Every once in a while I read something on Twitter that triggers a reaction. On this occasion, it was a conversation about Pat Quinn (and his long-time assistant coach in Vancouver and Toronto, Rick Ley).
Those providing the commentary were highly critical of Ley as a coach, claiming, for example, that he did nothing to help the Leaf defense improve in his years in Toronto (the assessment was actually much harsher than that), while Quinn was, essentially, tremendously over-rated, a guy who rode his coaching success on the back of great goaltending in Toronto (i.e. Joseph and Belfour).
Interesting comments, I guess. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, informed or otherwise, especially on Twitter. I'm sure I say things here and on Twitter all the time that people think is completely off base. I get that. But since I happen to have a personal fondness for both Quinn and Ley (and because the views shown above, in my opinion, are so terribly off base) I will use this modest forum to share my own view on two men who helped shape the Leaf team we all care about in the years between 1998 and 2006.
Let’s start with Rick Ley. As a player (he played for the blue and white in the early ‘70s, and had his number retired after a fine career with the Hartford Whalers), the current Leafs can only wish they had someone as passionate or tough as Rickey Ley was in his playing days. I was around in those days. I know people who played with and against him. I know what I saw—and what I’ve been told about Rick Ley. He played through injuries and combined skill and toughness- and leadership.
As a coach? In the time that he was in charge of the Leaf defensemen, he helped develop a trio of young, raw, rookie defensemen in 1998-’99. That Leaf team went to the “final four”. Not bad.
In his tenure (with Quinn as Head Coach, who was obviously also hugely instrumental in the development of various young players), Bryan McCabe, who had floundered at every previous NHL stop, became an end-of-season All-Star. Not the kind of "All-Star" who plays in the mid-year All-Star game that seemingly everyone makes at some point. Rather, the previously unheralded McCabe became a true “All-Star”, voted as one of the four best defensemen in hockey. McCabe was also, if I remember correctly, a selection for the 2004 World Cup Canadian team. That's called developing a player.
Others, like Dmitry Yushkevich and Danny Markov, also both young, raw defensemen, developed tremendously in Toronto. They, like Ley in his NHL/WHA career, played with uncommon guts, and were heart and soul hockey warriors.
It was popular in some media circles in those Vancouver and Toronto years to criticize Ley’s tenure as an NHL coach. I can’t proclaim that he was the best coach in the NHL in his time as the top guy in Hartford and Vancouver. He had some success in those markets as a head man, but he was certainly a more than capable NHL assistant coach. To claim otherwise, based on the media “experts” of the day (who favour sophisticated, media-friendly, smooth-talking types) is, to me, a shame- and unfair.
I could add much more to “defend” Ley, but I’ll stop here for today.
On to Quinn. Now, I’m sure the “fans” who think little of Quinn’s time in Edmonton (has anyone looked at the roster he was given the one year he was there? Does anyone remember that their big off-season upgrade was signing a broken down Mike Comrie? How have the Oilers done since? I see that Renney is gone, too...must be the coaching) may not know that he was not able to hire his own assistant coaches. Based on the NHL coaches I personally have worked with professionally over the years, I know that is almost always a recipe for disaster.
As for his success being achieved on the backs of great goaltenders, well, I’m trying to think of Cup-winning coaches who had lousy goaltenders. Scotty Bowman surely wasn’t successful, in large part, because Ken Dryden was his goaltender in Montreal throughout the 1970s, eh? Al Arbour was not helped at all by Billy Smith being the best goalie in the world while the Islanders won the championship four years in a row. Glen Sather had the world’s best line-up— and someone named Fuhr in goal—as he made the Hall-of-Fame. (He sure could not have made it based on his body of work with the Rangers the past decade…)
The various individuals that have coached the Devils surely would have won all those Cups without Msrtin Brodeur, right?
I could go on. Great goaltending makes every NHL coach - Quinn and everyone else - much, much “smarter” and way more successful than he otherwise might be.
But rather than listening to fans like myself, or those I happen upon on Twitter every once in a while, when it comes to “judging” how good an NHL coach is, I’d rather rely on, say, one of the best players of all time, Wayne Gretzky. It was Gretzky who has said many, many times that the best bench coach in hockey was….Pat Quinn.
Maybe Gretzky, who played against (and coached against) Quinn-coached teams for about 15 years, knows more than the rest of us when it comes to whether Quinn was a “good” coach or not.
I’m trying to remember who (out of all the best hockey minds in Canada) it was that Gretzky hand-picked to be Head coach of Team Canada for the Olympics in 2002 and 2006. Oh, right, it was Pat Quinn.
Of course, Quinn critics say that his great assistant coaches were the real reason for the success of the winning Olympic team in 2002, but it was Quinn’s “failure” in 2006 (same assistants that time, in Italy. I guess they all got dumber…).
It’s funny, eh, how we choose to form our opinions and what we base them on.
Not a good coach? Hell, how Pat Quinn is not in the Hall of Fame is beyond me. He won a Memorial Cup as a player a gazillion years ago, and he has also won a Memorial Cup as a a team owner. But I’m not talking about his being in the HOF as a player, despite a relatively successful, if modest, NHL playing career as a long-time team captain.
But as a builder? How many guys (not already in the Hall-of-Fame) have coached two different teams to the NHL finals and have coached an Olympic Gold-medal winner (Canada, 2002), a World Cup championship (Canada, 2004), the World Junior championship 2007 and the U18 World Championships in 2008. (I need to double check the precise years of those last two achievements…)
And I must add that he was often criticized for not been able to work with young players, yet his clear success with the Canadian junior team and the U18 squad is there for all to see. Two opportunities, two world championships.
Facts. I'm simply providing the facts.
Ah, but he did a lousy job with a truly awful Edmonton team (did anyone see the goaltending numbers that year, and the roster Tambellini built for him?) a few years ago.
Edmonton didn’t work, so let’s erase all that other stuff. Really?
I could say so much more, but again, as with Rick Ley above, I won’t bother. Except to say that, from a Maple Leaf perspective, what many fans now see as acceptable under Brian Burke, would have seen Quinn, metaphorically speaking, driven out of town on a rail in Toronto. Quinn coached and/or managed the Leafs to two "final four" appearances, and came achingly close to making the finals in 2002. He coached teams that, most years in that era, produced against-the-grain, exciting, up-tempo hockey. He built squads that, in the end, were not, in truth, quite good enough. But they played meaningful hockey in the springtime, while winning an awful lot of playoff series. Those teams were usually tough, gritty, skilled (and actually built from the back end...)—and simply could not quite close the deal against some very strong Flyer and Devil teams.
Quinn didn’t win a Cup here, but who has in this market in the last 45 years? He sure never had the benefit of a top-5 draft pick in his time here, that's for sure. (Of course, yo've got to be pretty, well, crappy, to have two top-5 picks within four years of one another, and a third opportunity when you traded your top-5 pick away pick away....)
Every once in a while, like many of you, I need to get something off my chest. This was it today.
And, while I always say, hey, share your opinions, whether we agree or disagree, today, I turn off that tap. Don’t bother sending negative comments about Quinn. They won’t appear here. They seem to get said plenty elsewhere—so there’s lot of other places to share misinformed views.
I’ll stick with Gretzky on this one. He knows a lot more than me—and a ton more than those who think Quinn was not a tremendous NHL coach.