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

January 19, 1988|JULIE CART | 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.

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