Top 10 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. Today, we shine a light on some of the top coaches in the NHL. In no particular order, we take a look at the top 10 current coaches in the league.
Jon Cooper, Lightning: Cooper took over the team late in the 2012-13 season, posting a 5-8-3 mark in limited action. From his first full season of 2013-14 through this season, the Lightning hasn’t put up less than 92 points in a season and that came in this shortened campaign. Four times, the Lightning has posted at least 100 points and he has a 347-180-50 mark in the regular season. That’s a .645 winning percentage, which is nothing to sneeze at. While the Lightning has yet to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice under his tenure, they have reached the Eastern Conference Finals three times and made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2014-15 season.
Mike Sullivan, Penguins: Sullivan started his head coaching career with the Bruins back in the 2003-04 season but lasted only two seasons with the team. He took over the head coaching job in Pittsburgh in time for the 2015-16 season and the Penguins were on a roll right from the start. Pittsburgh won back to back Stanley Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17 under his leadership. He has a 214-115-40 record with the Penguins and has the team in the postseason for the fifth straight year under his tutelage. Whether the Penguins can have the success he had in his first two seasons remains to be seen.
Barry Trotz, New York Islanders: Trotz has had quite a bit of success over his stops in the NHL. He led the Predators to the postseason seven times in his career, spending 15 years with the team and posting a 557-479-60-100 record over that span. Following his departure from Music City, he took on the Washington Capitals, leading them to post at least 101 points in each of his four seasons at the helm. In addition, Trotz helped the Capitals earn their first Stanley Cup title in the 2017-18 season before stepping down at the end of the year. After taking over the Islanders before the 2018-19 season, he’s led them to the postseason twice. He’s a force to be reckoned with as he has a ton of playoff experience.
Paul Maurice, Jets: Maurice has been around the league and has plenty of experience. He was the coach of the Hurricanes when they fell in the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2001-02 season. In addition, Maurice spent two years in Toronto and 11 years over two different stints with the Hurricanes. He’s been with he Jets for the last six-plus seasons, posting a 272-190-54 mark with the franchise. While his teams haven’t had the success in the postseason (36-44 playoff mark), the Jets have the weapons to make life tough for opposing teams and a coach that has been around for more than two decades.
Claude Julien, Canadiens: Julien is another coach with plenty of experience as his first head coaching job came with the Canadiens in the second half of the 2002-03 season. His best success came during a decade-long run with the Bruins from 2007-08 to 2016-17, during which he posted a 419-246-94 record. During that stretch, Boston claimed the Stanley Cup in the 2010-11 season and fell in the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2012-13 season. Julien has an overall 658-440-10-148 mark in his regular season coaching career and is 63-51 in the postseason. Montreal is only in the postseason because of the expanded field but Julien will try to get the most out of his team.
Joel Quenneville, Panthers: 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.
John Tortorella, Blue Jackets: Tortorella may be a bit underrated, mainly because he has had success with teams that are outside the major markets in the league. He spent seven years in Tampa Bay when the team was still in its early stages of existence, followed by six years with the Rangers. After one season with Vancouver, he has spent the last five seasons with the Blue Jackets. He stands 14th in league history in regular season victories as a head coach with 655 and saw his team upend the top-seeded Lightning via a sweep in a stunning opening-round result. He owns a Stanley Cup ring from the 2003-04 season with Tampa Bay.
Alain Vigneault, Flyers: Vigneault is another one of those guys that gets overlooked as he’s been around the league quite a bit in his career. He spent four years in Montreal to start his career, followed by a seven-year run with Vancouver and a five-year stint with the Rangers. This is his first year with the Flyers and after a slow start, his team really started to click in the second half of the season. Vigneault is 10th in league history with 689 career regular season victories. In addition, he led Vancouver to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2010-11 season and the Rangers in 2013-14, though he failed to earn a title.
Dave Tippett, Oilers: Tippett had a long career in the league as a player, spending 11 years with the Whalers, Capitals, Penguins and Flyers before hanging up the skates after the 1993-94 season. As a coach, he’s had success with several different teams. He spent six years with Dallas and then eight years with the Coyotes. After not having a head coaching job for a couple of seasons, he took over the Oilers this season. Edmonton was second in the Pacific Division when the season was paused for the COVID-19 pandemic. All told, he is 21st in league history with 590 regular season victories: he’ll hope to improve on his 33-41 playoff mark.
Peter DeBoer, Golden Knights: DeBoer looked to be on the way out after getting fired by San Jose earlier this season with the team sporting a 15-16-2 record but he caught on with Vegas in a massive shift of fortunes earlier this year. The Golden Knights went 15-5-2 under his coaching and earned a spot in the round-robin tournament to determine seeding for the Western Conference playoffs. DeBoer led the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-12 and the Sharks in 2015-16 though neither team earned the title. He stands 34th in all-time regular season wins with 430. There is plenty of talent for Vegas to work with and for DeBoer to lead to success.