There was never any chance that Chris Drury was going to be objective when assessing David Quinn as a candidate for the Rangers’ coaching job.
“Personally, I’ve known David since I was 15 years old,’’ Drury, the Rangers’ assistant general manager, said Thursday at the Garden news conference to introduce Quinn as the 35th coach in Rangers history. “So personally, I’m very happy for him. I’m very proud of him to be here today.
“Professionally, I’m happy for the New York Rangers. I think he’s the right guy at the right time, and I think he’s a heck of a coach and he’ll do a great job.’’
Drury, who became friends with Quinn when Quinn played with his older brother, Ted, on the 1991-92 Pre-Olympic Tour, never saw any need to put his friendship with Quinn aside when considering him for the job. He and general manager Jeff Gorton called around and spoke to plenty of hockey people in doing their due diligence on Quinn, “trying really, really hard to find someone that didn’t like him, didn’t like him as a coach, didn’t like him as a person.’’
According to Drury, that proved impossible.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got a lot of friends in hockey, a lot of friends that I played with that would have loved to be up there’’ being introduced as Rangers coach, Drury said. “But David was the right guy.’’
Quinn, 51, was living a happy life for the past five years as the coach of his alma mater, Boston University. He had won two Hockey East titles and had made it to the NCAA championship game. He was working with people he liked, had racked up 105 wins in five seasons and had even had a player picked in the first round of the NHL Draft the last three years.
But after Gorton fired Alain Vigneault on the final day of the season, he wanted a fresh face, with fresh ideas, for his rebuilding club. Early in the process he looked at Quinn, and Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver, but he wasn’t just focusing on a college coach. He also looked at people from Europe, and the AHL, and some NHL assistant coaches. He kept coming back to Quinn, though.
After Montgomery took the Dallas Stars’ job, and after Quinn reportedly told friends he was staying at BU, Gorton went back at him. The Rangers reportedly offered a five-year deal worth more than $12 million. That was a lot of money to turn down.
“It’s a pretty unbelievable feeling,’’ Quinn said of the thought that he now is the Rangers’ coach. “At my point in my career, 52 years old [at the start of next season], to have this opportunity was something I couldn’t pass up and was the pinnacle of our coaching profession. I think if you polled all the coaches in all of hockey and asked what job they could have, I think this would be at the top.
“To be able to work with Chris and Jeff and Glen [Sather, the Rangers’ president] — where we’re at as an organization and how we’re all on the same page, as the process went on, it just seemed like the right decision to make.’’
Quinn isn’t that much younger than Vigneault, who turned 57 this month, but he’s into hockey analytics. He noted at his news conference that BU was one of the few colleges that had a full-time analytics person for the hockey team. He also is believed to be more hands-on and detail-oriented than Vigneault, who left a lot of responsibility to his veterans to police the locker room.
Quinn talked about running hard, carefully planned practices. As a former defenseman at BU, he said he’ll stress defensive responsibility — something Vigneault didn’t.
“I think a major thing he’ll bring to this team, to this organization, is accountability,’’ said Rangers forward Kevin Hayes, who was recruited by Quinn when he was an assistant at BU. “I think in order to win games, you have to hold each other accountable.’’
Hayes stressed that he played four years for Vigneault and learned from and developed under him. However, he added, “It’s nice to have a new guy come in . . . He’s going to hold everyone accountable from Day One.’’
In his news conference, Quinn said he thinks of himself as “fair and demanding.’’ Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played at BU when Quinn was an assistant there and also played briefly for him when he was the head coach of the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL, said he is both of those things.
“He treats players with a lot of respect, but he expects you to show up to work every day and he wants to work on something every day,’’ Shattenkirk said. “So it’s constantly growing, it’s constantly developing, as a player. And I think that’s something that we need here.’’
Joining the likes of Montgomery and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Dave Hakstol, Quinn has become part of what seems to be a trend of NHL teams hiring coaches from the college ranks.
The Rangers’ take on that is that college hockey is having a bigger and bigger influence on the NHL, so it’s natural to hire college coaches.
“The whole landscape of hockey has changed in the last — feels like when I started in the NHL till now — the game has changed,’’ Shattenkirk said. “It’s become faster, it’s become more skilled. And that’s happening at every level — juniors, college and right down into youth hockey. And I think the younger coach seems to be the guy who’s more fit to be in this league now. And they’re coming up through those years and they’re kind of leading the charge.’’