NHL Stanley Cup Final: The 25 Best Pressure Coaches in Playoff History
photo courtesy of Slapshot
The head coach position in all professional sports is a pretty stressful job. Considering that most of the people that you are in charge of make five to six times more money than you, coaches are the ones who are often slightly more than well-paid daycare providers for the spoiled children of the franchise.
It is often a thankless middle-management position that serves as a liaison between ownership and player.
Take Reggie Dunlop, for example. He holds the unique position of player-coach for the Charlestown Chiefs of the Federal League. With the impending closure of his local mill and the contraction of the Chiefs a certainty, Dunlop employs a goon-first mentality that drives up attendance and generates intense fan interest.
Although Dunlop's intentions are mostly selfless and pure, his efforts are for naught, as the owner of the Chiefs says he is folding the team as a tax write-off.
Dunlop convinces the rest of the Chiefs to play his final game straight—"old time hockey." After taking a restaurant-quality beatdown in the first period, the Chiefs resort to their old tactics and brawl with the old nemesis Syracuse Bulldogs.
While art can often imitate life, the absurdity of the movie Slapshot still has some legitimate moments that are very real in the world of hockey. The coach, for better or worse, is the face of the franchise and more often than not is the voice. The players on the team are subject to the "system" or the style of play that the coach chooses to employ.
Reggie Dunlop won't go down in the annals of hockey as one of the greatest coaches, but his motivating tactics and leather suit are beyond reproach. In the real world of NHL head coaches, here are 25 of the greatest big-game, pressure coaches in league history.
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Joel Quenneville reached the apex of his coaching career by winning the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. Quenneville has had an excellent track record, missing the playoffs only once (with a 44-win, 95-point Colorado team in 2007).
With his glare and ornery mustache, Quenneville will look to get the Hawks back to the Stanley Cup Final.
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Working against Bylsma is something I like to call the "Phil Jackson Syndrome." PJS occurs when you have a team with more than one superstar that is "expected" to contend for the title (something Jackson did in Chicago and Los Angeles while he collected NBA titles).
That being said, credit needs to be given to manage egos and devise game plans to get the most out of your role players. Bylsma's captain/star Sidney Crosby has missed substantial time with injury, yet Bylsma has had the Penguins in great position the past two years.
After winning the cup in 2009, Bylsma's Penguins are perennial favorites to represent the Eastern Conference.
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Bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston last year made Bruin fans forget they had a coach who once sat behind the hated Montreal Canadiens bench. Julien coached the New Jersey Devils for three-quarters of a season before being fired while the team was in second place in the Eastern Conference.
He took over the Boston job in 2007 and immediately got the Bruins back to the playoffs.
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Marc Crawford is best known for his career as the Colorado Avalanche head coach. While in Denver, Crawford's Avalanche twice lifted the Stanley Cup amidst their fierce rivalry with the hated Detroit Red Wings.
The current bench boss for the Philadelphia Flyers should get a special award for getting the Carolina Hurricanes their lone Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He fell short in the finals against Chicago in 2010, but with the emergence of star Claude Giroux, the Flyers future looks bright with Laviolette at the helm.
The Flyers series against the hated Penguins showcased Coach Laviolette's big-game skills, as the Flyers surprised the hockey world with a six-game series win.
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A little salt in the wounds for those of you looking for Lindy Ruff sees 1999 Dallas Stars' cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock on the list. Hitchcock has missed the playoffs only twice in his career, but as coach in Columbus, does that really count?
The fact that he got the Blue Jackets to their only playoff appearance is worth mentioning.
By the way, Hull's foot WAS in the crease; you're welcome Buffalo!
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Sutter's run through the playoffs earns him a spot on the list. The Kings' unprecedented run to the Stanley Cup has Sutter on the verge of immortality.
Okay, getting his name on the cup. Immortality seems a little much, but Sutter has a solid track record of success at the highest level.
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Until he finally won his cup in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils, Burns was in danger of being on a list of best coaches to never win one.
Burns was the NHL's only three-time winner of the Jack Adams Award in his first year with each team (Montreal, Toronto, Boston). He stepped down from the Devils bench in 2005 due to the cancer that would eventually take his life far too soon.
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Of Pat Quinn's 612 career victories, none would have been sweeter than a fourth win in the Stanley Cup Final. Falling a game short with the Flyers in 1980 and the Canucks in 1994 probably haunts "The Big Irishman," but he is still one of the most respected men in the NHL today.
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Blamed for integrating some of the most boring hockey into the NHL, Lemaire's success speaks for itself. While it can be argued that he played to the strengths of his teams over the years, Lemaire is known as one of the best teachers in the coaching fraternity.
He has more Stanley Cups than fingers, winning eight as a player in Montreal, two more as an assistant general manager of the Canadiens, then one as the Devils coach in 1995.
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One of the most hated coaches in the league, Mike Keenan got the most out of his players probably just to spite him and shut him up. Either way, Keenan's 1994 Stanley Cup win amid the "guaranteed" wins and hoopla in New York City makes him a coaching legend.
After Stanley Cup Final appearances with the Flyers in 1985 and 1987 and Chicago in 1992, Keenan finally got his name on the cup thanks to Mark Messier.
photo courtesy of yourhappinesszone.com
The above picture is Roger Neilson mocking surrender to the referees after some poor officiating while he was coaching in Vancouver. There is a statue in Neilson's honor outside of Rogers Arena in Vancouver depicting the "Towel Power" that he helped inspire.
Neilson is credited with being the first to utilize game film to scout opponents and as a tool to teach his own team. Neilson coached eight different teams over his career, becoming the ninth coach to ever coach over 1,000 games his final season in Ottawa.
Neilson was forced to prematurely step away from hockey as he lost his battle with cancer in 2003.
photo courtesy of SI.com
For all of his angry, nonsensical press conferences/confrontations with the media, Tortorella knows how to coach. Winning a Stanley Cup for the state of Florida (Tampa Bay) in 2004 gave him some credibility as more than just a loudmouth. Tortorella's Rangers showed up when it mattered in two Game 7s this year, but they couldn't get past the Devils in the conference finals.
Look for Tortorella's Rangers to contend for the next few years and hopefully take part in some more awkward press encounters.
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The scowling, lantern-jawed coach of the Detroit Red Wings does have a Stanley Cup to his name, but he also owns the dubious distinction of two Game 7 Stanley Cup Final losses with two different teams. Losses in 2003 (Anaheim) and 2009 (Detroit) almost cost him a spot on the list.
The fact that he is the charter member of the Triple Crown Club (Stanley Cup, Gold medal, World Championship) cements his place on it.
photo courtesy of hhof.com
You can't have a list like this that doesn't include the guy after whom the award for best coach is named. He spent 36 years with the Detroit Red Wings, first as a coach, then as a general manager. Adams won three Stanley Cups as the coach for Detroit, then another four as the GM.
Ironic that the guy for whom the most outstanding coach award is named once punched a referee after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"Win today and we walk together forever" is a quote attributed to the former Flyers bench boss—known also as "The Fog" for his passive and and eccentric personality.
Shero was the first coach to hire a full-time assistant and is one of the first to initiate the morning skate. As the coach of the notorious "Broad Street Bullies" that won back to back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, Shero's career was brief but very successful.
photo courtesy of minnesotafunfacts.com
Herb Brooks gets a spot on the list for his 1980 Olympic success more than his NHL coaching career. Brooks' 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. team had arguably the most significant victory in the history of sports.
I know this list is an NHL list, but I love me some America!
Badger Bob Johnson is credited with the quote that best reflected his enthusiasm and optimism: "It's a great day for hockey!" This quote is actually over the entrance to the Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins now play their home games.
Johnson's career was cut short far too soon when he was diagnosed with and eventually succumbed to brain cancer in 1991, just five months after winning the Stanley Cup.
photo courtesy of hockey.wikia.com
Dick Irvin retired from coaching as the all-time leader in wins with 692. He won four Stanley Cup titles, but also lost in 12 other Stanley Cup Finals. With the bulk of his time spent between Toronto and Montreal, Irvin was the most successful coach of his generation.
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George "Punch" Imlach was the Mike Keenan of Toronto Maple Leafs coaches in an 11-year period from 1958 to 1969 that saw Toronto lift the Stanley Cup four times.
Regarded by many as an abusive disciplinarian, Imlach relied on his older players as his biggest supporters and often butted heads with the younger stars. His 365 wins for Toronto are still a franchise record.
photo courtesy of vintageleafs.blogspot.com
Are Toronto fans getting nostalgic yet? Hap Day won five Stanley Cups for Toronto in the the decade from 1940 to 1950. In his 33-year NHL career, Day spent 28 of them in some capacity with the Leafs.
photo courtesy of hhof.com
Remember when the New York Islanders were the good team in New York City? Al Arbour was the one responsible for the Islanders' success over the course of 19 years on Long Island. The Islanders peaked, of course, during their four consecutive Cups from 1980-84, and Arbour retired after the 1986 season.
He returned to the bench in 1988, but almost all of the stars from the early '80s dynasty were gone and Arbour made only one more significant run for the cup in 1992-93.
photo courtesy bigmouthsports.com
The perfect NHL example for the aforementioned "PJS: Phil Jackson Syndrome" is Glen Sather. Sitting behind the bench for the Oilers teams of the early 1980s seemed like a pretty remedial task.
Much more impressive considering Sather was also responsible for assembling the talent on the ice, managing all of the youth and stroking and keeping the egos in check. Regardless of the wealth of talent, keeping that many young men focused on a common goal isn't as easy as it sounds.
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Hector "Toe" Blake was a fantastic player on Montreal's "Punch Line" along with Maurice Richard and Elmer Lach. A Hart and Art Ross trophy winner in 1939, Blake went on to captain the Canadians from 1940 until an injury forced his retirement in 1948.
Blake went on to coach the Canadians for 13 years, winning the Stanley Cup in eight of those. Five consecutive titles from 1956 to 1960 is a feat that will never be replicated with the parity in today's game.
photo courtesy of thestar.com
The top three can probably be argued in any particular order, but Bowman probably wins on most counts. His NHL record for regular-season wins and playoff wins will likely never be broken. From a purely statistical standpoint, there is Scotty Bowman, then everyone else.
Nine Stanley Cups with three different teams and an absurd .632 winning percentage in the playoffs separate Bowman from the pack.