Thursday night marked the return of former Rangers coach David Quinn. A likable person who was tasked with a tough job during the rebuild, he did the best he could.
It wasn’t easy to take over a team that lost their identity after Alain Vigneault left following an ugly ’17-18 season. That marked the end of an era. When the organization decided to make public The Letter to fans about the direction they decided, many core pieces were sent packing by GM Jeff Gorton with the help of Team President John Davidson.
It definitely wasn’t easy for fans to see former captain Ryan McDonagh go. The anchor of a strong blue line that included ultimate warrior Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman, he was the leader of a strong team that was very successful. The Blueshirts were a playoff contender that reached three Conference Finals and played for the Stanley Cup over a four-year period.
When Quinn took over in ’18-19, the roster was dramatically different. Also gone were key forwards J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Michael Grabner. They continued to transition away from key contributors including fan favorite Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a first time NHL coach who had coached collegiate hockey to walk into.
Despite that, Quinn’s teams worked hard. By the second year when they landed big fish Artemi Panarin and acquired Jacob Trouba, things were looking up. In fact, it was during his second season that he had them in position to make a run at the playoffs.
With Panarin cooking and Mika Zibanejad on fire, the Rangers were just sitting on the outside of the wildcard when Covid interrupted ’19-20. After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, the playoffs format was expanded. That allowed the Rangers to become one of 24 teams who got to compete that summer.
However, with future rookie star Igor Shestyorkin injured, Quinn made the curious decision to start Henrik Lundqvist twice over Alex Georgiev in a best three out of five Stanley Cup qualifier against the Hurricanes. They were no match for the Canes, who won in three straight including when Shestyorkin was cleared to play Game Three.
All the good will felt during that promising year which also featured newcomers Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren in key roles on a revamped defense ended on a sour note. As it turned out, it was the beginning of the end for Quinn.
Following a delayed start to ’20-21, the Rangers played an abbreviated 56-game schedule that began in January 2021. With higher expectations surrounding the team due to the development of Shestyorkin, Fox, Lindgren along with key stars Panarin, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome and Trouba, they didn’t reach the postseason.
The disappointment of former 2020 second pick Kaapo Kakko and slow process for ’21 top pick Alexis Lafreniere didn’t go over well with fans. Despite the promise of future top four defenseman K’Andre Miller, who was handled well under Quinn, the season had turmoil due to a locker room fracas between Tony DeAngelo and Georgiev in Pittsburgh. That resulted in the dismissal of DeAngelo and had a negative effect on Georgiev, who wasn’t as consistent.
Along with an injury to Shestyorkin, it definitely didn’t help the situation. While there wad frustration over both Kakko and Lafreniere, one player who improved under Quinn was Pavel Buchnevich. At one point, he found himself buried on the fourth line in Year One. But once he adjusted to what the coach wanted, Buchnevich became a better player who was a fixture on the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider.
Until a critical two games against the Islanders, they still had a chance to make the playoffs. Instead, the team laid proverbial eggs including a dismal performance on home ice after Fox was presented as the Steven McDonald Award winner. The final straw was Tom Wilson pummeling Buchnevich while he was down and then injuring Panarin after he jumped the Caps pest in another uncompetitive loss.
By that point, Quinn was done. So too were Gorton and Davidson after the letter the team sent to the NHL when there was no supplemental discipline for Wilson. Even though Brendan Smith avenged Panarin, it was obvious that the Rangers were ready to move on. Especially with Garden CEO James Dolan unhappy with how that season ended.
With both Mark Messier and former Team President and GM Glen Sather in his ear, the trio of Davidson, Gorton and Quinn were dismissed. Chris Drury took over as Team President and GM. Gerard Gallant was hired as the new coach.
Although Quinn never got the team to the postseason, he was a transitional coach who oversaw the rebuild. It wasn’t the easiest situation. Although there were times where I didn’t agree with some of his personnel decisions or answers during press conferences, he was a good hockey man. Even if there were hints from players that they didn’t agree with his style (Panarin, Kakko), Quinn did the best he could.
When he finally got the job in San Jose after a year away from the league, it was another opportunity for the former Boston University coach to take a rebuilding team in a different direction. Something that’s never easy. They Sharks lost both games to the Predators in the Czech Republic to start the season. Then lost the next three to drop to 0-5-0.
You had to figure they’d be ready to go against the Rangers in Quinn’s emotional return at MSG. What wasn’t expected was the cold reception he received from ungrateful fans. Let’s just call it what is. There’s a portion of this fan base who are snobs. That they booed Quinn when they showed him on the video board was sad.
Seeing the reaction from beat reporters on what happened was enough to feel bad for Quinn. A good guy who didn’t deserve what he got. It’s true the crowd has changed since the pandemic. There are a lot of transient sections that don’t have as many loyal fans who’ve been through the Dark Ages. A reference to one of the darkest eras in franchise history.
From ’97-98 through ’03-04, there were no playoffs on Garden ice. Only humiliation. My family sat through a lot of those games. It was tough on the eyes. Somehow, we managed to have fun due to the friends we made in our section. Witness protection was bantered about a lot in reference to some of the underwhelming players who played. In those hard times, we were able to shine a light with dark humor.
Times have changed. Unfortunately, not for the better. When you have nerdy chart-sessed fans who think everything revolves around CORSI and analytics, they don’t get hockey. The proof was in how the rosters under Quinn were constructed. While there was considerable talent along with youth, they lacked grit and intangibles.
Thankfully, Drury saw fit to correct those mistakes. One of his first moves was signing former Lightning Stanley Cup winner Barclay Goodrow after trading for him during the exclusive negotiating window. Goodrow is a glue guy who can play anywhere. He gets his nose dirty and plays penalty kill. He remains one of the veterans Gallant can rely on to play any role.
Adding Ryan Reaves was a move made to address the lack of toughness. A legit heavyweight with a physical presence, Reaves protects teammates by making opponents accountable. Ask Wilson what happened to him in a lopsided Rangers win over the Caps last season.
Reaves also brings character. His great personality keeps things loose before games. “Shesty, release us!”, became the rallying call before games. The 35-year old vet remains popular in the room and with the crowd that appreciates what he brings.
If anyone doesn’t, it’s probably the same losers that booed Quinn as if he was Scrooge. They don’t have any sense of humor or common decency. Off the record, a few players told the Rangers beat that he didn’t deserve what he got.
Maybe it was fitting that it was Quinn’s new team that out-worked and out-played the Rangers to earn a 3-2 overtime victory on a Erik Karlsson winner. It had to feel extra special for Quinn to get his first win as Sharks coach at MSG. He will never admit that. Nor did he acknowledge the ridiculous jeers he received. He has too much class.
It’s unfortunate that some so-called ‘fans’ don’t know what class is. They think just because Gallant came into a better situation and guided last year’s team to the Eastern Conference Final, that it’s a given the Rangers will play for the Cup.
It doesn’t work that way. This season, they have a target on their back. Expect everyone’s best game. Or maybe you haven’t noticed that the Avalanche just lost at home to the Kraken. Nothing is given in this league. Teams won’t just lie down. If they did, Montreal wouldn’t have three wins in its first five games.
It would be nice if more fans realized that. Not everyone has common sense. Shame on the sour apples who booed a good man. I’m glad Quinn got the last laugh.
The Rangers will now move on. With the Blue Jackets on the schedule tomorrow, they’ll have to slow down Johnny Gaudreau. As Trouba noted following Thursday’s disappointment, they must focus more on playing better defensively. Or as Gallant simply put it, get back to the way they played in the season opener. A complete effort in a 3-1 win over the Lightning.
We’ll see how they respond.