People fixated on his birth certificate or his grey hair are already second-guessing the choice of 66-year-old Pat Quinn as the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
Of course, those who call the big Irishman old school and characterize him as some sort of dithering overseer without a grasp of the fineries of Xs and Os and the nuances of strategy in a game that’s changed considerably since he broke into the NHL as a lumbering defenceman five decades ago, know not of what they speak. In simple terms, they’re so far off, they don’t know what they don’t know.
Fact is, Quinn is one of the more progressive thinkers in the game. He is a tactician and a teacher, a believer in systems play, of tailoring his philosophy to the talent at his disposal and a consummate team builder. Don’t be fooled by the pin-striped suits and cigars.
Quinn began learning his trade under Fred Shero with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1977-78 season before taking over as the head coach in 1978-79. He’s been drawing up game plans and tweaking defensive zone and forechecking systems since. Hell, Quinn was utilizing videotape to break down opponents with the Broad Street Bullies long before Roger Nielsen was dubbed Captain Video.
So, while GM Steve Tambellini doesn’t need my stamp of approval, he’s got it after unveiling Quinn and Tom Renney as his associate coach at Rexall Place today. Quinn is the right man for the job and the right fit for the Oilers.
Just you watch.
A BOOK BY ITS COVER
Quinn, a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year (1979-80 with Philadelphia and 1991-92 with Vancouver) with a career regular season record of 657-481-154-26 in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto, laughs off the tag he’s a throwback and a fossil.
And he should. Anybody who has been around the NHL game awhile knows there are young men who are old thinkers and old men who are young thinkers — the birth certificate has nothing to do with it. “I feel like I’ve been ahead of the curve in a lot of approaches,” smiles Quinn when asked about his coaching style. “Heck, I was sending people out of the (offensive) zone, we call it the stretch now, in 1979. That’s why we went 35 games without a loss (in Philadelphia).”
Off the NHL coaching carousel since 2006, Quinn coached Canada to a gold medal at the 2008 World Junior Championship. Having dealt just fine with a roster full of pimply-faced teenagers, I don’t see a generation gap being a problem with the likes of Oilers youngsters Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano or Patrick O’Sullivan. At the same time, Quinn will lean on his veterans, but not with no questions asked. He’ll do his homework on who’s who and what’s what when it comes to veterans and the question of leadership before scratching out a pecking order. That, I’m guessing you’ll agree, is a good thing.
“I have to do some research on some of the players,” Quinn said. “I must admit I haven’t watched a lot of them in the past couple of years. I’ve been concentrating on junior hockey. “I have some learning to do about the individuals with this organization, but I do know there’s talent there. The talent did not become a team like everybody had hoped it would.
“Maybe there were too many similar kinds of players. Good teams have a mix, just like we hope we’re a good team here at the coaching level with different assets and different ways to make contributions. The players on the ice have to have that same sort of mix.”
SORTING IT OUT
From a tactical perspective, Quinn favours a puck-possession game and he’ll blend all the offensive talent he can get his hands on with grinders and role players who fit the mix. Quinn’s a proponent of having his team play his way and making opponents adjust as opposed to constantly changing things up based on the opposition. He doesn’t regularly match lines, opting instead to use a shutdown pairing of defencemen and a maybe a defensive forward. Of course, the former Oil King also likes toughness in his line-up, which is no surprise given how he played.
Quinn, for those who weren’t even born at the time, once knocked Bobby Orr so goofy with a wicked hit he almost started a riot:
He and Steve MacIntyre will get along just fine.
“You set up a style of play that is best suited to give the talent you have the opportunity to win,” Quinn said. “We will do that. We’ll give a system of play that, hopefully, encompasses our look at all of our players. At the end of the day, whatever you have, you still have to win and that’s the bottom line. We’ll find ways to help these guys become a team.”
There’s one other thing those who don’t really know squat about Quinn don’t understand because you can’t attach a number to it, and that’s his passion for the game. Quinn has as much fire in him to succeed now as he ever has, and that was apparent today.
Of course, some people will sniff the hiring of Quinn signals that the Old Boys Network is alive and well and that the only difference is it’s Tambellini’s old pals, not Kevin Lowe’s, who get the jobs now. What, Tambellini was supposed to make Scott Arniel or Todd Richards the most important hire of his tenure as GM rather than go with somebody he knows, trusts and respects?
Please. That’s naïve beyond words.
Call it a safe hire if you like — I respect the opinion of colleague Jim Matheson immensely and he is leaning that way on the choice of Quinn and Renney — but I wouldn’t be rolling the dice on a promising but unproven newcomer right now, as tempting as it was, given the qualified candidates.
Quinn’s the right guy.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.