If it does happen, I think Jacques Martin will have a more positive impact as Rangers Assistant Coach than Lindy Ruff.