Which Quinn will Leafs get?

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The Maple Leafs were facing a dilemma. Because of contractual stipulations, they had to sign their coach or lose him, even though there is no indication that his services will be needed in the foreseeable future.

So they've basically agreed to terms, even if they're refusing to confirm a done deal yet.

For this, everyone in the Toronto media owes the Leafs a vote of thanks. Finally, for the first time in four months, a chance to discuss hockey rather than labour negotiations.

The man in question, Pat Quinn, has come in for his share of criticism during his tenure in Toronto. His supporters insist that he took over a dull team and has made the playoffs ever since.

But his detractors say that with the talent available to him, he should have done a lot more. He should have won the Stanley Cup.

At that point, his supporters then bring up the issue of his two Team Canada victories, one in the 2002 Olympics, the other in the 2004 World Cup.

This is a valid point, but it has very little to do with the Maple Leafs. The team hired him to win a Cup, not medals.

There's no doubt that Quinn was once an excellent coach. But in recent years, he moved away from the style that made him so successful. He didn't keep pace with the latest developments in the game and he didn't devote as much time to his duties as he once did.

Even in the 2002 Olympics, the lion's share of the coaching duties were handled by his assistants, and the players offered up a number of entertaining stories concerning Quinn's laissez-faire approach to the game.

But there were no such stories after the 2004 World Cup. Players who had been on both teams said that they had seen a totally different Quinn.

This one was right in the thick of the action. He was developing the strategies, making the key decisions and implementing them.

There was absolute shock in the press box when long-time denizens saw something they had never seen in the history of the Air Canada Centre. The home-team coach was matching lines.

As coach of the Leafs, Quinn had always said that he had faith in all his players and didn't need to match lines, an attitude that delighted opposing coaches. They could come in with inferior teams and still make life difficult for the Toronto players.

But with the demand of Canadian fans being nothing less than a gold medal, Quinn stepped up his game and gave the players the kind of coaching they needed and deserved.

So the question for the Leafs and their fans -- assuming that hockey returns before Quinn's two-year contract expires -- is this: which Quinn are they getting?

Unfortunately, they're not getting the one who has Jacques Martin and Ken Hitchcock as assistants. He'll presumably have Keith Acton, which is fine, and Rick Ley, which isn't.

If Ley contributes anything worthwhile to the team, the players have yet to figure out what it is.

FINE SHAPE

But even so, if Quinn coaches up to the level that he exhibited in his earlier days -- or his most recent days -- the Leafs will be in fine shape.

When all these labour battles eventually get resolved, the league will be in a virtual state of chaos. A senior coach like Quinn who has been through all the wars and survived all kinds of turmoil will be a definite advantage.

Like all coaches, he will have had some time off and will be able to return refreshed, but as the oldest coach in the game, he'll probably get more benefit from that rest than most.

For these reasons, the Leafs appear to have made the right move. Then again, maybe they haven't.

If only there were a way to find out.


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