The message delivered by David Quinn throughout his rookie NHL head coaching season was loud. A year later, it is clear Quinn’s approach will have to be more nuanced, for more will be expected of him and the Rangers this time around.
Make no mistake. While overseeing development of the Yoots of Broadway was an important component of Quinn’s assignment coming out of Boston University, the coach had a mandate to restore the Blueshirts’ work ethic and attention to practice detail after steady slippage in both areas the past couple of years under the previous regime, headed by Alain Vigneault.
And Quinn succeeded. There was a method to the string of outbursts at practice in which he lectured his team about work habits. There was a method to the selection of healthy scratches in which those perceived as laggards were left in street clothes. The Rangers responded. Other issues — primarily a lack of high-end talent coupled with a total eclipse of defensive-zone structure and Henrik Lundqvist’s late meltdown — undermined the team through its 20-28-12 final four months, but the work ethic remained strong through the final overtime victory in Pittsburgh on the final night of the season.
The base has been established. Expectations are known. This time around, Quinn should have do far less loud talking, though no one should expect a transformation to a coach whisperer. There should, however, be much more nuanced coaching. And while it’s a mistake for anyone associated with the Rangers to get over his skis, more is expected of this team than simply demonstrating a strong work ethic.
More, too, is expected of Quinn, who this second time around will be operating for the first time under the watchful eye of John Davidson, the team president who inherited, rather than hired, the coach.
“First-time job, there is a learning curve. That’s a process and we went through that last year as a staff,” Quinn said as the Rangers went through their on-ice testing Friday at their practice facility in Tarrytown. “I think we’re going to be in a much better position to hit the ground running because we do have a level of familiarity between players and coaches.
“I think our veterans certainly understand the way we want to play and what’s expected on a daily basis, so instead of [the coaches] setting that precedent, I think if the [veterans] see somebody not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, I think they’ll take it upon themselves to correct it, as opposed to us.”
Quinn talked about the need to dramatically improve the club’s work in the D-zone and on the penalty-kill, both areas of responsibility assigned to assistant coach Lindy Ruff, back for a third year on a staff that is intact from a year ago, with Benoit Allaire, David Oliver and Greg Brown also returning as assistants.
“We have to do a much better job there,” Quinn said. “We’re not going to have a chance to accomplish what we think we’re capable of accomplishing if we don’t.”
This time around, Quinn will have an uber-talent up front in Artemi Panarin, a legit top-end righty defenseman in Jacob Trouba and second-overall draft pick Kaapo Kakko on whom to call. Vitali Kravtsov is knocking on the door and so is Adam Fox. Mika Zibanejad, Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich are skill guys. Skill is what sells in the 21st Century NHL and game-breaking skill tends to rule in the regular season. That’s a fact.
It is also a fact that Quinn would have fit in perfectly behind the bench of the Black-and-Blueshirt Era. He makes no bones about wanting to have a jagged-edged, smashmouth team that plays north-south hockey and drives to the net. But this club appears to have more string players and flautists than those who play percussion instruments. It will be up to Quinn, as much as his players, to adapt.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit of both,” the coach said. “Everybody is born with a certain type of DNA. I realize you can’t have 12 forwards going [north-south] that way all of the time. What you want is for the skill guys to have a little bit of that [jam] in their game when it’s needed.
“I guess you’re looking for players to meet halfway and add what they can of that element. I’m not asking everyone to run around and be a [Brendan] Lemieux-type player. But if you’re a high-end skill player, I want you to be hard enough and tough enough to let your skills influence the game. That’s all I ask.”
The asking begins Saturday, when the Rangers get to hockey. Some of the asking might even be in a loud voice. Old habits are hard to break.