Pat Quinn on “Doing Something”

Do something. For teams dwelling outside the playoff bubble, those words tend to accurately reflect the mood of the fan base. Fire the coach. Fire the trainers. Trade someone. Axe the professional scouts. Something.

I thought that ex-Leafs coach/G.M. and ex-Oilers coach Pat Quinn had an interesting take on “doing something” in the recent book Behind the Moves.

You’re probably more fearful of making a mistake with your signings than ever before because you have to eat them somehow. And even when you’re eating them financially, they can still maybe go against your cap. Once the season starts, boy, if you don’t like the way it’s going, what do you do? You fire your coach or some kind of thing that isn’t maybe the answer, but [by taking action] you tell the public, ‘I’m doing something.’ Maybe that’s what is least understood; people think that because change is desired or needed, you can do it, that you have the ability to say, ‘Yes, okay.’ … But you can’t get rid of the contracts.

(bolding mine)

Quinn’s comment probably rings true for a lot of fans. Losing teams do things. Often, those things have negligible impact on the team’s performance.

The most interesting example this year is probably in Montreal, where the team fired an assistant coach, then fired the head coach, then traded a bunch of players, all with pretty much no impact on the fortunes of the club.

But Montreal is hardly alone. Edmonton has seen coaches, trainers and executives shuttled up, down and out of the organization entirely. Some of those changes probably had to happen (the dismissal of Kevin Prendergast comes to mind), while others were arguably less urgent. Either way, there really hasn’t been a measurable impact in terms of the on-ice product.

In Toronto, this sort of thing is going on right now. From the Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair:

Burke is going nowhere. Not with negotiations on a new collective agreement coming; a bad time if ever to bring in somebody and expect them to hit the ground running. The only way that changes is if sometime this off-season, Burke gets rid of one of his many assistant general managers. That will be a sign that the game has changed, that somebody in the new ownership group has the ear of somebody else. Much like a head coach being ordered to get rid of an assistant coach, if Burke is told to divest himself of, say, a David Nonis or two it will be a sign that the suits have awakened; that the guys who actually do up their neckties instead of letting them hang on either side of the collar have awakened and want to take back their team.

Blair is, essentially, advocating the same thing the Canadiens did when they fired Perry Pearn, the same course of action that Pat Quinn talks about above. Do something. Give the public a sign.

The problem is that “do something” is an emotional response, not a rational action based on an objective appraisal of the situation. As Quinn put it, “that isn’t maybe the answer.” That’s fine for fans – because individual fans are easily ignored, fans only have power when they communicate something en masse, and those sorts of messages can’t help but lack nuance. Commentators with a national pulpit, as Blair has, should be a little more rational and a little less emotionally involved in my opinion (On that last point, from his article, “There are times when this franchise – I swear, I believe this – is the Chicago Cubs… It will never win. Ever. Somehow, some way, they’ll screw it up.”) but then again I’m digressing.

Realistically, firing one of Burke’s executives isn’t likely to do much. Does anyone really believe that Dave Nonis is steering the ship? Rick Dudley? Claude Loiselle? Dave Poulin? It would be different if there was a clear area of failure that one of these men was responsible for, but that’s not really the case here. Just turning around and firing a guy to get at his boss isn’t a constructive way to run a franchise.

Every action taken should be in response to a clear problem. A coach shouldn’t be fired simply because his team isn’t playing well unless some part of that not playing well is directly caused by his coaching. An executive shouldn’t be fired because the team isn’t doing well unless some part of the team not doing well is directly caused by his managing.

Shuffling deck chairs doesn’t help a ship avoid an iceberg. Running around in circles does not magically restore a chicken’s head. Action is not good in and of itself; it’s only good if it resolves actual problems.  So, when the Oilers and Leafs take action this summer – as they inevitably will – hopefully they’ll do something to meaningfully address their issues rather than simply doing something.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Getting rid of Tambellini wouldn’t be a change for the sake of change. He needs to go sometime and the only way his team is improving is on the backs of Eberle, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins, not by any deft managerial moves he has made. He hinders the team. Makes lateral or worse trades. Questionable signings all over the line up.

    Before winning the Stanley Cup, the two bench marks for successful rebuilds post-lockout fired their GM that started the rebuild. Time for the Oilers to do the same.

  • D-Man

    LA too. biggest off season deal, biggest deadline deal. new coach. And nothing to show for it except being on the playoff bubble and possibly wasting Quick’s MVP level season

  • “I made a commitment at the beginning of the season. Unlike Omark, I actually care enough to honour that commitment ;)”

    Does not take much to spin a guy like Arch who is totally committed to spinning:

    “When asked by Oilers radio announcer Jack Michaels if he was disappointed he couldn’t play in Oklahoma City”

    “Not really. I want to compete for a spot in the world championship in Sweden and I will go to the (Swedes’) camp if they (Oilers) let me.”

    Yup. Nothing spells lack of commitment like not being disappointed by team decisions and deferring to team decisions.

  • vetinari

    I think Quinn hit it on the head: there is a difference between doing something to fix a problem and doing something for the sake of doing something to send a message to the public.

    Too often, teams do something just for the sake of doing something simply to appease the fan base, even if it is only temporary (I can’t wait to hear the Leaf’s fans chant, “Re-hire Wilson” to watch Burke’s head explode).

    With the Oilers, I think that there is enough evidence to assess Tambi and Lowe’s tenures and make an educated decision on each of them (I would frankly show them the door at the end of the season and get a new GM in place in April so that they have time to prepare to run the draft and look at trade possibilities).

    As for Renney, the guy’s been handed a team with more holes than Swiss cheese for a number of years and told to make something out of it. I would love to see Renney with a “complete” roster, but I think that that is probably one to two years away, at best. I think that as so long as the dressing room is responding to him, I would give him another year to see what he can do with the team, otherwise, let the new GM pick his coach.

    • D-Man

      I hear what you’re saying but you can’t have it both ways… Tambo and Renney’s fortunes are linked, unfairly mind you – but linked nevertheless… If Tambo is shown the door, Renney continues to be ‘deadman-walking’ as he most likely won’t be the new GM’s choice.. If Tambo gets an extension – Renney may or may not stay… That’s unfair but such is life for a NHL coach…

      Personally, I’ve seen enough of an improvement to give both Tambo and Renney an extension… From listening to the likes of Brownlee and Gregor – one year extensions aren’t usually favorable, so I’d give both guys two year extensions… I’m guessing my opinion won’t be too favorable but my expectations were low coming into this year… I had pegged the Oil to win about 33 games from last year (which it looks like they’ll get to)… Next year, I’m expecting another 5-7 win improvement so we’re at least close to the playoff conversation… If we aren’t at the 38 to 40 win mark next year – Tambo is gone before the draft and Renney coaches out his contract (at least until the new GM makes his decision)…

      • vetinari

        I don’t know if I fully agree about Tambi and Renney’s fates being linked.

        A GM’s job to secure talent for the team to fill the needs and roles set by the coach, while a coach’s job is to unlock his players’ potential and to develop and convey game plans to them that give them a chance to win based upon the type of players he has.

        I think Renney has been marginally successful given the type of players he has been provided by Lowe and Tambi. This is evidenced by: the improvements in the PP and PK; the development of the kids to help them avoid sophmore slumps (aside from Paajarvi); the development of general utility players like Potter and Petrell; and, getting once “trade bait” players like Gagner and Hemsky going. I think Renney has had problems this year figuring out the European players, and when to lean on the kids versus the veterans, but overall, he’s shown enough to warrant another year, and if need be, two.

        As for Lowe and Tambi, I think that they have had problems the last few years landing players by trade or by free agency and that is two huge aspects of their job descriptions. The only route for them to improve the team has been though the draft (and you can thank Stu McGregor for any successes there) and in securing players from the NHL “left overs” bin (i.e. Potter & Petrell). I think you can turf them independent of Renney and say to a new GM, give Renney what he needs and if he can’t make it work next year, bring your own guy in.

        • D-Man

          You got the job descriptions bang-on – but it doesn’t work that way with coaching… A GM in any sport has his own preferences on how the game should be played… Katz can definitely turf Lowe and Tambo and hire a new GM, but any GM worth his salt is going to have full control over who he hires/fires for coaching staff… He might like Renney (I agree with you – he’s done a good job) or not – Renney’s fate is in his hands…

          I don’t think you can say Stu gets 100% credit for the last 2-3 years of draft picks either… Shouldn’t Tambo/Lowe get credit for keeping him on the payroll?? Shouldn’t they get credit for firing Prendergast?? Shouldn’t they get credit for getting Stu more bullets to draft Klefbom and Marincin (draft picks that were traded for)??

          Overall – my thought is Tambo has done an average job.. IMO – he made some good deals/signings with Eager, Staios, Hemsky, Sutton and Smyth (although many can argue Smytty was handed to him).. He’s also made some brutal ones as well – namely Khabby and Barker… Under Tambo’s watch – we also improved our farm system from last place to a legit AHL contender… That’s why he should get 2 more years…

          • Time Travelling Sean

            I agree that Tambo’s performance has been mixed, but I would disagree with your specific evaluations. Although Barker hasn’t worked out, it was worth a gamble. I am still skeptical of Hemsky at 5 million.

            The Oil will finish in about 10 to 14 points more than last year. Somewhat of a dissapointment as I was expecting about 20 (i.e .82 points). The killer was being out of the playoff race Xmas once again.

            Nonetheless the article hits the nail on the head that change for the sake of change is never a good thing.

  • Great point. However, as bad as misplaced action is misplaced inaction – doing nothing when real problems exist. In this case, Kevin Lowe keeping his job despite almost singularly taking the actions that sewered this franchise. Accountability appears not to exist for Mr Lowe.

  • smiliegirl15

    Pat Quinn is an excellent public speaker. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at a charity luncheon where he was the guest speaker.

    JW there is enough media coverage on the Leafs everywhere else that our little corner of the web shouldn’t be polluted with it.

    Burke looks as incompetent as the Captain of the Titanic. The Leafs have been a sinking ship for years and I don’t think it will be righted any time soon.

  • JW,

    Do you think Tambellini’s lack of a contract at present is a strong indicator that they will be cutting him loose?

    The contrary argument was floated at the deadline – i.e. if they planned to replace him, they would have done it at the deadline.

    Also, what is your sense re who is really calling the shots. There seems to be a lot of people who feel like Kevin Lowe has both hands in the pie, and that Tambo is a figurehead as much as anything (e.g. Oilchange episode I didn’t see, but where allegedly Lowe re-signed Hemsky without Tambellini being around). If this is the case, would firing Tambo simply be rearranging deck chairs?

    • No, I expect Tambellini to be retained. Terry Jones wrote that he was near an extension; I have no reason to doubt Jones on that.

      As for who is calling the shots, I expect it’s Tambellini. The sense I get is that he’s the ‘department head’ for the Oilers, handling the day-to-day stuff and the bulk of the lifting and consulting with Lowe on things – much like the head of scouting does with a G.M. We saw in Oil Change Tambellini sitting in on scouting meetings, but there’s no doubt that MacGregor and the scouts are doing the leg work and making the primary decisions, with Tambellini having input.

      I could be wrong on both of these things; that’s just the sense that I have.

  • What is all this hate on for Canadian teams?????? I would cheer for any canadian team before an American team. And as far as the whole Omark situation going to play for team Sweden instead of OKC. It just goes to show when the money isn’t rolling in he will just jump ship. I think playoffs should be part of their contracts to prevent that kind of thing.

      • A-Mc above was saying how he wished Toronto and Montreal would be bottom feeders for the rest of their days.

        I thought that once the playoffs start and the season is over waivers are no longer in effect. Also why didn’t Radulov have to go through waivers?

        • Gotcha – I though the comment was directed at me; my mistake.

          Waivers are still in effect – players simply can’t play for teams that claim them. So if the Oilers waive Omark to send him to OKC, a team outside the playoffs – say, Minnesota – can claim him and put him on their NHL roster (but not play him) in order to get his rights. With so few games left in the season, this is something that a team out of the playoffs might realistically do to get a free player.

          As for Radulov, the NHL agreed to dispense with the waiver process because Radulov was still under contract to the Predators when he defected to the KHL; in effect, he wasn’t signing a new contract after playing in Europe, he was simply playing on the contract previously in place before his defection.

        • Dan the Man

          I was looking in to the waiver rules yesterday and I was able to find this: The first day of the season which players are subject to waivers is twelve days prior to the start of the regular season, until the last day after the end of the team’s season.

          I found it here: http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2009/11/26/1174855/waivers-101-a-guide-to-the-nhl

          Based on that I don’t think Omark has to clear waivers once the Oilers season ends. Of course if he would rather play in the World’s that’s up to him.

  • Dan the Man

    Which would be exactly what the Oilers are doing if they fire Renney. He hasnt been given a fair chance at this point imho. They should trade for a top 4 D.. add a reliable Goalie… and tell Renney you got 1 year. Dazzle us.

  • Danny Gray

    Well said, Jonathan. Getting rid of Nonis would be a huge mistake. It’s not as if the team simply plodded along all season and is full of aging veterans. People are always willing to give the Oilers a pass because they are “young” and “re-building”. The Leafs have taken a much different path, but if you look at each of the moves Burke has made only one or two of them can be said to be definitively bad for the franchise. The biggest one being failing to address the goaltending if something were to happen to Reimer, which it did.

  • A-Mc

    no one gives a damn what the leafs are doing. I hope they become bottom feeders like the Oilers!

    Include montreal in that wish as well please; don’t like them either.

    WANYE FOR PRIME MINISTER!