Adam Kirshenblatt: Remembering Pat Quinn

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Today it was announced that Pat Quinn had passed away in a Vancouver hospital at the age of 71. I had a small inkling something was up when he wasn’t able to do his duties as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Induction Ceremony last week. First James Duthie of TSN announced that he wasn’t there due to illness and then Gary Bettman in his speech put him in the same category as Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau as those being too sick to make it.

I had asked around but the only impression that was given to me was it was just the flu. So today’s news is quite a shock.

In the upcoming days we are going to see countless biographies on Mr. Quinn in his career on and off the ice. I don’t need to recount that today as I did that when I made his case to be inducted into the Hall of Fame last March. Everyone will also be talking about the memories of him as he was one of the most respected people in the NHL who has trained much of the people who are running the NHL and its member clubs today.

One of the things that disappoints me is that I never got to know Pat personally. He took the job at the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, but our paths never really crossed. The memories that I have of Quinn come mostly as a fan and his time with the Maple Leafs. What people don’t realize about me is that I grew up as a basketball and Raptor fan. When I started to follow sport religiously it coincided with the Raptors inception in 1995. It wasn’t until 1998 when I started to follow the Leafs religiously, right before Quinn took over the reins of coach from Mike Murphy.

Prior to this, the Leafs were a middling team. They were either barely in the playoffs or missed it completely. There were still old parts from the teams that made the conference finals in 1993 and 1994, but it was not a core that could be strong enough to win. When Quinn came in, that all changed. He along with Curtis Joseph joined the team that season when they moved from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, and all of a sudden the team were contenders. The Leafs beat the Philadelphia Flyers for the first and only time in team history in the 1st round, Gary Valk had his heroics in overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, but then fell to Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres in the Conference Finals.

Quinn making his point behind the bench

The difference in this Leaf team from years past was that it was the sense that this was just the beginning of a stretch of prosperity for the team for the first time since the days of Sittler, McDonald, and Salming. The Leafs made the playoff six years in a row before the 2005 Lockout interrupted that streak. During those 6 years, the Leafs would be a 100 point team 3 times which is the first times in franchise history that they have reached that century mark. More importantly, unlike the era in the early 90s, the Leafs were considered to be a powerhouse in the East. It wasn’t completely out of the question for fans to think “this is the year” at the start of every season Quinn was in charge.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason why the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win. The Leafs ran into “Cinderella Teams” in 1999 and 2002 with the Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes in the two Eastern Conference finals the Leafs made it to. In the other years, the Leafs either faltered to the powerhouses of the New Jersey Devils or the Philadelphia Flyers. This stretch in Leaf history was also right in apex of the Trap Era. While Quinn insisted on having entertaining hockey teams, the New Jersey Devils drew their strength from a defensive style. Sadly for Quinn, the Devils would end the Leafs’ season in 2000 and 2001 where shots on goal were hard to come by. The Flyers were a very similar team to the Leafs, in which they were considered to be contenders every year but never able to get to the “Promised Land”. The two teams had quite the rivalry as both were considered to be big, tough teams. However in both 2003 and 2004 the Flyers knocked them out of the playoffs despite the Leafs having their strongest teams of that particular stretch. The 2003 knockout by the Flyers would also be the only time Quinn’s Leafs would be knocked out in the 1st round.

I remember thinking after Jeremy Roenick of the Flyers gave the Leafs a finishing blow in Game 6 of the first round matchup between the two clubs that, “It was going to be a long time before the Leafs make the playoffs again.” I was proved to be right there, after the 2005 Lockout, the team being run by GM John Ferguson Jr. did not make the appropriate adjustments to retool an aging team. This led to the Leafs missing the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons. The axe fell on Quinn where it could be argued that it wasn’t his fault. In the minds of the media, fans, ownership, etc. the team had not won the Stanley Cup in that stretch and Quinn, being the longest serving executive, at the time was considered to be an area that needed to be changed. Since then, due to lack of consistency by management, the team has only made the playoffs once in the last ten years. This gives you and impression of how much Quinn’s leadership off the ice really helped things.

The other thing that is disappointing to me is that like Pat Burns, Mr. Quinn won’t be around if he were ever to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There is no one to blame here as this was quite unexpected. It also would have been a hard thing to do before he passed as before he was Chairman of the Board of Directors for the HHOF, he was the Chair of the HHOF’s Selection Committee. This makes it impossible for them to select him to be inducted. When he left the Leafs in 2006, he was the active wins leader in the NHL with 657 wins. Now he is 4th all-time in coaching wins with 684. To go along with his accomplishments in the NHL, he won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year twice in 1980 with the Flyers and 1992 with the Canucks. As well he was the coach of the NHL’s longest unbeaten streak holders with 35 game streak (25-0-10) He never did win Hockey’s Holy Grail (the Stanley Cup), but he won in every international position imaginable where he has an Olympic Gold (2002), a World Cup (2004), U18 World Championships Gold (2008), U20 World Championships Gold (2009). He won the Memorial Cup both as a player with the Edmonton Oil Kings (1963) and as an Owner with the Vancouver Giants (2007).

We are all still completely shocked of this news today. Pat from all accounts was in the same boat as Gordie Howe…. Great Hockey Mind, Better Person. His legacy in Hockey lives on through the lives that he touched and the executives that he’s trained such as Brian Burke and by extension, Dave Nonis. As for the Hall of Fame, my guess is that Vice-Chairman, Jim Gregory, will take over Mr. Quinn’s role as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the time being. You can also see the press release from the Hockey Hall of Fame here. All of that put aside, no one will deny that Pat Quinn will be sorely missed.

You can get in contact with me at adam.kirshenblatt@hockeybuzz.com or follow me on Twitter @Kirshenblatt.

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