Quinn's future the biggest question

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Pat Quinn stood at the podium last night, peering past the reporters and photographers and the television lights into the new day.

There wasn't much he could see.

Of eighteen years of coaching, he has missed the playoffs twice. So far, he doesn't like it.

"The hurt is still there," he said. "We have to make some plans going forward because this journey ended tonight and the next one starts tomorrow.

"My plan is to proceed as normal."

Problem is, normal may not be an option.

Sometime soon, perhaps by tomorrow, Quinn will face the same cameras and address the biggest question of this off-season.

Will he stay or will he go?

If he goes, he will have been pushed aside, and there is ample room for different reactions from inside the dressing room. Leaf captain Mats Sundin said being discarded after failure is standard in the business.

He was willing to lobby for the return of defenceman Bryan McCabe. Quinn's future is another matter.

"When that (missing the playoffs) happens a lot of time there are changes," Sundin said. "As players and coaches we all understand the rules of the game. We'll see what happens."

Quinn has been accused of keeping a crony instead of a coach in Rick Ley. He rolls four lines, thus limiting ice time for his stars. He sees value in players who cannot reciprocate and the list of least favourite Leafs for everyone but Quinn, from Dmitri Khristich to Jonas Hogland to Alexander Khavanov, would stretch around the block.

Some contend the Leafs are woefully underprepared and the mircomanagement that is standard in NHL dressing rooms is noticeably absent in Toronto.

That said, Eric Lindros, a Leaf for 33 games, loved him.

"Pat's an honest man. He's a good coach. He's a wonderful person to deal with, a real nice man."

For John Ferguson, the principle questions is one of stature: How do you fire Pat Quinn?

Did either man have a good year? Nope. Did one have a worse year than the other? Nope again.

What would be Ferguson's rationale to dodge blame: "I didn't know Jason Allison was slow or that Eric Lindros would get hurt or that Ed Belfour had a bad back?"

Was it Quinn's fault that 36-year old Tie Domi who could play a bit before, now can't?

If Ferguson couldn't foresee the imminent disasters, how could he figure Quinn would?

When Bob Gainey sacked Claude Julien in Montreal, he was a former Stanley Cup winner firing a guy who had never played in the league. When Dave Taylor whacked Andy Murray in Los Angeles, he put his reputation as a player and executive beside Murray's to justify the move. Same deal with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Craig Patrick firing Ed Olczyk.

The problem for Ferguson is that Quinn is the last of the Mastodons. How do you fire a legend? He is fourth in the league in games coached with 1,318. Only Dick Irvin, Al Arbour and Scotty Bowman trod the soggy spot behind the benches more often than Quinn.

Quinn not only owns more tenure than any other GM, he has more experience as a Leafs GM than Ferguson does.

Quinn would find work.

There is a list of cities: Boston, perhaps Vancouver, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, Long Island, New Jersey, St. Louis or Chicago where he could add to his win totals.

But if Ferguson sends Quinn packing, he'll soon have a much shorter list of addresses from which to chose. Murray has already been canned in Los Angeles. Patrick is on shaky ground in Pittsburgh.

Sometimes coaches are handy.

They make great shields.


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