All that's left is goodbye for Pat

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Sometime over the next week, Pat Quinn will rent a hall someplace and give us his side of the story.

Farewell press conferences are usually terribly uneventful. The coach before Quinn, Mike Murphy, insisted everyone drive up to his favourite golf course in Aurora so he could tell the media what a blessing it had been to coach the Maple Leafs.

"There wasn't a day that went by where I didn't feel blessed," he said, and didn't we all ponder those words for the 90 minutes it took to get back downtown.

But Murphy cemented his good guy status that day, especially since it took Leafs president Ken Dryden two months to get around to firing him. Now Murphy runs the NHL's war room as vice-president of hockey operations and wields more on-ice power than anyone in the NHL.

NO RULES

The farewell press conference comes with certain ground rules. No matter how unfair the firing, coaches are not to lash out at the general manager who impaled him with lousy players and lofty expectations.

You want to come off as a team player. Remember, the guy who gives you your next job probably plays golf with the guy who just canned you.

The poster child for career suicide is former Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan. Nine years after calling out GM John Muckler, he still is trying to get back into the NHL.

Pat Quinn's standing, deep in the NHL's power structure, means he understands the rules of the game better than anyone.

It also means that he could be one of the rare people to slam the door so everyone could hear it. His reputation is pre-Cambrian. None of what he says would be questioned. He could bury Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr.

Quinn's distaste for Ferguson seemed to flare several times through the season. And Ferguson had every bit as dreadful a year as Quinn did.

Quinn, as artful a speaker and as commanding a presence as you will ever meet, has a whole media corps waiting to bury Ferguson who, you may have noticed, comes off as stiff. Look up doctrinaire, you'll find him looking back up at you.

But the truth is, Quinn has as much to answer for as Ferguson. A little Murphy-style humility would be worn well by the silver-haired one.

Who's kidding who here? There has long been a sense about the Leafs that given fairly equal talent, the hustle and innovation from the bench next door would usually win the day. That was especially true when then-Carolina Hurricanes coach and current Marlies coach Paul Maurice beat Quinn in the 2002 Eastern Conference final with a less talented team.

The Maple Leafs were beaten by the Philadelphia Flyers' canny Ken Hitchcock in the first round in 2003 and the second round in 2004. Hitchcock's teams could play the Leafs in 10 playoff series and win all 10.

The Leafs practice plans were said to smell of dinosaur dung. Leafs assistant coach Rick Ley was widely dismissed as a Quinn crony, leaving Keith Acton as the only hope for a cogent game plan. No surprise that while Quinn and Ley were gassed, Acton was re-assigned within the organization.

Pat Quinn had a good regular season record largely because the Leafs could afford the best available players, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny, Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour. Quinn knew how to point the horses, but in today's volatile NHL, that's not enough.

Expect Pat Quinn to be the same class act he was when he walked in the door in June 1998. "To be successful, you have to drum up some emotion," he said that day. "I want to be a combination motivator, teacher, mentor and coach."

I think he still can be successful, can still, in the right situation, rekindle and be rekindled.

It all starts with the goodbye.


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