The $500,000 question

If the NHL lockout goes a full year, Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn might be out of a job. (File Photo)

If the NHL lockout goes a full year, Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn might be out of a job. (File Photo)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

As the National Hockey League lockout threatens the 2004-05 season, it would also swallow the last year of Pat Quinn's contract with the Maple Leafs.

But has the soon-to-be 62-year-old coached his last game in Toronto? General manager John Ferguson would not delve into Quinn's status beyond this season in an interview last night after returning from nine days of scouting in Europe. Specifically, Ferguson was asked about last week's story on Roger's Sportsnet that the Leafs must pay Quinn $500,000 US if they do not extend his deal by Jan. 15, 2005.

"I will not comment on anything relating to contracts," Ferguson said. "(Quinn's status) next year is a fair question, but I will stick with the first answer, no comment."

Quinn couldn't be reached, but he has expressed a desire to remain, often joking with the press last year "what else would I do with my time?"

But he also does his homework when it comes to protecting his interests amidst the shifting power base inside Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. He's making an estimated $1.6 million in the last year of the deal he signed with former chairman Steve Stavro when he was general manager and coach. When he agreed to drop his veto on selecting the new GM in the summer of 2003, which turned out to be Ferguson, it's believed the price was a guaranteed contract for 2004-05, an astute move with all NHL franchises now in a state of flux.

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. president Richard Peddie would presumably have knowledge of a six-figure settlement for Quinn, but directed the question on the Sportsnet story to Ferguson.

Quinn may or may not have ultimately challenged Ferguson's appointment if he'd kept a veto, but the latter was supportive of Quinn during last year's early season slump and the two have so far worked productively. Ferguson described their relationship last night as "strong ... in all ways".

Ferguson likely has younger coaching candidates in mind down the road, but like all GMs, he's hamstrung this season and the Quinn issue could become moot if the lockout kills the start of 2005-06 as well.

Winger Tie Domi hoped Quinn was retained. Quinn has been coach of the Leafs since 1998-99 and has never had a losing season.

PLAYERS BEHIND COACH

"With what he's accomplished, it shouldn't even be an issue," Domi said. "Mats (Sundin) and I have been here the longest with him and we really respect him a lot."

Ferguson described his European trip through tournaments in Finland, Germany and Sweden as very productive, affording him the chance to see such high draft picks as Roman Kukumberg (113th overall in 2004), Dmitri Vorobiev (157th in 2004), Markus Seikola (209th in 2000) and the 6-foot-4 Swede Staffan Kronvall (285th in 2002). Due to weather problems in the Stockholm area, he missed seeing 2002's top pick, Alexander Steen.

Ferguson will be attending NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's Dec. 2 dinner in New York to update GMs on the lockout.

It's believed Bettman will address the fate of the season in some way, as the likely date to scrap the year approaches next month.

"I don't know what kind of information will be available, but it's a good time for GMs to bounce ideas off each other," Ferguson said.


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