Quinn Case: Winners and Losers : The NHL Changed Some Rules, but Too Late for Kings

Times Staff Writer

Last Friday, after lengthy discussions and more than a year of animosity, the Vancouver Canucks agreed to compensate the Kings for the clandestine hiring of Pat Quinn as their future president and general manager while he was still the Kings' coach.

The settlement would seem to end what turned into an embarrassing episode for all concerned. The Canucks agreed to pay the Kings what is believed to be close to $500,000. And by agreeing to the settlement, the Canucks admitted to at least some improbity in the Quinn affair.

But is the episode really over?

Not for the Kings, who took a heavy public relations blow in revealing their management to be inattentive, dim, or both.

Not for Pat Quinn, the law school graduate who was reviled publicly as a traitor motivated by greed, but who, as court documents later revealed, was acting within the legal boundaries of a contract the Kings agreed to.

And not for the Canucks, who are still locked in a legal wrangle with the National Hockey League on another aspect of the Quinn affair.

Here's a look at the winners and losers, a year later.

THE KINGS

When the Kings hired Quinn as their coach in May 1984, they offered him a three-year, $510,000 contract with a clause that stated if General Manager Rogie Vachon left the team "for any reason whatsoever" Quinn would automatically become the new general manager.

The Kings knew that Quinn wanted to ultimately become a general manager. He built into his contract a double-option designed to set him on that path. The Kings had two options to be exercised by Oct. 1, 1986. They could either make Quinn general manager the next three years, or extend his coaching contract for one year at a substantially higher salary.

The Kings also agreed when Quinn asked that his contract not be put on file with the league.

Quinn said, in court documents: "I knew, and the Los Angeles Kings knew, that if the Kings did not exercise either of the options and the contract was not filed, I was free during the course of the final season to deal with other clubs for future employment to begin after May 31, 1987."

As the option deadline approached, Quinn asked for meetings with Vachon and team co-owner Jerry Buss. He was told the team would not negotiate during the season.

After the deadline had passed, Quinn's attorneys began discussions with the Canucks.

On Dec. 26, Quinn told Vachon of the Vancouver deal. The news broke on Jan. 8. Nearly two weeks after they were informed of Quinn's contract, the Kings reported the deal to the NHL.

Quinn was expelled as coach, and on Jan. 30, the league fined the Canucks $310,000 and the Kings $130,000.

The upshot of this is that the Kings lost a skillful coach at a time when the team was playing very well. The Kings also lost at the turnstiles, where even faithful fans became more and more scarce. And the Kings lost games.

More than all this, the Kings lost their standing in the league.

"We've had tremendous PR damage," said Ken Doi, executive vice president of California Sports, which runs the Kings. "We feel we've lost credibility as a team that wants to get somewhere. League-wide, they look at us as a bunch of fools who don't know what is happening.

"We had so much faith in Pat Quinn that we never suspected that anything like that could happen. We learned that it can."

If the Kings feel betrayed by Quinn, though, they have themselves to blame, as well as him. They knew Quinn wanted to become a general manager, they knew about the options in his contract and they knew his contract was not on file with the league, leaving him free to negotiate with other teams.

Winner or loser?

Loser, despite the settlement.

And the Kings continue to lose, having gone through two coaches since Quinn.

They have presented themselves as the offended party, yet as the facts unfolded, it became clear that the Kings could have anticipated the entire affair. The Kings allowed the deadlines to pass and tried to mollify Quinn.

Even after Quinn signed with Vancouver, the Kings did nothing for 13 days and, presumably after working up an indignant outrage, blasted Quinn. If the Kings thought that what Quinn did was wrong, they should have acted immediately.

As the story unfolded, the Kings continued to deny that Quinn had a contractual right to do what he did, even while public outrage grew against Quinn.

Some executives in the league have not been pleased with the Kings' handling of the matter, maintaining that if the team had been more attentive to the deadline, the team and the league would have been spared serious embarrassment.

PAT QUINN

You could say that Quinn is an ambitious man. Even while he was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he aspired to be running a club of his own. He made that clear to the Kings when they hired him.

Quinn had also built a career as a man of integrity. He was tough and spoke his mind. He was honest. In his time with the Kings, Quinn earned the respect of the players, who understood his discipline would eventually help the team.

When Quinn signed a contract with the Canucks, he was legally within his rights.

His action, though, was not as defendable on ethical grounds. Even if he had been allowed to coach the Kings for the rest of the season, and had been able to do so fairly and without bias, the appearence of a conflict of interest would have been as damaging as an actual conflict.

The Kings and the Canucks spoke with reporters during the league's investigation. Quinn, under advice from his attorneys, never told his side. So, minus the information regarding the clauses in his contract, the public was forming an opinion about him without complete information.

Quinn was expelled from the league, NHL President John Ziegler calling Quinn's actions "dishonorable." From January to June 1, when he began his job at Vancouver, Quinn was in hockey limbo.

Now, Quinn is a man with serious questions to ask of himself. He has long maintained that he would consider suing the league for damage to his reputation. But there is a problem with that. To be effective in his job, Quinn has to work with other general managers. If he were to sue the league, it would be almost like taking legal action against someone in his own family.

Quinn talks now of being a team player, team NHL. He must decide if continuing his quest to clear his name is worth alienating himself and his team .

"What everyone seems to forget is that (the Kings) gave me permission to do what I did," Quinn said. "Did they shoot themselves in the foot? Who betrayed whom?"

Winner or loser?

Some of each.

Quinn has lost the battle but will win the war.

No doubt his reputation was damaged. No doubt there is still grumbling within the league about the possibility of lawsuits.

But with this latest settlement, some appeasement has begun. The NHL family will gather the Canucks back into the fold. Other general managers will accept Quinn and do business with him. People will forget.

But will Quinn ever forget?

THE CANUCKS

Vancouver was, as usual, mired in the Smythe Division cellar. The team owners were desperate to make a management change. Pat Quinn had always been on their list of candidates.

As early as 1984, Canuck owner Frank Griffiths asked Ziegler if it was permissible for the Canucks to approach the coach of another team. Ziegler replied that as long as the coach's contract was not on file with the league, it was allowed.

Quinn's contract was not on file with the league. The next year, the Canucks approached Quinn.

On Dec. 24, 1986, Quinn signed an agreement with the Canucks. On Jan. 2, 1987, the Canucks paid Quinn a $100,000 signing bonus.

Quinn seemingly made a shrewd business decision. His contract with the Canucks is a five-year $1.6-million deal that provides for playoff bonuses of more than $300,000 a year, a $200,000 life insurance policy, a luxury car, a golf club membership, a low-interest $50,000 loan, a $300,000 home for $900 a month rent, season tickets and other perks.

The Canucks have shown themselves to be a litigious lot, having already won one suit against the league. Vancouver sued in British Columbia Supreme Court to have the NHL's fine rescinded, and Justice Patrick Dohm ruled Oct. 3 that the fine be reduced to $10,000, noting that NHL bylaws clearly stated that was the amount for such an offense.

But the judge ruled that Ziegler used the correct procedures in dealing with the Quinn situation and upheld the coaching ban.

A key point in Dohm's ruling: The Canucks did not tamper with Quinn because there was no notice of employment filed with the league office. The judge recommended that the league register all employment contracts of both playing and non-playing personnel.

Winner or loser?

Winner.

Quinn has turned the franchise around. Attendence is up at the Pacific Coliseum. The Canucks are six points ahead of the Kings and are currently holding down the last remaining playoff spot.

Vancouver, once the laughingstock of the NHL for its questionable management and mediocre hockey teams, seems to be moving toward respectability. The Canucks had alienated some in the league with their suit against the NHL, whose legal fees cost all the teams money. With this settlement, the Canucks are showing that they are team players.

THE NHL

Despite its outrage that Quinn was under contract to two teams at once, the league, until last month, took no action to prevent a similar situation from occurring.

At the Board of Governors meetings in December, an amendment requiring that contracts of all non-playing personnel be filed with the league office was adopted.

The so-called Quinn rule also raised the maximum fine for tampering from $25,000 to $500,000. Also, the maximum fine for "conduct detrimental to hockey," which was the bylaw under which the Canucks were fined, was raised from $10,000 to $100,000.

Those changes remain the only deterrent. Still, the fines themselves have little teeth. Neither the Canucks nor the Kings have yet to pay any fine money.

Winner or loser?

Loser.

The NHL has shown itself to be a reactive rather than an active league. Unlike other professional leagues, where such a situation probably could not have happened, the NHL had no rules against signing a contract with two teams. A year later, rules were changed.

Ziegler has broad powers but the court in Vancouver ruled that he overstepped his authority.

Ziegler suspended Quinn before gathering any evidence, then expelled him after conducting a secret investigation.

Ziegler also announced his unprecedented decision on a Friday at 5 p.m., ensuring he would be out of the office when reporters started asking questions.

In one other flub by the league, the information released to the national news services was wrong in one respect, saying that Quinn was prohibited from coaching in the entire league when he had been banned just from coaching at Vancouver. Not until the error was pointed out by a reporter did the league, reluctantly, correct the mistake.

Despite the settlement, questions remain. Quinn, for instance, still must decide whether to try to clear his name or defer to the "good of the league." The Kings still carry the reputation as bumblers, and the Canucks as sharpies. Perhaps this will prove to be just a minor incident in the history of the NHL. But the bad taste lingers.

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