Making sense of David Quinn’s lineup decisions this season

David Quinn
Quinn (HemAware.org)
AP

The Rangers have lost 4 in a row after winning the first 2 games of the season. From high hopes to no hopes in 6 games is drastic no matter which side of the fence you are on. There is no doubt that the team in not so many words told us all to temper expectations, but there have been many questionable roster decisions since the final roster cuts were announced. This is an attempt to try and understand those moves.

On Playing Brendan Smith

Let’s start off with defenseman turned forward, Brendan Smith. First off, it would be outright unfair if you didn’t admit that Smith has played hard and well. He’s actually earned all the praise that has come his way for the way he’s performed so far this season. That isn’t why people are questioning his utilization, it’s because in truth, Smith has no long term future as a forward on the Rangers and is taking up valuable minutes from either Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil or Vitali Kravtsov on the third line.

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There is however plenty of value he brings to this young lineup as a 4th line player this season. Aside from being responsible in all three zones, he acts as a failsafe on any given night for David Quinn. If any of the young defenders struggle, the coach can simply slip Smith into one of their spots. Add to that he kills penalties on defense and you can easily see why Quinn has him in the lineup.

Smith has one year remaining at $4.35M next season and playing him as much as they are now is raising his trade value. Even if they find no takers this season, his contract is structured in such a way that after receiving a $1M bonus, his base salary is only $2.35M. That should make him more attractive to teams looking to reach the cap floor and not pay too much. It should also be noted that Smith has a modified no trade clause, which shouldn’t be an issue.

On Playing Michael Haley

This one is an absolute head scratcher. Michael Haley was signed on a PTO in what many thought was a move to pressure Brendan Lemieux to sign. When that took place, many did not even fathom Haley making the team. Not only has he made it, he’s now playing on the 4th line.

Quinn likes him, that’s an obvious fact. He spoke very highly about how smart a player Haley is, but the cold hard truth is that smarts alone will not cut it. Haley struggles to keep up with the play and provides almost no offensive support for a player like Lias Andersson. Simply put, it would make more sense to play Greg McKegg who has speed in that spot.

Bottom line is this one move alone is causing a chain reaction where everything else is magnified with a negative point of view. It certainly hurts the argument that this is a young team still rebuilding when Haley is in the lineup.

Developing Kakko

There’s no issues here. Stop making up false narratives about Kakko’s development after 6 games. He’s on the 2nd line and gets PP time. He has also been moved up to the top PP unit and continues to get valuable minutes, even late in games.

Line Balancing

This is my biggest issue right now and it becomes magnified when Smith is on the 3rd line and Haley is in the lineup. I am going to hold steadfast that Filip Chytil needs to be recalled immediately and that Artemiy Panarin and Chris Kreider should switch lines.

Both Zibanejad and Panarin are engines that can drive offense. While it is great to watch them work together, we can still get to see that on the PP. What Quinn needs to do is break up his two best offensive players and give the opposition more to worry about every game.

Conclusion

It’s okay to question what Quinn and the Rangers are doing. It’s also okay to be critical of a player’s role or performance. But after 6 games, it doesn’t make sense to start calling for Quinn to be fired or disparaging players without fully understanding what is going on.

With that said, David Quinn and the Rangers management should be a little more forthcoming with what the plan is here going forward. Using generic terms like “trust the process” or playing “the right way” is agitating for many in the fanbase that are as committed to the rebuild as the organization.