Blaming Coach Is Easy Way Out
John Iaboni has been covering the Maple Leafs and the NHL for nearly 30 years. For the last 12, he has been the managing editor of the team's game day magazine and now you can share his exclusive inside access.
December 1, 2003
(TORONTO) -- I have tuned out Pat Quinn in order to write this column. My agent, who shall remain unnamed, wanted to break that particular news to you but I said forget about it. I have nothing to hide. I want you, the reader to know, that I am not taking any suggestions coach Quinn is offering to this space.
Not that Quinn communicates with me much. Oh, we respect each other. Heck, we go back to his playing days with the Atlanta Flames. But we're not likely going to get together for drinks or anything like that because we know where we stand -- he coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs and I write about them whenever site GM (so-to speak) John McCauley fits me into the editorial lineup. I guess Quinn's kind of left it up to me to write to my potential, choosing that I motivate myself and just be accountable when it's my shift to write for mapleleafs.com.
Anyway ... here goes. It's been almost two weeks now that the "Players fed up with Quinn" story appeared in The Toronto Sun. "The gulf," Steve Simmons wrote, "between Pat Quinn and his Maple Leafs players grows wider by the moment."
That story appeared a few days after Larry Brooks in The New York Post wrote that only a Leafs' comeback in Los Angeles on November 13 saved Quinn's precarious tenure as head coach of the Leafs. Yep, it was written right there that GM John Ferguson was ready to pull the trigger and make a coaching change. Brooks listed Quinn's status as "day-to-day", with Mike Keenan, recently placed on the coaching unemployment lines again, waiting in the wings.
So I figure, if things are so bad in Leafs land, why is their record consistently so darned good? Here's Quinn, who don't forget had the best winning percentage of any Maple Leafs general manager and whose worst season as head coach of the Leafs has produced 90 points, out of touch with his band of malcontents. Yet, once again he's withstanding the heat to have his team among the ranks of the best in the NHL.
They've been dinged by injuries, most notably to Alexander Mogilny, Joe Nieuwendyk, Nik Antropov and now even Gary Roberts. They've been all over the map, playing tune-ups in Sweden and Finland that somehow didn't count in the NHL's preseason results. They've played 17 of their first 25 games on the road, including nine of the past 10.
They're not on the same page with their coaches. They're ripped apart by dissension ... yadda, yadda, yadda.
After all that, the Leafs enter action this week riding a five-game winning streak, playing disciplined, dedicated, inspiring hockey. In beating Vancouver (twice), Atlanta, Ottawa and the Rangers, the Leafs outscored their opponents 16-8.
They're playing with a purpose, lifting their overall record to 12-6-5-2, two games above .500 at home and an impressive 8-4-4-1 on the road. Suddenly, the gunners who were cold at the outset, look mighty dangerous. In Owen Nolan's case, he's not only a scoring threat these days but he's playing with a mean streak.
Joe Bowen's bang on when he referred to the Leafs playing with an "edge" as they won the first round of the home-and-home set with the Rangers. If you're a Leafs fan right about now, you're hoping that they can deliver this level of play in the postseason because, if they do, they could go places.
"We're really pulling together as a team," Trevor Kidd said savouring his return to the big club with a "W" over the Rangers at MSG. "We're saying all the right things in the room and on the bench."
The results speak for themselves. And they brought and end to November no one could have predicted on the first day of the month when the Philadelphia Flyers shamed the Leafs 7-1 in the Hall of Fame Game. The Flyers, it so happens, didn't lose a game in November with Ken Hitchcock, a coach who's been accused of being tuned out by his players, too, running a tight ship to incredible results.
It's always amazed me that when teams win, the players get most of the credit and when they don't perform to expectations, it's the fault of the coaches. If Quinn, Rick Ley and Keith Acton were to blame for the way things were earlier in November then they should be praised for the way they steered things in the right direction by the end of the month.
Funny, but just as things improved with the Leafs, the focus shifted to Ottawa where the Senators were lambasted for their lackluster record and Jacques Martin's job as head coach was suddenly in jeopardy because, you guessed it, perhaps the players have started to tune him out.
Every season is a long one, full of ups and downs. That's what makes following the game such a great diversion from our every-day chores. The mood swings around the Leafs are remarkable because this is a city, as Simmons so astutely noted some time back, rightly or wrongly just can't get enough of the Leafs.
So, if you want to know what's going on in Leafs Nation you'll just have to, well, stay tuned. Doing otherwise simply wouldn't be much fun now would it?