It’s up to David Quinn to prove his long-term viability in a league that’s notorious for its fast-changing coaching carousel.
When the Rangers introduced Quinn in May 2018, his hiring was largely based on his success developing youngsters at the collegiate level. It’s going to be imperative for Quinn to demonstrate progress if he wishes to continue leading this youth-driven roster for years to come.
The Rangers don’t have the luxury of waiting it out, to see if Quinn will transition from a coach who still appears to be learning on the fly into a savvy bench boss who rolls the best lineups, identifies advantageous matchups, and, most importantly, guides key youngsters like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and K’Andre Miller to reaching their full potential.
If Quinn doesn’t reward the Rangers’ faith, then it’s time for the Blueshirts to turn to an experienced coach with a proven track record – namely, Gerard Gallant.
The Florida Panthers were a hapless franchise that missed the playoffs in 12 of 13 seasons prior to Gallant’s arrival there, but it took him just two seasons to turn them into an exciting team that finished first in the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record.
Gallant was fired after the Panthers went 11-10-1 in the first 22 games of the 2016-17 season that followed, having not been given a genuine opportunity to build on his success.
In his next stop, Gallant took the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, and they reached the playoffs in each of the franchise’s first two seasons before he was dismissed 49 games into his third season, after opening the 2019-20 campaign with a 24-19-6 start.
Gallant’s track record of shifting a team’s identity into one that plays with speed and purpose is what the Rangers need right now. Lately, the Rangers have put on spiritless displays. The Blueshirts have gone 3-5-2 in their past 10 games and are in danger of hitting rock bottom in the Eastern Division, only holding a one-point advantage over a Buffalo Sabres team that has played two less games.
Granted, the Rangers have been hit by a wave of injuries and off-ice drama. Yet, there’s no excuse for the Blueshirts’ abject performance in Tuesday’s 5-2 defeat to the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers were outskated, outcompeted, and outperformed by a Devils team that last played on Jan. 31.
It was an embarrassing showing that lacked the bare minimum tenets of desire, effort, and pride. It’s inexcusable that the Rangers were the rustier of the two teams for the majority of three periods. The buck stops with Quinn, who arrived on the scene penning this letter to fans: “We want to be in the opposition's faces and make them uncomfortable every shift. We want them to know when they see the Rangers on the schedule, it's going to be a long night.”
Right now, Quinn isn’t living up to his calling card of effort and youth progression.
Most of the Rangers roster is playing like a bunch of tame passengers, seemingly only putting on the uniform to collect a paycheck, rather than being prepared to forecheck and backcheck. Also worrying is the fact that Lafreniere and Kakko have combined for a total of four points.
If it were my decision, I’d part ways with Quinn today and hire Gallant before a different struggling franchise (or the 2021-22 expansion Seattle Kraken) snap him up, but I don’t anticipate the Rangers making a sudden decision like that any time soon. Maybe the Blueshirts brass envisions Quinn righting the ship once the injury bug dissipates, or maybe they’re prepared to play the waiting game and give Quinn the full season to prove his worth – but if the Rangers play the waiting game too long, they could get left in the dust by a proactive franchise that’s ready to seek Gallant’s expertise.
Hockey is a results-oriented business and teams often become winners by making bold decisions when the moment is right. I believe that moment is now. It’s time for the Rangers to realize it’s not working out, say thanks and goodbye to Quinn, and install Gallant behind the bench.
Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey