Over the off-season, the New York Rangers brought on David Quinn as head coach and he’s just what they’ve needed.
All sports besides baseball are going more towards a speed and skill game to avoid concussions and major leg and shoulder injuries. The NHL is a primary predecessor of this kind of development, and while physicality is still necessary in the game, that is emphasized more in coaches game planning rather than player development. However, there is also a difference between player speed and puck speed which can make a difference. Why were the Rangers not better offensively despite having speed demons in Vigneault’s system? The puck speed and advanced passes weren’t coming through often enough.
According to the new “Expected Goals” and “Expected Assists” analytic statistic, the Rangers were third in expected goals in Vigneault’s tenure at a rating of 329.49, and fourth in expected assists at a rating of 338.71. While the Rangers were 8th in goals in that tenure, the parity of the NHL allowed some teams to be so bad for so long and then rise to be better, like the Buffalo Sabres this year.
One of the reasons I believe this ranking could be higher is what I consider puck speed. Puck speed to me is the combination of how fast, fluent, and creative the passes are. While there were some Rangers at that time that could do that very effectively, such as Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, it wasn’t done on a consistent basis where they scored as many overall goals, but rather more in streaks.
Now of course, hockey is one of those sports where streaks are evaluated quite often because it’s just naturally a sport that is harder to score than something like basketball and lacrosse, so you can have a scoring drought on quality shots just as much as you could have a point streak on fluke goals. However, streaks end eventually, and can’t be a judgment metric all season.
Going back to the Vigneault’s tenure in New York, it just seemed like it took a lot of basic passes before they got the goal. A lot of Rangers fans harp upon the fact that in his tenure, there were several power plays where they didn’t get off a shot until there was less than a minute left.
David Quinn To The Rescue
With David Quinn running the show, their power play is currently 16th in the league with a very inexperienced roster. While Vigneault’s power play percentage was roughly at the same level, he still had a couple of seasons where their power play was beyond atrocious. Yet, somehow, the Rangers were able to make it to the playoffs.
The fact that David Quinn has got a much weaker roster, but can be slightly better on the power play shows exactly how much faster they are shooting and how much better their passing is.
In addition, Quinn’s power play is excelling with various young players contributing. Neal Pionk, Brett Howden, and Jimmy Vesey are having much improved seasons. They are improving under Quinn. The youngsters are getting more time on the ice and more touches.
As a whole, the Rangers offense is more fluent. The Rangers’ passes on the break and quick passes from the neutral zone have been great. It’s good that the Rangers have been improving especially when it is a youth movement year and the team will likely lose more veterans at the trade deadline.
My Big Message
So what is the big message I am trying to get at?
This is why Alain Vigneault had to go. When the front office decided to start building up the farm system, instead of adding high-priced free agents, they needed a new voice behind the bench. Vigneault was burying players down over the players he liked in his system. Forwards such as Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich were both 4th line players under Alain Vigneault. It was frustrating to see the Rangers have Vesey and Buchnevich on the 4th line when they needed the ice time to improve and develop.
Let The Youngsters Play
Under Quinn, forwards such Filip Chytil and Jimmy Vesey have gotten to play first line minutes. With the exception of Lias Andersson who still needs some more time lower in the lineup, you don’t see Vesey, Buchnevich, Howden, or Chytil on the 4th line. Quinn has let them play with more freedom, and you can see a difference in the way the offense looks. Now, the numbers wouldn’t necessarily benefit them this year in the advanced statistics because they are such a young team and not an overall great team talent wise. However, you see the experimentation working. Their offense and goaltending has been able to keep them in games and beat some of the best teams in the league.
These young players need to develop and the only way to do that is with more ice time. When playing the youngsters, I’d prefer to see them make creative passes and move the puck player-to-player much faster than try to do many basic predictable passes to try to get the perfect shot. The expected goals statistic favors the Rangers in this instance, but I am also convinced it is because they had a smaller sample size because of how many basic passes they did before they ended up shooting the puck, particularly on the power play.
Learning From Mistakes
David Quinn has been letting them take more chances and pass at a faster pace, which while it will lead to mistakes, is fine for a young team. Young players are always taught to learn from mistakes, and like I said I’d rather have them do that than barely play.
Hopefully, Lias Andersson eventually joins that rotation of players who jump around between lines 1 and 3. Andersson is an exceptional prospect and he’s great passer. However, I understand that he is still more raw and Quinn will progress him in throughout the second half of the season. Yet, to see these young offensive players play this well and progress this much and play well against some of the best rosters in the league is definitely some progression.
As it stands, they are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 33 points. The Rangers are 6 points back of the Montreal Canadiens, who currently have the second wild card spot. While I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, the fact that they are contending has a lot to do with puck speed.
stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals