When you’ve been named the NHL’s Coach of the Year twice, won an Olympic gold medal, the World Cup of Hockey, two gold medals with Canada’s junior program, and guided multiple NHL clubs to their best seasons in modern history, having your team finish dead last in the NHL during the final season of your coaching career doesn’t seem to add up. Yet, this is what happened the last time Pat Quinn was seen behind the bench as the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach.
“We had some young kids that that were first round picks, but quite frankly I wasn’t sure that they were first round picks,” said Quinn of the Oilers. “I knew it wasn’t a good team when I took the job, but I took it with a plan to help them be better. That’s what I do. I’ve taken over teams that weren’t very good, and after a few years you get them better. I thought that was going to be what happened in Edmonton, but after the first year they decided to make a change. I’m not sure why, you’d have to ask them. I wasn’t ready for it. I wanted to complete the job that I was hired to do there. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Some may make the case that Quinn and his coaching style/techniques were too “old-school” for players of the “New” NHL. At age 60, the St.Louis Blues’ current head coach Ken Hitchcock is a relatively good comparison piece for the 69 year-old Quinn, age and experience-wise. Hitchcock is currently behind an NHL bench for a sixteenth season, while Quinn was relieved after his twentieth. Both have coached over 1000 games in the NHL, and both have the grey hair to prove it. While Hitchcock may not have the Jack Adams Trophies and international success that Quinn acquired, he’s found a way to guide the St. Louis Blues to a 23-5-0-6 record, and place them third overall in the NHL since taking over – an accomplishment Quinn was not able to attain with this new generation of hockey player when he took over the Edmonton Oilers in 2009 and finished in the basement. Clearly it is possible for an older coach to get through to the new generation, and be successful.
“He took over a more mature team that was ready to win,” Quinn contended. “The Edmonton team wasn’t ready to win. He took over a much more mature team that has been in the playoffs several times in the last few years. He’s a coach that’s prepared, just like I am. Your circumstances often dictate a lot of things, and he stepped into a good spot. Hitch is a good coach — he was ready to help these guys, and they were ready to have a different voice in there. Clearly they’re responding well. I relate well with the young kids. I had Eberle, I had Hall. I had those kids. I can speak the language of hockey. The age group doesn’t matter.”
To be fair, Quinn has had success with teams comprised of young players – he guided Team Canada’s Under-18 team to a gold medal in 2008, and their Under-20 team to gold in 2009.
“I must admit, some of the best thrills I’ve had came from being around the kids the past few years.” recollected Quinn.
Quinn clearly still has a passion for the game of hockey, and to be involved in it – ideally as a coach. Unfortunately for now, it doesn’t appear any clubs are reaching out to acquire his services.
“I’ve got a void in there I’d like to fill,” Quinn admitted. “This life of mine has been all hockey for a long, long time, so when you’re not doing it anymore there’s a void there. I haven’t figured out how to fill it up yet, but I will. I’ve had a wonderful ride in this game. It’s given me so many thrills from the time I was a youngster. I’m lucky to be around it. [As far as NHL coaching offers]No, nothing. I think my ship has left the harbor.”
Quinn’s most recent coaching duties were played out at the 2012 CHL/NHL Prospects Game in Kelowna, BC on February 1st. Quinn, alongside Vancouver Giants’ head coach Don Hay, led Team Orr to victory over Team Cherry 2-1. Interesting that Quinn was chosen to head Team Orr, considering the speculatively dirty hit he delivered to Orr in 1969 that ignited a brawl between the Leafs and Bruins. Water under the bridge, I suppose. Quinn also serves as a co-chair of the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee.