Yes, Glen Sather was on the dais. But, yesterday, it was General Manager Jeff Gorton who introduced new Head Coach David Quinn to the media and to Rangers’ fans. Sather said not a word at the press conference and disappeared immediately after the formal presentation of Quinn. It was Gorton and Chris Drury, the teams’ AGM, who wooed Quinn to come to New York and leave his beloved Boston University Terriers. It was Gorton and Drury who knew the new Head Coach for more than 25 years.
The formal presentation was just the beginning of the meet and greet yesterday. There were photo opportunities with Gorton, Drury, and Quinn, and then Gorton and Quinn sat down with the media and answered all our questions. Held in an almost informal setting, it was a no-holds-barred light-hearted session, where both Gorton and Quinn were very forthcoming about how the decision-making process came about and where they were looking to take the team.
First, Quinn told us that he just made the decision to come to New York late last week. Gorton had previously said that he approached Quinn early on in the process and then left it open. “As we went through this process, we met with a number of people, and talked to a number of hockey people and it just kept coming back to David as the guy we wanted.” But the Rangers did not want to push Quinn and went on to interview somewhere between five and 10 other candidates. When asked about those candidates, Gorton said that he was not going to name names, but that the Rangers did not consider candidates that previously coached in the NHL. Some had in person interviews and some were just interviewed on the phone; but, he certainly made it look like that, all along, New York was hoping to get Quinn. Quinn, on the other hand, had seen interest in his services from other NHL teams, but stated that he was not looking to leave BU. A couple of times, Quinn said that he would not have left BU for any team other than the Rangers. (Take this with a grain of salt, though. Quinn grew up in New England and, it would be hard to believe that if the Bruins had come to him and offered him the head coaching job, Quinn would have declined).
That said, Quinn clearly had trepidations about leaving BU and a head coaching job that he loved. Several times, he justified it by saying that the NHL was the pinnacle of any coach’s career and that he is 52 (actually, he will be in two months) and you never know when another chance may come. But there was something wistful in Quinn’s eyes every time he spoke of how hard it was to leave his alma mater and the Terrier players. Known to be a coach that is interested in his players’ development on and off the ice, he will be a different kind of coach than what we have seen in New York for a while. The last coach that was focused on development was Tom Renney, who has been gone since 2009.
Renney was also in charge of a rebuild, which eventually took the Blueshirts to a Stanley Cup final in 2014. Renney was long gone, but he had sowed the seeds of that team. Now, Quinn has the chance to make his mark, in a game that has changed even since 2014. As we saw just a few nights ago, when the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning (or as some have named it, the NY Rangers South), what is needed to win in the NHL now is a combination of elite goaltending, speed, very high-end talent, and toughness. And a very solid defense. Both the Caps and Vegas have these ingredients as a team; to compete going forward the Rangers will need that too. And that is Quinn’s charge to build. So, who is he?
Quinn, a former 1984 first-round pick of the Minnesota North Stars, was a defenseman who played for BU in the 1980s and the AHL Binghamton Rangers during the 1991-92 season (so, it’s not Quinn’s first association with this NHL team). He is very specific with what he wants from his defensemen, both to get to the puck and what to do once the blueliner is there. “There is a system we’re going to use in the D-zone coverage . . . it is concepts within the zone—stick down, head up, body position, and communication. How quickly you close up . . . you have also got to pay attention to details . . . when you are there. To me, that’s a key component.” He is “fair and demanding,” according to Kevin Shattenkirk, who played for his new Head Coach when Quinn was an assistant at BU. He also seems to give players the opportunity to be creative (once they have taken care of their defensive duties).
And Quinn’s communication skills are off the charts. They were what sold the Rangers on him, according to Gorton. “I think that communication is a huge part with players today. I think that is probably the number one thing that stuck out [with Quinn].” It stuck out with the media too—he spent a long time talking in a very forthcoming manner with us—he was gentle but firm; sure of himself, but not afraid to show emotion. The Rangers need a fair and demanding coach, who makes defense a priority–a coach that will focus on development and stress communication. If he is half as good behind the bench as he was yesterday during his introduction, the Rangers have picked a winner.