Pat Quinn You Gotta Go
You can question the selections up and down, use the excuse that Canada should have used youth, but it boils down to one thing. System. That has Pat Quinn written all over it. It was hard to watch this team play just like the Leafs. I don’t understand how elite players are caught cycling the puck down low, stifling their offensive creativity, as if they were average NHL plumbers, looking lost doing so. That’s not players, that’s system, and that’s Pat Quinn.
The coaching staff implemented a strategy to get through the trap. They didn’t carry the puck into the zone much, preferring to dump it in, with no one skating hard into the zone. (Cherry showed a few clips where they would dump it and make a change.) It was usually recovered by the opposition, with nobody on the fly, nobody skating hard to retrieve the puck, ending up a turnover. If it was retrieved, they would set up to start cycling the puck down low, not using the points much, if at all, looking for the close range goal. These were elite players, plying a lunch-bucket kind of game.
Now, there are 3 forwards down low cycling the puck, not creating too many chances, and underutilizing the point. An offensive zone turnover gets the puck to an outlet pass breaking out of the zone, with the Canadian defensemen caught flatfooted, standing still at the blue line, waiting for a pass that never came, and there’s and odd man rush going the other way. Then, the defense would scramble to break up a play in their own zone, while the forwards rushed back, creating chaos with the opposition having control over the play. It’s no wonder the opposition had better quality shots against the Canadians than the Canadians had. If it wasn’t for the goaltending of Brodeur and Luongo, the final result would have been disastrous for Canada, even more so than it already was.
What happened to just shooting of the rush? When did a shot on net ever constitute a bad play? European teams used the rush, with a player going to the net, looking for rebounds. This was something Canada didn’t do very well. Even the breakout, to counteract the trap, would attempt to stretch the opposition forwards and defense, getting a Canadian forward open at center ice for an outlet pass. Passes missed targets, and then the defense scenario (see above) starts all over again. Organization among the forwards and defense was non-existent. That isn’t a factor of talent, its system.
Why wasn’t the opposition seeing steady waves of #91 and #97 out there? Thornton has been tearing up the NHL. Sakic is the consummate elite player archetype. Cycling the puck may work with Tie Domi and Wade Belak but it wont have the same effect with the likes of a Joe Sakic or Jarome Iginla. What a waste of such offensive power. This could have worked over an 82 game schedule – or against Germany and Italy – with plenty of time to get the system down. But this was a short tournament. Just because elite players comprised the roster, doesn’t mean that they were able to implement such a system in such short a time period, it still has to be taught, learned and implemented. Seeing the results from early games, they maintained the same system throughout the tournament. It’s like they were doomed to failure, before the games began in the first place.
It was different in Salt Lake City. There, the opposition was constantly hit by Owen Nolan and an effective combination of Iginla and Keith Primeau. Then the soft hands took over. They played this cycle to the very end, showing its effectiveness in the gold medal game against the US. In the World Cup, same thing, only on a smaller ice surface.
How did Quinn justify the loss? He blamed the power play. Granted, those are squandered opportunities. It didn’t work well, but there is more to winning than a good powerplay. The Russian powerplay was worse than the Canadians. He shifted the burden of what went wrong from himself, perhaps his coaching staff, to the players that perform on the ice. Players looking lost out there is not from the lack of talent. At the time of team selections, some questions of omissions, scrutinized the selections. Eric Staal, less than a season in the NHL, without International experience was not the answer. Jason Spezza, with16 games with the Canadian National Team, would not have altered the results (see Finland’s veteran laden lineup and what they accomplished.) This was not as much a failure of the individual talents and selections, as it was a failure of the system established by Quinn. The players themselves, off camera, out of the media spotlight, would probably admit to the frustration they displayed on the ice.
That, unfortunately, should mark the death knell to Quinn’s coaching job in Toronto. He was simply not able to adapt and this is strange. In past adversity, he usually came up with some type of a solution, if not to win, to at least be competitive. Save the goaltending, this team was not competitive. I always considered Quinn to be a dynamic figure, always been a booster. But this loss indicates that somehow, the game has passed him by. It wasn’t the fact that they lost – competition in the Olympics is fairly even among the elite teams. It was the way they lost, the performance itself.
After this display, it is hard to remain optimistic about the ability to lead a fleeting Maple Leafs team. Too many mistakes were made, without any admission of the strategy being flawed. Short sightedness is not a positive attribute in an NHL coach. Perhaps the youth movement should begin in Toronto. For that to happen, it means one thing. Pat Quinn’s gotta go.
Gus Katsaros is a freelance hockey writer and blogger, and a dedicated hockey enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org