John Tortorella and the 9 Best Motivational Coaches in NHL History
Being a coach in the NHL is not an easy task. In a league that features players young and old from a mixture of countries like Russia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Sweden, some might say that the language barrier causes the NHL to be the most difficult sport to coach.
Much like the other major sports, the media tends to overlook the coaches and places the players in the spotlight. However, when things go wrong, coaches are the first ones blamed. This causes the coaching carousel to spin. Some years that carousel seems to spin faster than others.
One tool a coach can use to avoid the carousel is called motivation. If a coach is motivated and willing to put 110 percent into coaching on and off the ice, then his players will follow suit.
With that, here are ten of the best motivational coaches in NHL history.
10. Lindy Ruff
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There is a reason why Lindy Ruff is currently the longest tenured coach in the NHL. In 14 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Ruff has led them to the playoffs eight times. This includes one Stanley Cup appearance in the 1998-99 season.
He is someone who is very blunt with the media and someone who will do anything to protect his players.
During the 2005-06 season, Ruff lashed out against Toronto Maples Leafs forward Darcy Tucker and the league after a hit on then forward Jochen Hecht. Ruff called for the suspension of Tucker and added “I want him fined. I’ll come to the hearing. I haven’t called the league once; I’ll call them 10 times tomorrow.”
Ruff is also responsible for one of the most memorable brawls in the past few years.
Co-captain Chris Drury was drilled by Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil. No penalty was called and as a result, Ruff sent out an enforcer line, which included Andrew Peters, Patrick Kaleta and Adam Mair.
That caused a huge fight between that line and Ottawa’s line, which included stars Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. The brawl also had goaltenders Marty Biron and Ray Emery battle each other in center ice. When the melee was over, Ruff was fined $10,000.
Whether it is leading his team to the playoffs, being blunt with the media, having the back of his players or racking up individual accolades, Ruff is a coach that players are motivated to play for.
9. Herb Brooks
Known as the man who coached the miracle 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic winning team, Brooks was also a coach in the NHL. He coached the New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While he never tasted the glory of winning a Stanley Cup, he did have success in the NHL. In seven seasons, he made the playoffs five times, leading his teams to the second round each time.
Just being in the presence of a gold medal-winning coach is enough motivation for any hockey player. It is a shame his life was cut short after a tragic car accident in 2003.
8. Peter Laviolette
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One Stanley Cup, two division championships and six playoff appearances makes Peter Laviolette one of the best current coaches in the NHL.
It was truly a joy to watch Laviolette on HBO’s 24/7 this past season. He provided us with many great moments, one being “typical Montreal”. When he is not yelling about the referees, he is sticking up for his players by yelling at the opposing coaches.
Laviolette has revitalized the Flyers (has made playoffs the last three years) and has done a great job with young talent, which includes Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.
Not only do the players love him for putting trust in them and giving them big minutes at such a young age, but so do the fans because of his fiery temper and preference for intense play.
7. John Tortorella
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Much like Laviolette, John Tortorella was a treat to watch during 24/7. Torts is not a fan of the media and vice versa, but the guy can coach. Seven playoff appearances, three division titles and a Stanley Cup are what makes him such a great coach.
If his “loud” personality does not motivate you as a player, maybe it’s the fact that no matter who you are, one individual is not above the team. Just ask Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik and Stu Bickel. All of them felt the wrath of Tortorella when he benched them during games (some crucial games to be exact). In the end, it made them better players.
Even though some players may fear him, John Tortorella makes sure he gets the full potential out of all his players. He proved it this past year by leading the Rangers to the second best record in the NHL and almost getting them back to the Stanley Cup. If the Rangers have continued success in the future, it will be because of Tortorella.
6. Darryl Sutter
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He might be one of seven brothers, but Darryl Sutter is truly one of a kind, especially after this past season he had with the Los Angeles Kings.
Even before that, Sutter was a decent coach. In 12 seasons, Sutter only missed the playoffs twice and took the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 season.
Sutter, after a five-year hiatus, took over the Kings 33 games into this season. From there, Sutter led the team to a 25-13-11 mark, getting them into the playoffs as an eight seed.
From there, they mowed down the first seed, second seed and third seed for the first time in Stanley Cup history (119 years). The Kings went on to beat the Devils in the Stanley Cup, marking the first ever Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 45-year history.
If that is not a motivational coach, I don’t know what is.
5. Mike Babcock
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It’s not often you see a hockey coach with a career win percentage close to 70, but Mike Babcock is close to that number. Currently at 68 percent in his career, Babcock has continued to make Detroit a consistent powerhouse since taking over in 2005.
Babcock not only wins on the NHL level, but other levels as well. After winning Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2009, he became the only coach to become a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation Triple Gold Club by winning an Olympic gold medal, a World Championship gold medal and a Stanley Cup.
With his winning history and the list of current and future Hall of Famers he has coached (Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidström), Babcock is a coach that many love to play for. His success at all levels of hockey competition proves he gets the most out of his players and he continues to motivate them to win.
4. Punch Imlach
Punch Imlach started as an assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just a month into the 1958-59 season, the Leafs were in last place. Imlach fired Reay and took over. He promised the team would make it to the playoffs.
With three games to go in the regular season, the Leafs still trailed the Rangers by five points, but in one of the most incredible finishes of all time, Toronto won all its games and the Rangers lost all theirs. Imlach's prediction had come true and he was considered a genius.
Imlach was a no-nonsense kind of coach. He refused to negotiate players' contracts until training camp, feeling that the strategy got the players to work harder because they felt less secure about their positions.
He also had up-and-down relationships with his players. It would all depend upon how they adapted to his philosophy. Multiple times, he would butt heads with such players like Carl Brewer and Frank Mahovlich.
Brewer quit the team after getting into a dressing room argument with Imlach and from there did not return to the league for four years.
Mahovlich for years was bullied by Imlach. He was bullied so much that Mahovlich left the team twice because he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Yet, both men put their differences aside and won four Stanley Cups together.
Imlach was a coach who was loyal and stayed close to players that felt the same to him. Players like Tim Horton and Johnny Bower showed that loyalty when both players retired from hockey because Imlach was not their coach. Clearly, if players are willing to retire because their favorite coach is not coaching them anymore, he had motivational influence on them.
3. Jack Adams
In all, Jack Adams won nine Stanley Cups. As a coach, he won three. Because of his continued success as a player, coach, and general manager, in 1974 the award for the most outstanding coach in the NHL was named after him.
Adams was known as someone with a loud and brash personality. For example, he would storm the officials' room at the Olympia to argue with the referees about calls he did not agree with. Yet in the offseason, he would fight for officials to receive a pay raise.
Perhaps Adams' biggest accomplishment of all is finding and developing possibly the greatest player of all-time in Gordie Howe. Other great players Adams developed include Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk and Alex Delvecchio.
While he won the most Stanley Cup as a general manager (four), Adams' longevity of success in the NHL makes him a person that any hockey player would happily play for.
2. Al Arbour
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19 straight playoffs series won (professional sports record) that led to four straight Stanley Cups for the New York Islanders. No other hockey team has been able to string together four straight championships since Al Arbour retired in 1994.
Compared to some of the other coaches on this list, Arbour was very mild mannered. He was not the type of coach to rant. He was honest and logical with his players. He respected his players and the players respected him back.
In 2007 the Islanders showed that respect when former head coach Ted Nolan requested that Arbour return for one game. The game would be his 1,500th game for the Islanders. Arbour agreed and at the age of 75 became the oldest man to ever coach in the NHL. The Islanders won the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, marking it as win number 740 for Arbour with the Islanders. The Islanders honored Arbour with a banner that read 1500. It currently hangs from the rafters of Nassau Coliseum.
Some might consider Al Arbour the best coach ever in the NHL. He took a team that was struggling and turned them into a dynasty never seen in hockey. However, he sits at number two on this list.
The number one most motivational coach in NHL history is…
1. Scotty Bowman
Scotty Bowman is not only a hockey coaching legend, but also one of the biggest coaching legends in the four major sports, which is why he is number one on this list. You look in the NHL record books and Scotty Bowman holds almost all the coaching records.
1,244 regular season wins, 223 Stanley Cup playoff wins, 62 wins in a season, 16 semi-finals, 13 Stanley Cup appearances and most importantly nine Stanley Cups. Before Arbour did it, Scotty Bowman strung together four straight Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadians from 1975-79.
Bowman retired in 2002, going out on top winning a third Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.
Every player wants to play for that coach that has a history of winning championships. Basketball has Phil Jackson, football has Bill Belichick, and baseball has Joe Torre.
For hockey, Scotty Bowman is and always will be that coach.