Mike Grier, in his playing days, was known as somebody who could always be counted on to defend a teammate.
The San Jose Sharks GM stepped up for a teammate once again today, when I asked new Sharks head coach David Quinn about the perception that Quinn was particularly tough on Rangers youngsters behind the bench in New York.
“Some of the stuff that’s out there about the Rangers stuff,” Grier interjected. “I don’t think it’s fair.”
2019 second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko and 2020 first-overall Alexis Lafreniere, in particular, did not take the NHL by storm as expected. Fairly or unfairly, Quinn has been blamed for limiting their minutes and stapling them to the bench from time to time.
Kakko told Finnish press this past season, about playing for Quinn’s replacement in New York, Gerard Gallant: “The first mistake does not immediately put you on the fourth line.”
“[It wasn’t] your typical situation with the Rangers,” Grier elaborated. “A lot of the kids who get drafted at first or second-overall picks, they’re going to really bad teams. They got dropped into situations with Panarin, Kreider, and Zibanejad.
“Their ice time and power play stuff, all that had to be earned. They weren’t given first-line opportunities like a lot of kids who are first or second-overall picks.
“I think David did a really good job handling that and keeping everyone accountable and keeping his dressing room intact. If he just started giving Kakko and Lafrenière first-line shifts and power play shifts without earning it, the Kreiders and Zibanejads of the world would not have been happy with it.
“I think he handled the situation with the young players as well as he could.”
Grier added later: “I think we all know New York is not an easy place to coach and play in. It’s a great sports town, but the standards and demands from the fans and media are pretty high.”
For his part, the new San Jose Sharks bench boss noted, “I think if you want people to be better, you’re going to be demanding but fair.
“To me, if we’re doing our job, you have to be demanding. This isn’t easy. This isn’t an easy sport. I kind of jokingly saying, at the end of the day, coaches are human nature fighters. You’re going to ask people to fight human nature.
“When you get 18 or 19-year-old players, they are set in their ways. And the things they have done to get to the point where they’re at, aren’t going to necessarily be the things they’re going to be able to continue to have success. It’s our job as coaches to let them realize that.
“Sometimes it can be a little bit shocking when you’re asking them to do things they’ve never been asked to do before.”
Another hot topic from Quinn’s tenure in New York? The perception that he and Rangers veterans weren’t on the same page by their last season together in 2020-21.
Grier confronted those perceptions straight on, pointing out that Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad enjoyed career years under Quinn. Meanwhile, Adam Fox isn’t a veteran, but he won the Norris Trophy under Quinn. Grier noted that the Rangers have some big personalities in their room, just like the Sharks.
“Bread [Panarin] is not an easy guy to deal with in New York, and Mika [Zibanejad] and Foxy [Adam Fox], those guys are very good players, but they all have their quirks and personality to them that he had to deal with,” Grier shared. “That’s something that definitely factored in [to the Sharks hiring Quinn], that he’s had that experience, that he knows what it takes to deal with those type of talented, but maybe sometimes difficult, players.”
Grier would know. He was a Rangers advisor in 2021-22, and spoke with GM and close friend Chris Drury, among others, about Quinn’s Big Apple run. And even though Drury was the one who fired Quinn, Drury had nothing but good things to say about him to Grier.
Quinn perhaps alluded to his relationship with Rangers vets here: “Coaches are always trying to get better, so one of the things that you’ll learn is managing personalities — when to stay on top of people, when to back off. I think every coach goes through that in this league — any league, any level.
“To me, the No. 1 responsibility I have as a coach here is managing our players and putting them in a position to have the most success they possibly can, making them the best players they can possibly be. I think you’re always trying to find that balance as a coach — sometimes you have to be hard on them, sometimes you lay off of them.”
“Whether you’re an 18-year-old kid in the league or you’re a 35-year-old, accountability is for everyone,” Grier said. “When you’re in the dressing room as a player, you know if someone’s not being held to the same standard as everyone else. Like he said, he’s demanding, but fair.”
What it boils down to? Grier thinks that Quinn did a good job in New York and will do a great job with the San Jose Sharks.
“I think guys are always, for the most part, better in their second job,” he offered. “I think he’s a better coach for that Rangers experience.”
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