Top 10 All-Time NHL Coaches
When it comes to professional sports, we inevitably measure the success of a team by how they perform on the playing surface, be it the gridiron, the hardwood, the diamond or the ice. Invariably, that means we elevate or demote how great we think a player is, to some extent, by how well their respective team performs at any given point in his career. In the 1980s, Michael Jordan was a dynamic scorer and capable of blitzing a team for 40 on a given night seemingly at will. However, without much of a supporting cast, the Bulls struggled and Jordan wasn’t as revered. Flash forward to the 1990s and six titles in an eight-year span and suddenly, he’s at the top of the food chain, mentioned alongside names like Chamberlain, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar.
Not much is made of the coaches or managers in professional sports. They don’t get much in the way of credit when a team is successful and the majority of the time, you only hear about them if they flip out (a la Jim Schoenfeld when he told Don Koharski to “have another donut”) or if they end up getting canned. Last week, we took a look at the top 10 current coaches in the NHL but how many of those guys would have cracked the all-time top 10? Read that piece and then compare here to find out.
Scotty Bowman: It’s hard to argue that Bowman wouldn’t be at the top of the food chain. After all, he owns the league record when it comes to seasons coached (30), regular season games coached (2,141) and regular season victories (1,244) and that’s just the start of his dominance. Bowman has more coaching losses (573) than all but 21 NHL coaches have victories in their careers. Throw in that he also owns the mark for playoff games (353) and victories (223) by an even 100 over the next guy on our list, you have to put him at the top of the pyramid. Add in nine Stanley Cup wins and 16 division titles and there’s no one else that can supplant him from the top spot. Even at the age of 86 (he turns 87 in September, Bowman could probably still whip a team into shape.
Al Arbour: When you get down to having success, Arbour is one of the few guys that is even in shouting distance when it comes to Bowman. He commandeered the Islanders during their massive run of success in the first half of the 1980s, when the team led by Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Mike Bossy strung together five straight appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals and four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. While New York wouldn’t make the Stanley Cup Finals again after falling to Edmonton in 1983-84, they made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 1992-93 season. Arbour is still fifth in league history with 782 regular season victories and stands second with 123 playoff wins.
Toe Blake: Ask most current hockey fans who Toe Blake is and you may get a lot of puzzled looks and shoulder shrugs. However, older fans of the sport know that Blake commandeered the dominant Montreal teams of the 1950s and 60s. The Canadiens took the Stanley Cup in each of his first five years as coach from 1955-56 through 1959-60 and added three more titles in his final four years at the helm. Blake retired after the 1967-68 season after Montreal swept St. Louis in the first Stanley Cup Finals after the expansion from the Original Six era. While his 500 wins are just 26th all-time, he boasts a .634 points percentage, which is fifth among coaches that have coached at least 300 games in the league. On top of that, eight Stanley Cup titles is second all-time behind Bowman and he pulled that off in 13 years. Sure, it was the Original Six era for 12 of those seasons but the Canadiens made the playoffs every year with him behind the bench.
Punch Imlach: Imlach is another one that casual fans or ones that have become more interested in the sport recently may not know. He passed away in 1987 and his final coaching stint was a 10-game run with Toronto in 1979-80. Imlach was the first coach in the history of the Buffalo Sabres franchise but lasted just a season and a half. He suffered a heart attack in January 1972 and was told that fatigue would put his health in danger. Imlach makes the cut as he led Toronto to four Stanley Cups in a six-year span from 1961-62 to 1966-67. That Stanley Cup in the 1966-67 season marks the most recent Stanley Cup title for the Maple Leafs heading into this summer’s restart. Imlach is 38th in all-time wins with 402 regular season triumphs but it’s hard to argue with four Cups, including the most recent for Toronto.
Glen Sather: Sather is best known as the guy that benefitted from a huge collection of elite talent in the second half of the 1980s with the Edmonton Oilers. He made some big draft picks early on in his run, bringing in guys like Paul Coffey, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr, Steve Smith and Jari Kurri, along with picking up Wayne Gretzky when the WHA folded up shop. Edmonton racked up five Stanley Cups in a seven-year span from 1983-84 to 1989-90 though Sather was only behind the bench for four of them. He was still the GM for the 1989-90 Stanley Cup win though John Muckler took over as head coach at the end of the 1988-89 campaign. Sather stands 28th in all-time regular season wins with 497 but boasts a .602 points percentage to go with his five rings, four as a coach.
Joel Quenneville: Quenneville has seemingly been around forever at this point in time. He started his head coaching career with the Blues back in the 1996-97 season and has bounced through Colorado, Chicago and now Florida during his course as the man behind the bench. Quenneville has racked up 925 regular season wins as a head coach, which is second all-time in league history behind only Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman’s 1,244. He won three Stanley Cups in a six-year span with Chicago and also has 118 playoff victories. That number trails only Bowman (223) and Al Arbour (123) in league history. He gets a chance to try to add to that number as the Panthers face the Islanders in the qualifying round next month.
Hap Day: Going well back into the Original Six era, Day spent a decade behind the bench in Toronto from 1940-41 to 1949-50. That came on the heels of a 14-year NHL career, 13 of which were spent with Toronto, two with the St. Patricks and 11 with the Maple Leafs after Conn Smythe bought the team. He led the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup in the 1931-32 season as a player but had great success as a coach. Toronto won five Stanley Cups under Day’s leadership, including three straight from 1946-47 to 1948-49. While he recorded only 259 regular season victories, which is 59th all-time, one has to consider that the regular season in that era was 50 games or less through 1945-46 before expanding to 60 games in 1946-47. It reached 70 games only in his final season of 1949-50. Imagine how many more wins he could have potentially had if the season was its current length. He is one of only three coaches to earn five Stanley Cup titles: Blake and Bowman are the others.
Dick Irvin: Irvin is a long-forgotten and majorly overlooked coach because he, like Day and Blake, spent their careers coaching in the Original Six era. In the case of Irvin, his career preceded the Original Six era as he began coaching with a 12-game stint with the Blackhawks in the 1928-29 season. After going 2-6-4, he didn’t get the head coaching job with Chicago again until 1930-31 but was finished in the Windy City by the end of the year. Irvin then spent nine years in Toronto and 15 in Montreal before finishing his career where it started, in Chicago, in 1955-56. All told, Irvin won 692 regular season games, leaving him ninth all-time despite not coaching in 65 years. In addition, his teams won four Stanley Cups, one with Toronto and three with Montreal. Irvin was replaced by Blake for the 1955-56 season so think about how many more rings he could have earned.
Pat Quinn: top 10 current coaches in the NHL0 may be one of the best coaches to not hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice during the course of his career. His teams made three conference finals in the course of his career and he led Vancouver to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1993-94 season. The Canucks fell in seven games to the Rangers as New York ended their 54-year drought that season. Quinn led the Maple Leafs to seven straight seasons with at least 90 points, including three 100-point campaigns, but couldn’t get them back to the Finals. He finished his career with 684 regular season wins and 94 playoff victories, leaving him 11th and sixth, respectively, in those categories before passing away in 2016.
Ken Hitchcock: top 10 current coaches in the NHL1 had a long run in the league spanning from 1995-96 through the 2018-19 season. He started his career with the Stars from 1995-96 through the 2001-02 season, leading Dallas to back to back Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 1998-99 and 1999-00. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1998-99, defeating the Sabres on Brett Hull’s controversial goal in Game 6. He went on to spend time behind the bench in Philadelphia, Columbus, St. Louis, a second stint in Dallas and then Edmonton before retiring. Hitchcock stands third in the league in all-time regular season victories with 849 when he was dismissed from the Oilers at the end of last season.