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"Legendary Toronto Maple Leafs coaches" – it's a strangely short list.

Randy Carlyle is the 37th man to lead from behind the Leafs' bench. Despite all the trophies, only a few of the names that preceded him ring out – Dick Irvin, Hap Day, Punch Imlach.

The deeper you get into this team's history, the thinner the leadership gruel.

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Through the 1970s and 1980s, it was largely a wasteland, imposed from above by the capriciousness of owner Harold Ballard. He tore through coaches, shredding his team in the process.

It is difficult to explain to someone under 30 years of age how demoralizing some of Ballard's Leafs squads were. They were designed for maximum viewership pain. Back then, you wouldn't have thrown your jersey out onto the ice. It'd be too heavy to get that metaphoric cross off your back.

Being too big to fail, the Leafs survived Ballard, but only just. In the early 1990s, Pat Burns put some swagger back into the club. It didn't feel very Original Six, but the city just wanted a winner. The timing wasn't great. The Leafs went on a run just as the Blue Jays were peaking.

Sports-wise, 1993 was as good as it got in this town, but the Leafs had to share the moment. But Burns couldn't quite replicate the magic of the 1992-93 campaign, and he was yanked out of his job in unseemly fashion a few years later. It felt like the bad old days had returned.

They had, for a while.

And then Pat Quinn arrived.

He'd already taken Philadelphia and Vancouver to Stanley Cup finals. His reputation could stand on his West Coast work alone. But he was meant to be with the Leafs. That's the capstone on his legacy.

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Quinn was from Hamilton, but stepped straight out of history. He'd played for the Leafs. He'd bled for them. He was the connection between the current club and Imlach, its last iconic coach.

He was the first man in an age who had the bona fides to step into the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and, from the opening moments, speak authoritatively on its behalf.

"For better or worse, and whether people like it or not, it's the most important hockey franchise in Canada," Quinn said.

This statement worked on a half-dozen levels: as an acceptance of what had gone before, as a challenge for the future, as a promise, as a 'Screw you' to the Montreal Canadiens and Quinn's previous employer, the Vancouver Canucks, and as a plain fact.

It was something the city badly needed to be reminded of. It only mattered coming from someone of Quinn's stature. Straight off, he gave the franchise the gift of its dignity. He earned a decade's worth of salary on that first afternoon.

Having been fed a steady diet of coaching nobodies, Toronto wanted a man of gravity. Quinn brought enough to unbalance the tides.

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He had the silky, hulking presence of a Tammany politician. He was whip-smart, well-educated and not afraid to fling it about. He had enough style to make the cigar seem like something more than a cartoonish prop.

He also had a subtle, adaptable hockey mind, one he liked to work in private. He took the general manager's position for himself, lest Bob Gainey get hold of it. He did not suffer fools, and disapproved of advice. Getting it, rather than giving it.

Some coaches stand behind the bench; a few stand astride it. Quinn was the latter sort. He believed coaches should not waste too much time coaching. Instead, they should manage. Quinn preferred that veteran players do the motivating in the room, and the upbraiding when necessary. He saw himself as the CEO, hovering slightly above it all.

Quinn's teams were very good. Not quite great, but reliably good.

He turned the Leafs from a dull, lumbering collection into a nimble unit. In essence, he turned them from a bunch of Pat Quinns into something better. During his first season, the Leafs increased their goals tally by more than a third.

In Quinn's second season, the Leafs won their division. It might not sound like much, but they hadn't managed it since expansion.

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Three of Quinn's Leafs squads reached 100 points on the season. No other team in Leafs history has ever done it.

What he's missing is a Cup. Quinn was always the likeliest man to get Toronto over the 1967 hump. He managed two conference finals, and two dispiriting losses.

He had Mats Sundin in his prime, but he was two or three stars short of a genuine championship aspirant. Quinn could navigate the regular season, but once benches shortened in the playoffs, he didn't have the horses.

It's a footnote rather than an indictment. What Quinn provided to the Leafs (and before them, the Flyers, Kings and Canucks) was steadiness. He had a knack for taking a beaten team and getting it back up on its feet. After all, he'd done it himself so many times during a marginal playing career.

No club was ever more battered than the Toronto Maple Leafs when Quinn arrived. They'd been absorbing shots off-and-on for 30 years.

Quinn didn't just make the Leafs winners. He gave a club and the city that supported them back their pride. For that alone, he deserves to be remembered among the legends.

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