After his success with the Canadian World Junior team, Pat Quinn has suddenly become a hot commodity in NHL circles again. To hear some pundits, it’s only a matter of time before the soon-to-be 66-year-old Irishman is back barking at referees from behind an NHL bench.
That may very well be true, but unless the team that hires Quinn surrounds him with quality NHL assistants who have a strong foundation in fundamentals and the technical side of the game, they will be wasting Quinn’s talents and will head for continued disaster.
There is little doubt Quinn is a quality coach. In fact, his recent gold medal for Canada at the WJC has probably cemented his future induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. (Plea to the Hall: Just for kicks, please don’t do it while Quinn is still a member of the Hall’s selection committee. Know it’s asking a lot, but…)
There is no doubt Quinn has a certain magic behind the bench and is able to extract the most from his players. Quinn often projects a gruff exterior image, but the fact of the matter is he cares deeply about each player on his roster - from the superstar to the spare part on the fourth line - and desperately wants all of them to succeed.
But while Quinn can often speak about the intricacies of the game in an engaging manner for hours on end, the truth of the matter is he is not a strong technical coach. His practices are rudimentary – when he coached the Toronto Maple Leafs, his workouts often consisted of five or six players doing a drill with the other 15 leaning on their sticks.
He generally doesn’t match lines much and his choice of personnel often leaves one scratching one’s head. A perfect example came in the final minute of overtime in the semifinal against Russia when Patrice Cormier and Evander Kane were on the ice for a long stretch, while John Tavares and Jordan Eberle sat on the bench.
The real question is: how much actual coaching did Quinn do with the under-20 team and, for that matter, the Canadian Olympic team in 2002? In both cases he had strong assistant coaches who did much of the heavy lifting, while Quinn provided a steady hand at the wheel.
And that’s the way it would have to be at the NHL level. Even though Quinn has been out of the game for almost three years, you can bet he hasn’t spent his time poring over NHL rosters and watching the tendencies of players. That’s not his style, never has been, even when he was a GM in the league. The fact is, Quinn doesn’t know the league well enough and will need assistants who do.
That’s why if Pittsburgh does indeed find itself looking for a new coach in the coming weeks, that might be the best fit for Quinn, a man whose coaching style is to treat his players like men and allow them to work their way out of difficult situations. The Penguins roster suggests they have the personnel to do just that and perhaps need someone behind the bench whom they know believes in them and will not punish them with diminished ice time.
The case is different in Ottawa, where Craig Hartsburg seems to have been unable to change the culture of a dressing room rife with a sense of entitlement and a country club atmosphere. In Edmonton, it’s a young team that probably needs the kind of structure Quinn might not be able to provide.
Wherever Quinn ends up, it will be incumbent upon the GM to go out and hire quality assistant coaches for Quinn who can provide the help he needs. Allowing Quinn to make those hires would likely just end in Rick Ley finding work again at the NHL level, and ultimately not give Quinn the kind of assistants he needs to be successful.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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