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Lindros gets his due regarding the Hall of Fame, but I’m happiest for ex-Leaf coach Pat Quinn…

Eric Lindros was one of those players that most fans either loved or hated.  But regardless of one’s feelings about “The Big E” during his playing career, everyone who saw him play surely agrees that he was an absolutely dominating NHL player when he was healthy and in his prime.

He had size, speed, and strength. He was supremely skilled but also mean enough to keep the opposition on their toes.  From a Leaf perspective, he arrived on the scene here a little too late in his career to have the kind of impact we all would have liked to see. But that doesn’t diminish how good he was.

That he has now earned induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is no doubt deserved, though I’m sure it will be debated, like many Hall selections.

I always liked Rogie Vachon and am pleased to see that he made it.  I don’t have a strong view about Makarov, though he was a wonderful player. (With regard to great Russian players, I still wish Alexander Yakushev was in the Hall of Fame, because he was, for me, the finest all-around player for the Russian national team in the 1970s…)

The selection, though, that made me happiest was that of the late Pat Quinn.  Some VLM readers will know that I was fortunate to have a professional and personal relationship with Pat for many years. I am proud to have known him.

I don’t often listen to radio and TV commentators any more, because sports talking heads too often annoy me, no matter how popular they may or may not be.  When I happened to channel hop today and heard a well-known Toronto-based radio host suggest that Pat’s coaching record was not strong enough to be in the Hall, I was not shocked or surprised. I know some members of the Toronto media had a bias against Pat, and they made that clear over the years.

That was their loss.

Critics will point to the fact that Pat's teams never won a Stanley Cup.  Well, there are all kinds of deserving Hall of Famers who have never won a Cup, and Quinn is now one of them.

Why should Pat be in the Hall of Fame?  It's important to keep in mind that this is not just the NHL Hall of Fame- it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame. That he coached in the NHL for 20 seasons is something in itself. That he is still among the winningest coaches in NHL history is an achievement, for sure, though far from the only reason he deserved consideration.

He twice led his teams (the Flyers and Canucks) to the Cup finals. One was a tough 6-game loss to the emerging Islander dynasty back in 1979-‘80.  A missed offside call hurt the Flyers badly late in that series—which is not an excuse, simply one more example that “success” in sports is often a matter of an inch or two here or there, or something beyond a player or coach’s control. Being on the other end of a tough break or a missed call doesn’t make a coach or player less of a “winner”.

The other final appearance was the tremendous series in 1994 between Quinn's Canucks and the Rangers, a 7-game series for the ages.

When Hockey Canada—and specifically Wayne Gretzky—were looking to find just the right coach to lead Canada at the 2002 Olympics in the United States, Pat was their choice. It made sense, because Gretzky had often referred to Pat as “the best bench coach in the NHL”. Pat’s critics would often say he was too loyal, didn’t emphasize the “x’s” and “o’s”, didn’t like to play young players, wouldn’t like to match lines, etc.

The truth?  Pat knew the “x’s and o’s” inside and out. He was indeed an extremely loyal individual. He played all kinds of young players at various points in his coaching career (example- his first year with the Leafs, in 1998-'99, when he played three rookie defensemen regularly). He was a hell of a bench coach, but I think it’s fair to see he did not, for example, love the “trap”.

Bottom line? One of the best players in the history of the game could have picked any coach in hockey to lead Team Canada in 2002, and his choice was Quinn. That was a far more important “opinion” about Pat’s ability, in my view, than those views influenced by the inaccurate narrative weaved for so long by Pat’s critics.

When Pat (shown at left in his playing days with the Leafs, being pursued by Hab great Jean Beliveau in a great old Harold Barkley photo) first worked under Fred Shero with the Flyers in the late 1970s and eventually became their head coach, he was widely regarded as one of the most innovative minds in the game.  He never stopped learning over the years, and he mixed his teaching ability with a wisdom acquired through life experience to become an outstanding leader of men.

Did all his players like him?  As with certain members of the media, there may well have been some players who didn’t cotton to Pat’s approach.  But he aimed to infuse his players with confidence, to “let them play” while still focusing on structure and their defensive requirements.

His teams played winning, exciting hockey.  That worked for me—and for fans. And his teams were usually tough, and tough to play against. When Ken Hitchcock’s Flyers got past the Leafs in a couple of playoff series in the early 2000s, Hitchcock acknowledged afterwards that the Flyers had nothing left in their next series' after facing the rugged Leafs.

People point to the Olympic Gold medal as a claim to fame for Quinn and to a certain extent, it was. I know it was a proud achievement for Pat.  

But that was far from his only international triumph representing the country he loved.  He led Canada to the 2004 World Cup of hockey championship.  He then led the Canadian Juniors to a World title in January of 2009. Just prior to that, Pat coached Canada’s U18 squad to a World championship in Russia in the spring of 2008.

An Olympic Gold medal.  A World Cup.  A World Junior title. And, a U18 world championship. To my knowledge, no other coach in the history of the game has accomplished that.

And Quinn doesn't have the coaching record to be in the Hall of Fame?  C’mon.

The above doesn’t even take into consideration the positive impact he had on so many players and people he influenced along the way, and the long, long list of individuals whose careers in management he launched.

Pat was widely respected by thoughtful hockey people—full stop. He was admired for his forthrightness, for his innovation, for his devotion to the betterment of the game and for being a “player’s coach” who was nonetheless demanding. 

The best hockey “run” we have seen in these parts since the brief 1993/’94 Doug Gilmour era was with Quinn behind the bench—and for a number of those years, as the team’s General Manager as well. From 1999 to the spring of 2004, every year the Leafs were a highly competitive team that were also a serious Cup contender.  Each playoff series with Quinn at the helm in Toronto was (if you couldn’t be in the building) must-watch television. The games were so intense, so dramatic. The wins were exhilarating; the losses heartbreaking.

Yes, there was no cap at the time, but other teams like the Rangers spent plenty of money and were awful.  The Leafs under Quinn were very, very good.  There were painfully close to making it to the finals in 2002.

I always respect thoughtful views on such matters, and others may see things differently.  But for me, Quinn was and is a no-doubt Hall-of Famer. He was the very epitome of a great “builder” of the game of hockey.

I remember what John Davidson, the longtime NHL goalie, commentator and now team executive (himself a widely respected individual) said when he reflected on the death of Quinn in the fall of 2014. Said John, and I think I recall this quote fairly accurately, “When Pat walked through the doors, hockey walked into the room.”

After the announcement, I was so happy for Pat’s wife Sandra, Pat’s two daughters and he and Sandra’s grandchildren. I only wish Pat were here to be able to celebrate the announcement in person. But thankfully, I sense (and believe) he knows about the announcement now, too.

Well done, Pat.


  1. It was great that the call from the Hall of Fame was actually through Lanny McDonald and it was very moving to hear the reaction of Sandra. It was clear that it was overwhelming for her, yet I suspect, more than anything, she would have loved to share the moment with the big Irishman.

    I fully agree that he is most deserving of a place in the Hall and I, too, loved the exciting brand of hockey that he facilitated for our enjoyment.

  2. It was a pleasant surprise to see Pat Quinn in the news once more and for such a happy reason. A lovely post, Michael. Thankyou.