The New York Rangers filled the empty spot behind their bench Monday, naming veteran coach Jacques Martin as an assistant coach. Martin replaces Lindy Ruff, who hopped across the Hudson River to become the New Jersey Devils’ head coach.
The 67-year-old Martin joins the Rangers after spending the last seven years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. He served as an assistant coach for parts of five seasons, including Pittsburgh’s two Stanley Cup championships in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Martin will likely assume the defense and penalty kill role left behind by Ruff and brings a wealth of NHL experience to one of the NHL’s younger teams (the Rangers’ average age was 25.8 entering 2019-20, according to The Athletic). But is the addition of a veteran coach like Martin more than a move to bolster the coaching staff’s strength? Is Martin an insurance policy in case David Quinn falters?
Expectations for Quinn and the Rangers will be high entering the 2020-21 season. The Rangers are coming off a playoff appearance, watching several young players, such as Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin, take significant steps forward. Factor that all in with the development of 2019 No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko and this year’s presumptive No. 1 selection Alexis Lafrenière and Quinn’s performance behind the bench will be closely monitored.
From a timing perspective, Quinn can’t afford to take a step backward. The average tenure of NHL coaches is relatively brief. NHL coaches tend to last about three and a half years, according to a survey done by Business Insider in 2016. The average tenure of all current head coaches averages out to roughly 2.6 years, according to Behind The Benches (excluding coaches hired in 2020, while counting time spent as an assistant in tenure).
And with the bright lights of New York continually shining on Madison Square Garden, James Dolan-run teams haven’t been shy about shuffling their staff. Since 2000, the Rangers’ roommates, the New York Knicks, have had 15 different head coaches. In that same period, the Rangers have had nine.
While midseason changes generally don’t result in deep playoff runs, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins in 2015-16 and Craig Berube’s St. Louis Blues being the exceptions, teams still make changes quite often, according to Sportsnet. NHL clubs have switched coaches 27 times over the last six seasons, 22 of which were internal promotions (from the NHL staff or AHL affiliate). Based on those numbers, it seems NHL teams view having a potential successor on staff as a good thing, and few coaches have the resume Martin does.
For the past three decades, Martin has served on an NHL coaching staff or a front-office position. He had head coaching stints in St. Louis, Ottawa, Florida and Montreal, amassing 613 wins with a .551 point percentage in 1,294 career games. In 1998-99, Martin won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s Coach of the Year and had been a finalist for the honor on three other occasions.
As impressive as Martin is, Quinn is likely not going anywhere. The Rangers under Quinn endured an expected rebuild year followed by one of exceeding expectations. On talent alone, the Rangers should grow into a serious competitor over the next few seasons, and there’s no indication now that Quinn won’t be leading them.
However, the last six years have shown it’s never bad to have a qualified, NHL-level coach on staff. And if the club decided to make a change, Martin’s experience makes him an excellent option.