Vancouver Canucks, 1987-1997
Toronto Maple Leafs, 1999-2003
Playoff Appearances: 1989, 1991-1996, 2000-2003
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance: 1994
Like Mike Keenan, Pat Quinn has earned a top-fifty ranking as an NHL GM as well as being a head coach. (Using my rating method his value as a head coach is much, much higher than his managerial rating).
Quinn has devoted his entire life to hockey but his quest for a managerial career began in the 1980s after he had completed his law studies in Pennsylvania and California. In 1986 Quinn was serving as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings when the Vancouver Canucks (who had fallen on hard times after their 1982 Stanley Cup finals appearance) approached Quinn to become President and General Manager of the team starting in 1987/88. In December 1986 Quinn signed a contract with Vancouver. (He has always maintained that the Kings had missed a deadline on an option in his contract, which had a clause allowing him to negotiate with other teams).
Unfortunately for Pat Quinn, the NHL disagreed, accusing Quinn of a conflict of interest and suspending him as head coach of the Kings for the remainder of the 1986/87 NHL season (the NHL added additional penalties: banning Quinn from head coaching until the 1990/91 Season and the Kings filed suit against Vancouver in court for tampering but lost the case).
The Canucks had fallen further and further below .500% and had occupied the Smythe Division basement two out of the last three seasons. The team hadn’t had a winning season since 1975/76. Something had to be done.
Quinn slowly began the rebuilding process. Converting four straight losing seasons into NHL amateur draft gold (19 of Quinn’s 33 minus points were earned during his first four seasons as Canucks GM) Quinn drafted Trevor Linden in 1988 and Pavel Bure in 1989. Both men were the keystones for future greatness. Trevor Linden would become the team captain while Pavel Bure would be inducted into the Hockey Hall-of-Fame in 2012.
The drafting of Pavel Bure is Pat Quinn’s greatest contribution to the game as a general manager; and it speaks volumes about Quinn’s tenacity and courage to go the extra mile to secure those talents to revive the franchise. Despite the fact that he had been stung by the NHL commissioner when he signed to become the Vancouver GM, Quinn was quite willing to seemingly defy the NHL in order to secure Bure’s draft rights.
Quinn drafted the 18-year old Bure in the sixth round even though league rules stipulated that he had to have played at least two seasons with his elite level club in Russia. At first the experts thought Quinn had broken the rules but Quinn, using the Canucks scouting resources with great canniness discovered that Bure had played the requisite number of games with his Russian team to make him eligible in later rounds. Using the intelligence gleaned from his scouts Quinn stole a march on the rest of the NHL and secured a future member of the HHOF. He had to weather protests from other NHL franchises and legal action in the courts but in the end, his gamble paid off beautifully. Indeed his coup is a brilliant feat of general managerial legerdemain; a daring coup that GMs in all sports dream about constantly but rarely achieve.
When his ban from coaching expired in 1990 Quinn did double-duty as head coach and for the next six years the Canucks were a force in the NHL—earning six consecutive playoff appearances and reaching the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. 1994 was the closest Pat Quinn ever got to win the Stanley Cup as a general manager.
Quinn and the Canucks never reached those heights again and by 1997 (with new ownership taking over the Canucks) Quinn’s days with Vancouver were numbered.
Pat Quinn returned to his NHL alma-mater the Toronto Maple Leafs to become their head coach and immediately made the Leafs playoff contenders. By 1999 (like he did in Vancouver) Quinn was doing double-duty as head coach and general manager. Twice during his reign Quinn led the Leafs to the conference finals only to fall short.
He used different tactics in rebuilding the Maple Leafs. None of his draft picks remain in Toronto today; none of them really excelled. His one major trade was in acquiring future All-Star blue-liner Bryan McCabe from Chicago. Quinn bolstered his roster with key free agent signings: Curtis Joseph and Steve Thomas in 1999; Jonas Hoglund in 2000; Gary Roberts and Alexander Mogilny in 2001.
By 2003 Quinn had taken the Leafs as far as they could go without winning the Stanley Cup. He stepped down as GM but remained the head coach for one more season (ironically the last time the Leafs would ever reach the playoffs) but friction between Quinn and Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. led to Quinn being fired in 2004.
Since that time Pat Quinn has not returned to NHL general managing although he did make an abortive comeback as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers in 2009/10.
(My next column will feature Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster).