PAT QUINN: THE RIGHT MAN

HOCKEY-WORLD JUNIORS/

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.

NO DICE

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.

  • David S

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ Archaeologuy:
    I’m a bit of a contrarian; when I see unabashed optimism I get skeptical, when I see pessimism I look on the bright side. It’s a curse.

    Problem is, after this year Tambo could hire two beagles for coaches and there would still be unbridled enthusiasm.

  • @ Archaeologuy:

    I'm a bit of a contrarian; when I see unabashed optimism I get skeptical, when I see pessimism I look on the bright side. It's a curse.

    I don't have a problem with a "retread"; experience in the NHL, and especially success are never bad things.

  • Archaeologuy

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    I understand your skepticism, but what does it matter if Quinn prefers to use vets, because he isnt going to get any of value when he gets here. He wont make the Moreau/Pisani line the defacto 1st line just because they can legally rent cars. He isnt an idiot. Plus maybe Renney convinces him to at least do a minimal amount of line matching. Or maybe the value of Line matching has been over-rated against the value of rolling the lines, i dont know. I'm sure that if Brodziak and Macintyre crap the bed every time theyre out against the other team's best line they wont find themselves in that position too often.

    As far as I'm concerned the Oilers managed to check off 2 boxes (at least) from their coaching wish list. They get the most experienced coach available and they get a technical guy. There is no perfect candidate available, otherwise he would already be working, so until the season starts there is no sense in getting too down on the coach.

  • nickxero

    I don't know if Quinn has the right tactics and style for this team.

    That's not the important point. The team was strung along with the same lackadaisical system (or lack thereof) for way too long.

    But it doesn't matter. He's a proven coach, with a good record, and a fresh voice in the room. I have to think that anything will be an interesting change if not an improvement over the last guy. What was his name again?

    Getting a new voice who happens to be a respected and talented coach is win/win, IMO.

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ Jonathan Willis:

    Quinn doesn't get enough credit for being quick on his feet when it comes to adapting and tweaking the game he likes to play based on the roster he has.
    Pat likes up-tempo pick possession and that can work here with the players he has. If it doesn't pan out because there is a measure of inexperience here, he till tweak things — in the short term by moving people around or in the long term by acquiring the players he is lacking.

    I've never been alarmed by coaches who don't line match. Matching a defensive pairing can be, and often is, effective in shutting down a high-scoring forward line. I also like it that he sees values in a defensive specialist/pest/pain-in-the-ass type to check and bolster a shutdown pairing. That kind of player might also help the lame PK.

  • surshot wrote:

    @ Jonathan Willis:
    How do you know what the Oiler roster is going to look like come training camp?

    Well, I suppose they could dump most of Cogliano, Gagner, Nilsson, O'Sullivan, Pouliot, Brodziak, Reddox, Stortini, Brule, Potulny, Jacques, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid, Peckham and Chorney, but it seems to me that if they're determined to turn a team of youngsters into a veteran team overnight just to suit the coach, they would have been better off with a different coach.

    In other words, it's reasonable to assume that Quinn will be dealing with a roster still on the inexperienced side.

  • @ Robin:

    Two questions for you, if I may, since I'm not going to argue your knowledge level:

    1) Does it concern you at all that he doesn't match lines?
    2) Do you think he's a coach who gets the most out of developing players?

    I ask these questions because from what I've seen (during his Toronto tenure) was that he played a rather freewheeling style that gave his forwards (almost all veterans) a lot of initiative to make decisions. It worked there, at least in part because those players were mostly veterans and he always had the goaltending to bail out the team when things went south.

    I'm worried that his coaching suited Toronto's roster, but may not suit that of the Oilers. I'm sure you'd disagree, but if you'd elaborate I'd appreciate it.

  • THANK YOU! People that don't think this is a great pick up by the Oilers don't know anything about hockey. The guy has missed the playoffs as a coach, what, once? All he does is win games, at every level he's coached.

    "but he's too old"

    Renney is right there as an assistant. Is that not 2000 games of NHL experience sitting behind our bench? Sweet Lord people, this has to be a new record for throwing someone under the bus.