The list of superstar players who parlayed their careers into successful coaching runs is small. Patrick Roy doesn’t have too far to go to crack the top 10.
If the NHL schedule-maker cared more about headlines than logistics, the Colorado Avalanche would have played Monday night in Montreal. You know, St. Patrick’s day on St. Patrick’s Day. Bah-dum-dum.
Alas, Patrick Roy’s return to the city that so idolizes him took place on Tuesday and resulted in a 6-3 win for the home side. Never mind. It’s just a flesh wound in a conquering season for Roy, one in which his name will certainly appear at the top of most ballots for the Jack Adams Award.
In his rookie campaign, Roy has the Avs sitting sixth overall a year after after his club drafted first overall, which prompted us to reflect on the success rate of all-time great players who turned their hands to coaching. It’s not exactly stellar.
It didn’t end well for Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix, Rocket Richard lasted all of two games with the WHA’s Quebec Nordiques before he stepped down, Doug Harvey was one year and done with the New York Rangers, Ted Lindsay won three of 20 contests with the Detroit Red Wings, Phil Esposito had two undecorated campaigns on Broadway, while Bryan Trottier had one. You get the picture.
There are a few notable exceptions. But not many. Here’s our top 10 list of superstar players who had respectable-to-great coaching runs. To be included, the individual must have been inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player.
1. Toe Blake, Canadiens (1955-68). A Hart Trophy winner, three-time first-team all-star and three-time Stanley Cup champ, Blake already had a house full of hardware before he transitioned careers, but his greatest success came as Habs’ bench boss. He had a .634 points percentage in 914 games and led the club to eight Stanley Cups, second most all-time to Scotty Bowman.
2. Jacques Lemaire, Canadiens, Devils, Wild (1983-85, ’93-98, 2000-11). With two Jack Adams Awards on his resume and one Cup with the Devils in 1995, not to mention a reputation as the father of the trap, Lemaire’s coaching legacy is indelible. He ranks 10th all-time in wins with 617 and ninth with 1,262 games coached.
3. Larry Robinson, Kings, Devils (1995-2002, 2005-06). ‘Big Bird’ famously parachuted in for the Devils 2000 Cup run with eight games left in the season, taking over for the fired Robbie Ftorek. He also led the Devils to the final the following year. Overall, the 1995 Hall inductee lost more regular season games than he won as a coach and ultimately gave up the pursuit due to stress, but hey, as Alex Ovechkin once told us, Cups is Cups and precious few coaches on this list have one.
4. Sid Abel, Hawks, Red Wings, Blues, Scouts (1952-54, ’57-76). Abel was the Marv Levy of NHL coaches in the 1960s, losing the final in three of four years and four of six with Detroit. He also owns the distinction of being the only man to coach both NHL Missouri-based teams, St. Louis and Kansas City.
5. Milt Schmidt, Bruins, Capitals (1954-66, ‘74-76). Schmidt makes the list more for longevity than success. He piloted Boston for more than 700 games in the 1950s and ‘60s, getting them to the Stanley Cup final in ’57 and ’58, then briefly helmed the woeful Capitals in the 1970s. Overall, he had a .406 points percentage.
6. Bob Gainey, North Stars/Stars, Canadiens (1990-96, 2005-06, ’08-09). A disciple of Bowman, Gainey led an inspired Minnesota North Stars charge to the final in 1991 and enjoyed some success with Dallas in the franchise’s first year in Texas, but his overall points percentage (.472) falls below the equator.
7. Gerry Cheevers, Bruins (1980-85). In five seasons with the Bruins, all Cheevers did was win – except in the playoffs. He owns the seventh-best points percentage all-time (.604) among men who have coached more than 250 NHL games. Included was a first overall placing in 1982-83. He was replaced by Harry Sinden in 1984-85.
8. Bobby Hull, Jets (1972-75). As the Jets’ player coach for their first three years, the Golden Jet had a respectable .506 points percentage, including a first overall finish in the WHA’s inaugural year and an appearance the in Avco Cup final. The year after he stepped down as head coach, the Jets won their first crown.
9. Red Kelly, Kings, Penguins Maple Leafs (1967-77). Remember Pyramid Power? That’s Kelly’s legacy as a coach, a psychological ploy he used for the Leafs in the 1976 playoffs against Philadelphia. He placed a huge pyramid in the club’s dressing room and smaller replicas under the bench, working off the mystical philosophy that the northern point would draw magnetic energy off which the team would feed. The Leafs won one game with the help of the pyramids, but lost the series and Kelly’s 742-game coaching career (.465 points percentage) came to an end the following season.
10. Bill Barber, Flyers (2000-02). He got results in two regular seasons (.621 points percentage and a Jack Adams Award), but couldn’t get the job done in the playoffs and was quickly booted following a first-round playoff exit in 2002.