Pat Quinn was a rugged old-style defenseman with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1960s and later, an articulate, colorful and successful coach with the blue and white between 1998 and 2005.
As a player, he went on to perform for the Vancouver Canucks in their first year of expansion (1970-’71) and was a mainstay of the early Atlanta Flames teams in the 1970s. He eventually became
’s team captain and player rep, until an off-ice injury ended his career somewhat prematurely. Atlanta
It’s fair to say his playing career was successful but modest in terms of accomplishments. He played about 600 NHL games as the classic stay-at-home, defensive defenseman, tough in front of his own net. He was famous for his open ice hit in Boston on Bobby Orr in the playoffs in the spring of 1969, but well beyond that, he was just a tough, hard-nosed player, who had his best years in
That said, I wouldn’t for a second suggest Quinn merits consideration for the Hall based on his playing accomplishments. But as a coach, well, that’s another argument.
Because I’ve had a personal relationship with Pat dating back a number of years (as an aside, check out the audio interview we did a few months back by clicking here), I guess I can be accused of bias. But his results are there for everyone to see and his stature as a coach seems to me to make him a slam dunk when it comes to being worthy of election to the Hall-of-Fame as a builder- yet he has never been nominated.
What’s so special about Quinn’s coaching career? If you know hockey dating back to the early ‘80s, he was known as an innovator. He was a very young coach (not as young as Gary Green was, but very young). He had worked under Fred Shero in Philly before assuming the top job himself. (It’s ironic that, as he got older, he was dismissed as “not an ‘x’s and ‘o’s’ guy”, yet he was one of the real teachers of the game in those days. He was a disciplinarian but still a "player's coach, who always liked his teams to be creative and offense-oriented.)
In his first year as Head coach with the Flyers (1979-'80), he had a lot of young, no-name defensemen and he nonetheless led the team to the Cup finals. Philly lost to the Islanders in 6 games, largely because of a Islander goal that was so offside it wasn’t even close. It was a missed call, those things happen, but it cost the Flyers huge.
Quinn did a good job in building the LA Kings during his time there but left to take a promotion (a management job) with the Canucks. There, he rebuilt the organization from the ground up and eventually coached them to a fair bit of playoff success, including reaching the finals in 1994, only to lose to the Rangers in 7 games in New York.
, he twice took teams to the “final four”, but couldn’t get further. He took over a team in 1998-'99 that had been seen as a no-talent squad the year before, and combined with a newly-signed Curtis Joseph in goal, let his players play and they responded with an oustanding season. Cujo aside, it was virtually the same squad as the season before, but Quinn played a system that allowed the forwards, in particular, to use their talents. Toronto
In 2002, I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking the Leafs were going to the finals. For reasons I still can't quite figure out, the Hurricanes upset them (the Leafs lost in overtime in Game 6; Mogilny threw the puck away in his own zone- oh well...).
The next two seasons the Leafs were stopped by the Flyers, though the series' were so hard on Philly that they had little left afterwards and were then ousted themselves.
So, despite never winning the Stanley Cup, which I acknowledge is a significant blank spot on a coach’s resume, Quinn's teams won close to 700 regular-season games, and almost another 100 in the playoffs.
But as or perhaps more importantly, his record in international hockey should not be ignored.
Hockey fans are well aware that he was
Canada’s coach when they won the Olympic Gold medial in 2002 in . His assistants have received a lot of credit, which I’m sure is deserved. But I've long felt that some of that was almost an anti-Quinn sentiment, coming from some media folks in Toronto who didn't like him, maybe because he didn't play the "media game" the way they wanted him to. In any event, some observers simply refused to acknowledge his role in the great success of that squad. Utah
Ironically, a few years later, after he had been fired by the Leafs and after all the write-ups about how he always relied on veterans and didn’t “like” young players, he accepted the job as (I think it was 2007, but I’ll have to check to be sure) coach of the Canadian U18 team that travelled to the World Championships to play in Russia. They won gold, waxing a strong Russian team in their own backyard in the championship game.
Then he took on the assignment as coach of the Canadian national junior team, and they won gold right here in
Canada in 2009, coming from behind in the semi-final game and then winning the gold-medal game in . Ottawa
He was only given one year in Edmonton, and ironically, the Oilers were even worse this year, with a much better and more dynamic young roster than Pat was saddled with in 2009-’10. Perhaps this perspective makes me an “apologist”, but that’s how I see it.
Interestingly, to this day Pat is a widely beloved guy in
. In Vancouver , a relatively small number of local media types managed to take enough (often petty, in my view) shots at him to make him appear somehow unsuccessful (we'd take that kind of lack of success now...) with the Leafs and un-responsive to the local media. Toronto
In fairness, and in fact, Pat over time really grew into the role of the daily face (along with Sundin on the player side) of the organization. He was thoughtful, funny, and could break down the game like few others and he did it daily for years.
When it was clear he was coaching his last game in Toronto at the end of the 2004-‘05 season, I believe he had earned a great deal of respect from the vast majority of the thoughtful media people who knew that he had brought a lot of class, wisdom and color - and success- to the franchise and to the daily media interaction in a tough media market. I'll always remember that, at the end of his last post-game meeting in the spring of 2005 with the local press, almost every one, to a person, waited to stop and shake hands with Pat before his exit that night. They knew he would be dismissed in the next day or so.
Whether some of the supposed lingering negative perceptions from his
years have impacted his being considered for the Hall, I don’t know. (Surely, given what has happened to the franchise since he stepped down as General Manager in the summer of 2003 should indicate to people that just maybe he did a pretty good job after all, in retrospect.) Toronto
He has hired and mentored some of the best people in hockey, including Toronto GM Brian Burke, Washington GM George McPhee and many, many others.
I’m just baffled that a guy who is what, fifth on the “All-time” list of coaches for wins in the NHL and who took two teams to the finals, coached three different teams (and three different age groups) to major international titles is not in the Hall.
There are guys who should be in, in the Hall's "builder" category. Pat Burns, for sure. Don Cherry, for his work on the broadcast side for the past 30 years, and others, to be sure.
But Quinn should be there, too.