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Quinn's Long Run Ends

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

April 20, 2006

(TORONTO) (CP) -- The Maple Leafs fired Pat Quinn on Thursday, freeing general manager John Ferguson to finally choose a coach of his own.

The 63-year-old Quinn, who still had another year on his contract, leaves after seven seasons behind the Toronto bench.

"This change is as much about the future, and where we are going as an organization, as it is as much about what has transpired here,'' Ferguson told a news conference.

Pat Quinn had a great run with the Blue and White.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

Ferguson said a search for Quinn's successor would start immediately.

The Leafs also fired Rick Ley, Quinn's longtime assistant coach, and said assistant Keith Acton would be offered another position within the organization.

Ferguson said Quinn was not offered another job.

While Ferguson called Quinn "a consummate professional,'' he said he was looking for "a new voice, a new approach.''

Paul Maurice, a former Carolina coach who is now behind the bench of the AHL Toronto Marlies, is seen as a possible successor.

The Leafs last won the Cup in 1967.

Ferguson, who inherited Quinn as coach when he took over in August 2003, dismissed reports he and Quinn had been locked in a power struggle.

"That's a media-created fiction. Our relationship was productive and professional.''

Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, gave Ferguson a vote of confidence when asked whether the Leafs were looking to install a hockey supremo as they did by appointing Bryan Colangelo to run the NBA Raptors.

"John's our top hockey guy,'' Peddie told Leafs TV after the announcement.

Peddie said the Leafs are looking for a proven winner as coach.

"Rookies need not apply,'' he said.

Quinn's last season was the most difficult, the 41-33-8 Leafs missing the post-season for the first time under his helm despite a late charge. It was only the second time in Quinn's stellar 19-year coaching career that he missed the playoffs.

"We didn't achieve what we wanted to,'' said Ferguson, while insisting his team was competitive.

Quinn got immediate support from Senators coach Bryan Murray.

"I think he's an excellent coach,'' Murray said in Ottawa. "I don't think you get the opportunity to coach Team Canada in the Olympics and the chance to coach a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs for that number of years without being an excellent coach.

"I think you saw at the end of the year when he got the young guys playing, the team played very well. If he wants to coach further, somebody's going to get a heck of a coach.''

Quinn has never won a Stanley Cup as head coach although he led the 1980 Philadelphia Flyers and '94 Vancouver Canucks to the final. He also coached Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2002 and the World Cup of Hockey championship in 2004.

Overall, the Hamilton native went 300-222-52 with 26 shootout and overtime losses as Leafs coach, twice leading Toronto to the Eastern Conference final, losing to Buffalo in 1998-99 and Carolina 2001-02.

He's fourth all-time in coaching victories with 657 behind Scotty Bowman (1,244), Al Arbour (781) and Dick Irvin (692).

The Leafs finished ninth in the Eastern Conference, missing the final playoff spot by two points after a strong 9-1-2 run late in the year.

It wasn't enough to save his job.

Quinn was named Toronto's 25th head coach in June 1998, inheriting a club that had missed the playoffs in successive seasons. It didn't take long for Quinn to make an impact. The Leafs set a club record for wins (45), they reached the conference final, and Quinn was runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1998-99.

When he arrived from Vancouver after 11 seasons as GM and a few spells as coach, Quinn told Toronto reporters he was looking forward to just coaching with the Leafs.

That lasted only one year. When Mike Smith left town in the summer of '99 after a power struggle with president Ken Dryden, Quinn stepped in and took over the GM job, more as a means of survival than his desire to take the job.

Quinn kept the dual roles for four seasons until Ferguson's hiring.

In 1999-2000, Quinn led the Leafs to their first divisional title since 1962-63. The team once again tied a franchise record 45 wins.

The Leafs finished third overall in the NHL standings in 2001-02 and reached the conference final. It was during that series loss to Carolina that Quinn had a health scare, as doctors discovered he suffered from heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). Quinn, 58 at the time, would drastically change his lifestyle overnight.

"All my life, I'd get up in the morning, grab a coffee and a cigar, jump in the car and go to the office or to the rink,'' Quinn said in a Reader's Digest interview a few years later. "I never had breakfast, and lunch would be some kind of fast food. By the time you get home at night you're starved. So I ate one big meal a day. I wasn't very active either. All that had to change. Now I have breakfast and start the day out right.

"I quit the cigars right away. The last one I smoked was on the morning I went into hospital in Toronto.''

A slimmer and healthier looking Quinn kept on leading to the Leafs to winning seasons. The set club records for points (103) and road wins (23) in 2003-04 but the Leafs bowed out in the second round to Philadelphia.

His first few moves as GM weren't golden. He sent promising winger Fredrik Modin to Tampa in October 1999 in exchange for defenceman Cory Cross. The acquisition of forward Dmitri Khristich later that month forced the Leafs to open up a roster spot, which Quinn did by waiving young winger Steve Sullivan.

But there were some good ones, too, such as getting winger Darcy Tucker from Tampa, essentially for forward Mike Johnson, in February 2000. And acquiring defenceman Bryan McCabe from Chicago in October 2000 for blue-liner Alexander Karpovtsev - by far his best deal.

Getting forwards Robert Reichel and Travis Green from Phoenix in June 2001 for defenceman Danny Markov was probably not a great move, but a few weeks later Quinn got winger Mikael Renberg for winger Sergei Berezin - a clear victory.

His final blockbuster was acclaimed by Leaf fans at the time, star winger Owen Nolan coming to Toronto just before the trade deadline in March 2003 in exchange for centres Alyn McCauley and Brad Boyes and a first-round draft pick. It turned out to be a disaster but hindsight is 20-20. The Leafs had a contender in 2002-03 and the Nolan deal was the right move at the time.

Quinn was also successful on the free-agent front, Gary Roberts in July 2000, Alexander Mogilny in July 2001 and Ed Belfour in July 2002 his three most prominent signings.

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