The Return of Quinn: Former Leafs Coach Visits Toronto for First Time

Jon NeelyAnalyst IMarch 12, 2010

VANCOUVER - JANUARY 10:  Head Coach Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs gestures to the officials before leaving the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place on January 10, 2006 in Vancouver, Canada. The Canucks defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

It's been four years since he last stood behind the bench in the Air Canada Center.

On Saturday night, he will finally make his return—standing behind the visitors' bench for the first time.

Pat Quinn came to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998 after the team failed to make the playoffs the two prior seasons, only winning 30 games and finishing the season with 69 points in 1997-98.

His impact was immediate.

In just his first season behind the bench, he took a struggling team that had been dismal under former coach Mike Murphy and turned it into a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs finished with 97 points and 45 wins that year, 15 more than the previous season.

But it was in the playoffs that they made a real splash.

After beating the Penguins and Flyers in six games, respectively, they advanced into the conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres. They lost in five games, but the message had already been sent to the rest of the NHL; the Leafs were no joke under their new coach.

He went on to coach the team for seven seasons, making the playoffs in all but the last. There were three seasons of 100 points or more—the most in 2001-02, when they amassed 103 points with 45 wins. The team made it to the conference finals for a second time under Quinn that same season, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in six games.

He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award and was given GM duties after his first season, which he held for four years before John Ferguson Jr. took over.

After the lockout in 2004-05, Quinn coached his final year in Toronto, winning 41 games and missing the playoffs by just two points before being fired. It was widely speculated that Ferguson wanted to get rid of Quinn the moment he took over the GM job—and he took the first chance he got when the team missed the postseason.

Since Quinn left the bench, the Leafs haven't been in the playoffs and have progressively gotten worse. Questions always remained about whether he really deserved to be fired and where the team would be if he were still here.

But the deed was done and one of the most popular coaches in Leafs history was gone for good.

The Big Irishman was hired by the Edmonton Oilers prior to this season and he will make his much-anticipated return to Toronto on Saturday, when the Oilers come to town. 

To Quinn, the city and the fans may be the same, but when he looks across to the bench he stood behind for 300 Leaf wins, very little will be the same as he left it. Only one player, Tomas Kaberle, remains on the team from when Quinn coached.

Gone are the players who were such warriors for Quinn in the old days—like Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, and Gary Roberts—replaced by a crop of kids whom Quinn may have never heard of before.

Things certainly have changed in the city that once worshiped the man who chewed his gum faster than any other, but Quinn will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome in his old stomping grounds—he definitely deserves it.

Few had the attitude, the gusto, and the power that Quinn held when he called the shots behind the Toronto bench. Few have been so beloved by a city for so long, and few have impacted a team as much as did Pat Quinn.

There will only ever be one Pat Quinn.

For just one night, no matter how tough of a season he's had with his new team, Quinn will get a chance to visit the city that, for so many young fans, represents the good old days in Leaf Nation.

Quinn may be gone, but the big man with a bigger heart certainly won't be forgotten. And for many, although he's been absent from the team for a while, it might be the first chance they get to finally say goodbye.

Thanks for the memories, Pat.