When Pat Quinn left Philadelphia to coach the Kings for the 1984-85 National Hockey League season, he brought along his law school books and squeezed in enough study time to complete his degree at the University of San Diego.
That legal knowledge proved useful when he was accused by the NHL of wrongly signing an agreement to become the president and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks while he was still employed by the Kings.
Quinn argued that he was free to negotiate with other teams because the Kings missed a deadline to invoke a clause in his contract that stipulated he would become their general manager or get a lucrative extension of his coaching deal. He lost that battle and on Jan. 10, 1987, was suspended from coaching the Kings or the Canucks until 1990. But he was so highly regarded in the hockey world that his reputation hardly suffered.
Quinn, who went on to become an executive and coach in Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton and also coached Team Canada to victory in the 2002 Olympics and in the 2004 World Cup, died Sunday at Vancouver General Hospital after a long illness. He was 71.
He was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee but was too ill to attend the most recent induction ceremony, held Nov. 17 in Toronto.
His death was announced by the Vancouver Giants, a junior hockey team of which he was an owner. No cause of death was given.
“Whether he was playing for a team, coaching a team or building one, Pat Quinn was thoughtful, passionate and committed to success,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday in a statement. “Pat’s contributions to hockey, at every level, reflected the skills he possessed and the great respect with which he treated the sport.”
Said Luc Robitaille, a former Kings player who is now president of business operations for the team: “He was a great man for the game of hockey and a person who commanded a lot of respect. He was my first NHL coach and he made quite an impression on me as I was breaking into the league and learning the game.”
A native of Hamilton, Canada, John Brian Patrick Quinn was born Jan. 29, 1943. He coached 1,400 NHL games over 21 seasons and ranks fifth on the all-time coaches’ list in that category, as well as in regular-season wins (684). He never coached a Stanley Cup champion but he took two teams to the Cup final, the 1980 Flyers and the 1994 Canucks. He was known as a players’ coach, better at motivation than tactics and drawing diagrams. He was voted the NHL’s coach of the year twice.
“There are some guys you just automatically have respect for and listen to. He’s one of those coaches who always has that from his players,” Toronto Maple Leafs forward Garry Valk told the Vancouver Sun in 1998. “When he talks, everyone listens.”
As a player, Quinn used his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame to become a hard-hitting defenseman who collected 950 penalty minutes in 606 NHL games with Toronto, Vancouver and Atlanta over nine seasons. His career might be best remembered for the thunderous hit he leveled against Boston Bruins standout Bobby Orr in a playoff game on April 2, 1969, at the old Boston Garden.
Quinn, then playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, had battled Orr in several previous games. With the Bruins leading, 6-0, in the opener of the teams’ playoff series, Orr uncharacteristically had his head down and was knocked out after being hit by Quinn along the boards. Quinn got a major penalty for elbowing, though many observers thought it was a clean hit.
In a TV interview many years later, Quinn said he and Orr had settled their differences.
“We became friends later on,” Quinn said. “We didn’t for a while because we had a series of skirmishes after that and before that. But in my mind, the best I ever saw was Bobby Orr.”
Quinn’s tenure as the Kings’ coach was sometimes rocky. He was hospitalized for chest pains during his first exhibition season and the team started 0-6-3, but a strong turnaround led to a 23-point improvement over the previous season. In 1985 the Kings qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1982 but were swept out of the playoffs by Edmonton.
They missed the playoffs during his second season and he didn’t complete his third season because he was dismissed, with then-NHL President John Ziegler saying Quinn’s continuing to coach the Kings after signing with Vancouver was “a serious threat to the integrity of the league.” Quinn’s Kings coaching record was 75-101-26.
Quinn always disputed the perception that he had done anything wrong.
“I exercised a privilege that was given to me through my contract and through the verbal statements of the owner at the time,” Quinn told The Times in 1991, referring to Jerry Buss. “There was a situation that wasn’t going to change and I exercised my rights. I don’t have regrets about that.”
The NHL made a mess of the situation, he said, “And it didn’t have to be that way. But it’s a chapter that’s past.”
Quinn was a strong and powerful figure as an executive of the Vancouver Canucks. “He made hockey relevant in Vancouver,” Trevor Linden, the club’s current president, told the Vancouver Province earlier this year when Quinn was honored by the team. His last coaching stint was with the Edmonton Oilers in the 2009-10 season.
His survivors include his wife, Sandra, and daughters Valerie and Kalli.