Well it shouldn't come as much of a surprise after James Dolan shocked the world and kicked JD/Gorts to the curb with just three games left in the season that there would also be a change behind the bench. This morning, the Rangers made it official and sent David Quinn packing - along with the rest of his staff not named Benoit Allaire. I don't think there's many fans out there who pegged DQ as the guy to carry this organization back to glory for the first time since '94. I do, however, think many overexaggerated how poorly of a job he did having never coached an NHL game before 2018.
His first (and only 'normal') season he was given a roster littered with vets who were playing out their ends. Guys like Hayes, Zuccarello, Vesey, Shattenkirk & Pionk were all goners by the summer while Blueshirts lifers like Hank & Staal barely hung on for one more year. It was pretty much expected that Quinn's debut would have them finishing as a bottom of the barrel squad before they could truly start the roster turnover & give him the young talent he was hired to develop. It wasn't just kids he got though for Year 2. On top of lottery luck that landed Kaapo Kaako, the addition of Igor Shesterkin & the swindling of Adam Fox from Carolina they also brought in Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. Quite a personnel boost.
That didn't exactly translate to success for the first half of Quinn's sophomore campaign though. 18 year-old Kaako struggled immensely, Igor was in Hartford, Fox was showing glimpses of greatness but wasn't thrown a ton of responsibility right off the bat & Trouba was having a real hard time finding a hint of chemistry with BFF Brady Skjei. Everything changed for this franchise though upon the call-up of Shesty. The Blueshirts became a juggernaut once they won his debut. They had an unstoppable top-six in front of a pair of the league's youngest, most dynamic offensive blueliners in DeAngelo & Fox. Igor won 9 of his first 10 and finished with a .932 save percentage while the Rangers inexplicably found themselves in the midst of a 5-team battle for the two wild-card berths with 12 games left on their schedule. If NY had made the playoffs organically, I don't think we're even considering bailing on Quinn today.
But then Covid happened. The season was shut down, bubble hockey was introduced and the Rangers were bounced quite easily by the Hurricanes. Clearly that showing was a disappointment - but in fairness they went in without their #1 goalie and despite that, I'd rather judge a coach by a larger body of work & not some haphazard out-of-the-blue three game format. It seemed though that series weighed heavily in the eyes of media & fans alike. Quinn didn't have universal support from the fanbase by any means before then, but many seemed to turn on him for good after.
Coming into this season, expectations were certainly high. Panarin was coming off a Hart-caliber season, Fox proved he was a true #1 on the back end & Shesterkin the same between the pipes. For everyone who wasn't already peaking their arrows were all pointing straight up. Still, playoffs didn't seem as though they were a 'do-or-die' edict for the NHL's youngest roster - especially under the new format of a condensed schedule. Without a shot at a wild card the Rangers faced the improbable task of having to somehow leapfrog one of four battle-tested, win-now squads within their loaded division. While they kept postseason dreams alive longer than most thought they could, bottom line was Quinn's crew were exposed more times than not any time they lined up against the Caps, Isles, Bruins or Pens.
In the end, that's what did in the whole regime - from JD on down. Do I think it was Quinn's fault? Not necessarily. But I distinctly remember (not verbatim…or when…but it happened) earlier in the season, after Quinn preached the Rangers take a more straight-line approach to their offense at times, Ryan Strome was basically quoted as saying "eh, maybe, but it's more fun our way". That stuck out to me. It doesn't matter how good or bad your coach is if his players aren't all that interested in listening to him. So I'm sure that's what the next coach will bring to the table - a "my way or the highway" approach that accompanies a guy with a bit of a resume.
I think Gerard Gallant is the favorite of the rumor mill right now and it certainly makes some sense. He turned a squad of 'rejects' into Cup contenders immediately in Vegas before being oddly let go last year because of, in their GM's own words, "the feeling you have that a change might be needed". Hmm. Regardless, Gallant has the reputation of being a perfect hybrid of 'liked' and 'tough'. His squads are always difficult to play against and that's exactly what Dolan & Drury seek to become after being so easily disposed of by division powerhouses. Whoever it is though, the pressure is on. Immediately. Not just whoever takes the reins but everyone on the roster. Superstars will need to adapt their games to a new system. Kids will need to do the same without whatever comfort zone they may have developed under the staff that's just been dismissed. Role players will have to prove their skillsets still fit.
If "The Letter" sent to fans halfway through David Quinn's debut season signified patience as the rebuild began, the recent restructuring of organizational leadership signifies a new message just as clearly:
The rebuild is over. Patience has run out. Whether or not you think they're ready doesn't matter - the time to start being a playoff regular & contending for a Cup begins in about five months.