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Quinn Talks With The Media

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

January 29, 2004

MODERATOR: Our guest is Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Pat Quinn. Thanks to Pat for taking the time today to answer your questions. Thanks to Pat Park and Dave Griffiths of the Leafs' public relations staff for arranging the call. The Leafs currently lead the Northeast Division and are second in the Eastern Conference with 65 points, with a record of 27-13-8-3. Two weeks ago against Philadelphia, the team he coached in his National Hockey League coaching debut, Pat became only the fifth coach in NHL history to coach 1,200 games, joining Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan. With two more wins he will be the fourth coach in League history to reach the 600-win milestone. Next Friday he will head to Minnesota where he will be the head coach for the Eastern Conference All-Stars for the 54th National Hockey League All-Star Game at the Xcel Energy Center. It will be his fourth All-Star coaching appearance in an 18-year coaching career, and third in the past five seasons. Again we thank him for joining us today to answer your questions.

Q. Pat, first of all, did you know about the Vancouver bid that has just been awarded the World Juniors?

COACH QUINN: Well, just from a support standpoint that was part of a little film thing that was part of the presentation to Canadian Hockey and so I just learned of it this morning -- the successful bid. I'm pretty happy for the BC community. They are going to host it and will do a terrific job. It's a great venue from a beauty standpoint, but it's also a great part of our country as hockey country.

Q. I'd like to ask you about the "Battle of Ontario." Obviously the Senators loom on the horizon. Is this series more about not finishing fourth than it is about finishing first, considering the history of the fourth and fifth playoffs team?

COACH QUINN: I think just logic would say being fourth and fifth, you are going to face tougher opposition right off the bat. It doesn't guarantee that it's going to be tougher than, say, the eighth place team that the first team gets. Generally speaking I think statistically it would show that happened. It happened to us last year, we had to play Philly right out of the box, and while many say that it was the best series of all, of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it left behind a pretty good team and it was a war. And I think even Philadelphia had some trouble the next series, after they had the seven-game, three-overtime game, series that we had. So it's still about finishing first, I mean, those are the goals you set for yourself and for your team, and winning first place overall is an important thing, next to winning the conference, but that's the kind of goals you shoot for and it's very important to, I think, any hockey person and certainly important to us.

Q. You were talking about the 1,200 games. Brian Sutter is two games away from coaching 1,000. How tough is it to coach a thousand games or even more in the National Hockey League? I know you didn't play 1,000 games -- I don't think anybody has ever played and coached 1,000 games. How tough is it in today's day and age to even coach 1,000 games?

COACH QUINN: One thing that's helped us all is obviously the expansion and there are now 30 head coaching jobs. When a lot of us started there was 12 and it built its way up so obviously there's a little bit more opportunity. But longevity hasn't seemed to be something that happens for coaches in the '90s and even the late '80s, so I would say it's pretty remarkable. I know that 1,000 is a significant milestone. When I look at the statistics of Bowman and Arbour, you start to think more humbly about what it is, because these two guys have had marvelous coaching careers and I think their numbers are well in excess of 1,000 or even 1,200.

Q. Is it going to be easier this year to get players in terms of trades with collective bargaining next year? Are teams going to try to maybe trade players a little earlier than waiting until March because there's going to be a lot of players?

Quinn has enjoyed just having to coach this year.
(Getty Images)

COACH QUINN: It's hard to say. I am not in the loop as much as I have been in the past about what managers are getting prepared to do and how they are approaching it. Philosophically, there's a lot more involvement from ownership to set a guideline for it in case there is a work stoppage. There would be teams that a year ago would step up and sign long-term multi-million dollar contracts that really don't want them right now and probably they will try to slough them off on some of the other teams. There are some teams that can take it on, but again, philosophically they have already made decisions. I know the Leafs made a decision not to get into long-term stuff with the exception of one guy and that's MATS SUNDIN. So I don't know if there's going to be more teams stepping in. There's only a few teams that can do it anyway, so it's hard to say at this point. Plus the price, although in the recent trade, there really weren't young guys involved with a great player in JAROMIR JAGR. A lot of the teams start out asking for your young blood so they don't have to pay them and they can continue to develop so that if there is a lockout and they come back to work, you have good young guys that are going to give you ten, twelve years going forward. Really, when you have that, you don't want to give it up either.

Q. You have coached All-Star Games before. Can you talk a little bit about what it's like when you are coaching one of these teams? Do you get to try things that you don't normally get to do? Do you have more fun?

COACH QUINN: I think it's kind of directed towards the fun part, at least. We're so serious with our own players all the time because there's a lot at stake. This is really the showcase and when you have so many wonderful athletes there, you are not going to give them something that's going to change their lives, but it might change yours just watching them and seeing the great talent that is there and appreciating it for just that, and then having a little bit of fun. Those guys want to have some fun as well. In that game there comes some freedoms and not the responsibility defensively but the responsibility to display their many talents. That's why it's fun -- we watch a different sort of hockey, a little bit more wide open than coaches would like, but the players like to play that way and it is often wonderful to watch.

Q. Anything you miss about the GM role? Are you enjoying concentrating on coaching?

COACH QUINN: Well, what I found with the GM -- I did both jobs for a number of years -- I found that very rewarding, but what happens with the GM's job is after you set the guidelines for the season, and the plan for the season, during the winter there's not a lot of things to do except keep in touch with the rest of the managers and make sure your staff is getting out and seeing all the young players and getting a good book on the pro players. So it's mostly done by staff workers. It's in the summer time when you are doing contracts, setting up for the draft, that the GM jobs really kick in. In the wintertime, that's when the coaches go away, they put in their hours then and are responsible for helping that team be the best it can be. So there really isn't a lot of conflict with it, but what happens is you never get away because when one job is finished, when you are finished being beat out of the playoffs or your season ends, then the other one picks up heavily. So that's the part I don't miss. You need some time to regenerate in this business and for a number of years I didn't get that. I'm really enjoying the coaching now and we have a good young guy that's taking over the manager's role here who I think will be an excellent one.

Q. Going back to an earlier topic on whom you play in the playoffs. Again it looks this year like there's going to be one division, maybe two, where the division winner is going to be behind at least a real third-place points team and perhaps more than one. Do you think it's time to perhaps start rewarding teams with the regular season more and go to a seeding system more one to eight than the division winner?

COACH QUINN: Well, that's hard for one person to make a decision. Each of us would have a subjective opinion on how that should work and there is always lots of discussion about what is fair and what is right, and do we want the best, and this is where our leadership core has set it up. But I can say that each year it is discussed and decisions are made, either to leave it as is because then there's a reward for winning your own division, which may be fine, but right now, the one division is behind the other two and so then you say, 'well, that's really not putting the best in,' but there is some logic behind it. I can't give you it all right now, but I think they look at that sort of thing every year, and try to make sure that we're represented in the right fashion.

Q. Ever feel like you were getting kind of ripped off, though?

COACH QUINN: Sometimes you think that way. I remember when there were some different ways to do it. In fact, I remember playing for Toronto and we and Montreal missed the playoffs in 1969, I believe it was. Chicago was in first place in the other division and didn't have as many points as we did. So the first place team on the other side got in. So that's just your argument right there -- it was disappointing but it existed way back in the '60s.

Q. How is ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY? Has he settled in for you?

COACH QUINN: He's a big young kid we drafted. For a big guy, you'd think he should be banging and crashing a little bit and showing his strength and we would bring him in and he never was able to sustain the type of good play that he showed us until that emotion kind of wore off a little bit. This year, it looks like he's matured to the point where he's finding out that he can be a pretty good player and he's been able to sustain a good level of play. Now he's even working more on it. He's starting to feel some more confidence and he's still a big strong kid. I think he's just at the point now where that little bit of maturity that he didn't have for the first two or three years is helping him.

Q. You have coached several Olympic teams. How does it feel when you are able to lead your country to victory?

COACH QUINN: I can't imagine a better feeling. That was one of those real gifts -- I was very proud just to be asked to coach our team in the first place because there's a lot of great Canadian coaches, and to go there and actually win the gold medal was a gift almost beyond explanation. It gave me a feeling of pride in a lot of ways. One is the emotion that you feel when you watch a crowd singing "O, Canada" as we wound down in the game, then the flag going up, but even more so, to go into the dressing room later on and to watch those guys that had just won and don't normally play together, but had come together for 14 days and come together so well to achieve the way they did, and to watch them sit kind of arm in arm, having a beer and just reflecting on what a wonderful experience it was for them. That was, to me, the best thing I could ever see and I really enjoyed that moment in a very rewarding 14 days.

Q. Going back to your playing career and with your coaching career now, I am wondering if you can talk about the difference in regards to rivalries. Obviously, during your playing days the big rivalry was with the Canadiens. A lot of people would say that your current rivalry is with the Senators. Is there a difference being a player and being a coach in the sort of way that you view the rivalries?

COACH QUINN: I don't think there really is. I think when you go against rivals, it is one of those things that you have to -- you leave the emotion untouched because it's a natural thing that just rises up. And in the 16- and 12-team times, you played each other way more often, although we're getting back to that -- we play Ottawa six times now and it is a real test going back and forth. For a while I think our team underestimated Ottawa while they were getting better, and now we need to really wake up and recognize -- and I think we have recognized -- that they are a very good hockey team and because of the history of our Playoffs with them, three years in a row, there's almost an animosity that has developed as well. It's extremely competitive. But that same competitiveness existed with Montreal for years so that even when the Toronto teams weren't very good and the Montreal teams were great, those games had an electricity about them. Just last Saturday we were in Montreal and that building, was -- I know you have heard these sorts of things -- the building was alive and it was just a wonderful experience to be in there. Of course, winning the game was great too, but there still remains there a great tradition -- the fans, especially, make it that way. The fans don't make it with Ottawa yet, but they still make it with Montreal.

Q. Regarding the All-Star Game, in the past there was a policy by the NHL to have at least one representative per team. That isn't going to be happening this year. I am wondering if you feel that players should be chosen based on their merit or if there should be a player from each team in the All-Star Game?

COACH QUINN: I don't think, first of all, we can do it anymore. Obviously there are 30 teams, so we could balance it off, I suppose, but we have given the right to the fans to select our first six. Then there are the fill-ins, try to keep that in mind, and we also need to meet the other goal -- the mandate to have what is thought by many to be the best players among our group because it is our highlight sort of game. That's one of the reasons they brought in the YoungStars game, to get everybody represented through the whole weekend. Again, it's one of those philosophical questions. It would be nice if everybody is represented, but it's so hard to do now and then get the 21 best players. In Toronto here we tried to add some more players to get to that, but then it became so unwieldy on the bench that we didn't have enough room to play all the players. So a decision was made to try to select the best 21 and then also represent all the teams in some fashion and then have the young guns where they can fill it up and really have all 30 teams are represented.

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