Members of the NHL’s coaching community come from a wide variety of backgrounds – some, like Canucks coach Willie Desjardins, have degrees in social work; others, like Dallas’ Lindy Ruff, are hockey lifers with a background as a worker bee NHLer – but, for the most part, very few of the game’s elite stars have found success as bench bosses. The reasons for it are complex, but by-and-large, the best of the best usually prefer to spend their time away from the type of high-pressure environment occupied by a coach in hockey’s top league. And that’s why news the Red Wings were close to naming Hockey-Hall-of-Famer Chris Chelios as an assistant to new head coach Jeff Blashill is interesting: you rarely see a former player of his calibre at ice level without his equipment on.
Who are the best modern-era players who have evolved into NHL coaches or assistant coaches? Here are the Top 5:
5. Adam Oates. Like the other players who made this list, Oates is a Hall-of-Famer who amassed 1,420 points in 1,337 regular-season games and is regarded as one of the better playmakers in league history. He began his post-career coaching days as an assistant in Tampa Bay and then New Jersey, before the Capitals made him their head coach in June of 2012. And although he failed to make the playoffs in two years guiding the Capitals before he was fired at the end of the 2013-14 campaign, Oates quickly returned behind the bench with the Devils as a “co-coach” alongside Scott Stevens midway through this past year. He’ll likely get another shot, at least, as an assistant, with another NHL franchise.
4. Scott Stevens/Larry Robinson. Two defensemen who played the game in very different manners, Robinson and Stevens are multi-time Stanley Cup-winners as NHLers and used their cachet to their benefit as coaches. However, where Stevens is just beginning his coaching career – his duties with Oates were his first official duties in an assistant-type capacity – Robinson is winding down his days behind the bench, currently working with San Jose as an associate coach and director of player development. Robinson also won a Cup as an assistant with New Jersey in 1995 and as a head coach five years later, so Stevens has some catching up to do if he wants to match his former coach’s achievements in retirement.
3. Bryan Trottier. The Islanders icon amassed 1,425 points in 1,279 regular-season games and won six Cups (four on Long Island, and two in Pittsburgh) as a player, then added another ring as an assistant coach with Colorado in 2001. The Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe-winner was a washout in his one year as a head coach in Manhattan with the Rangers, but he returned to the coaching community last season as an assistant to Ted Nolan in Buffalo.
2. Scott Niedermayer. Since his retirement in 2010, Niedermayer has dipped a toe in the coaching waters, serving as an assistant with the Ducks while not travelling with the team on the road and looking after his young family. But the 41-year-old Norris and Conn Smythe winner makes this list because he was one of the smoothest blueliners the sport has ever known – and his four Stanley Cup rings are a testament to his legacy as a winner.
1. Patrick Roy. The former Canadiens and Avalanche superstar goalie isn’t just the biggest name (other than Wayne Gretzky, of course) to step behind an NHL bench, but he’s arguably the best to ever play his position – and when he won the Jack Adams Award in 2014 as a rookie head coach at that level, the 49-year-old instantly became the most accomplished former star-turned-coach in league history. Four Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythes and three Vezina Trophies simply underscore how dominant Roy was.