Quinn's firing over politics, not bad coaching

Updated: April 21, 2006, 4:10 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

There is nothing like the exciting backdrop of the Stanley Cup playoffs to highlight the shortcomings of coaches and general managers whose teams are wearing jerseys that read "gone fishin'."

And so it was that the firing of Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn on Thursday came as little surprise.

He follows former Los Angeles Kings GM Dave Taylor off the ledge in the hours that have passed since the end of the regular season Tuesday night. More will follow.

Pat Quinn
APThere weren't many happy moments between Pat Quinn, left, and GM John Ferguson.

But out of all of them, the Quinn firing will rank as the most distasteful and shameful on a number of fronts.

This is not to suggest that Quinn, who guided the Leafs to the playoffs in the first six seasons he coached them, should not shoulder blame for the problems this team endured this season. All coaches share in the blame for losing, just as they bask in the glow of success. Indeed, it's an axiom of the profession that coaches enjoy too much credit for wins and endure too much blame for losses, and Quinn is no different.

The knock against Quinn was that he relied too much on his veterans and was loath to put young players in prominent positions. Part of that is true, although he did, during the team's surprising stretch run, make excellent use of players such as Kyle Wellwood, Alexander Steen and Matt Stajan.

And he is stubborn. Although the Leafs were among the league's poorest shootout teams, he rarely diverged from sending Darcy Tucker, Mats Sundin and Alexei Ponikarovsky over the boards. But those are minor quibbles.

In his years in Toronto, Quinn rarely, if ever, called a player out in public. He was unflinchingly loyal to his cast, even if it was a cast that was often overpaid and underachieving. He is first and last a player's coach and often got better results than his lineup deserved.

But here's the rub.

Quinn wasn't fired because of his coaching, but because of his politics. And that's what will always make the job of coaching and/or managing the Leafs one of the worst in the NHL.

Quinn, fourth all-time among NHL coaches in terms of wins with 657, will almost certainly find a place behind the bench of a team of his choosing if that's what he wants.

Vancouver and Los Angeles would be interesting destinations.

Wherever Quinn goes, with the possible exception of the black holes in Pittsburgh and Long Island, he will certainly find a better environment than the cesspool he exits in Toronto.

To describe the byzantine goings-on in the hallowed halls of the Air Canada Centre would stretch even the limits of cyberspace. Quinn politicked his way into the dual roles of coach and GM shortly after his arrival in Toronto, and then was later out-politicked when John Ferguson Jr. was hired in August 2003. Now, a la any good Roman tragedy, Quinn has been put to the knife by the GM he didn't want, support or communicate with.

Six straight trips to the postseason (before failing to earn a berth this spring), two trips to the conference finals, a lineup that had more holes than the netting in your average goal, and don't let the door hit you on your big Irish keister on the way out, Mr. Quinn.

The move now means any and all safety nets have been removed from beneath Ferguson's high-wire perch.

The novice GM mishandled a host of moves leading up to this season, not the least of which was re-signing netminder Ed Belfour to a ridiculously expensive contract that left Ferguson unable to sign other helpful players. There was the signing of Alexander Khavanov, who was a nonfactor, and the addition of the cancerous Jason Allison and the grief-stricken Jeff O'Neill. The decision not to buy out marginal players Aki Berg and Wade Belak also hurt the team. There was also the curious decision at the trade deadline to neither improve the team for a playoff push nor move veterans in the hopes of shoring up the team's woeful farm system.

Ferguson's next move will be hiring Quinn's replacement. The clock has already begun ticking on Ferguson, his future in Toronto and indeed, his future as an NHL GM.

The early favorite for the job would appear to be Paul Maurice, the former Carolina bench boss who took the Hurricanes to the 2002 Cup finals, defeating Quinn and the Leafs in the conference finals to get there. Maurice, smart and thoughtful and now with good insight into the Leafs' young players after having spent the season with their AHL squad, may be the right choice.

Whomever it turns out to be, Ferguson had better be right. Because his last excuse just walked out the door.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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