50 Best Hockey Minds in NHL History

Brad KurtzbergContributor IOctober 31, 2012

50 Best Hockey Minds in NHL History

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    When looking back at the history of the NHL, there are many ways for somebody to be considered a great hockey mind.

    Some players can make this list for the ways they changed the way the game was played on the ice.

    Coaches can make this list for introducing innovations, changing the style of play or just winning so many championships that other teams copied their style and the game changed.

    General managers can contribute by building dynasties that win over the course of time and change the course of league history.

    Meanwhile, there are owners and league officials who change the face of the league, help teams or the league grow and help move the sport forward.

    So, here is a list of the 50 greatest hockey minds in NHL history. Feel free to add any people you feel I may have missed or to comment on my choices, but please give reasons for your statements. Discussion is part of the fun.

50. Walter Gretzky

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    OK, I know Walter never played in the NHL, but he did affect the history of the league with his actions.

    It was Walter Gretzky who taught his son Wayne about the game of hockey. He told his son, among other things, to go to where the puck was going to be, not to where it was.

    No. 99 played the game in a way few had ever seen

    Walter Gretzky was the teacher and mentor of "The Great One," and for that, we give him the 50th spot on this list.

49. Stan Mikita

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    Stan Mikita was a Hall of Fame center for the Chicago Blackhawks between 1958-59 and 1979-80.

    In addition to his excellent play on the ice, Mikita changed the game of hockey by helping to introduce (along with Andy Bathgate), the banana blade, a stick curved so much that the puck would move in unpredictable ways, making it hazardous and more difficult for goalies to stop the puck.

    The banana blade was eventually outlawed in the late 1960s when the league limited the amount of curve that players' sticks could have, but for about a decade, Mikita changed the way the game was played with his innovation.

48. Ken Hitchcock

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    Ken Hitchcock has an impressive resume as an NHL head coach. He has led the Dallas Stars to their only Stanley Cup championship, helped the Columbus Blue Jackets qualify for their only playoff berth and helped turn around the St. Louis Blues from a below-.500 team to the league's third-best unit in less than one season.

    Hitchcock's career highlight so far was winning the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999. He coached the Stars back to the Stanley Cup Final the following season, but they fell to New Jersey in an exciting seven-game series.

    After leaving the Stars, Hitchcock had successful stints with the Flyers and Blue Jackets (leading Columbus to the playoffs for the only time in franchise history) before turning the Blues around after being hired last November.

    Hitchcock plays a tight checking defensive system which requires maximum effort from his players. He inspires his players and usually gets results.

    By the conclusion of the 2011-12 season, Hitchcock had 576 career NHL coaching victories.

47. Bill Chadwick

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    Bill Chadwick was the first American-born referee in NHL history, working for the league between 1939 and 1955.

    Chadwick worked more than 900 regular season games for the NHL and another 42 in the Stanley Cup Final round.

    He changed the way the game is watched by creating hand signals for each penalty called on the ice. The league later made these signals official, and they are largely still used in the NHL today.

    After retiring as a referee, Chadwick had a successful career as a broadcaster for the New York Rangers where he earned the nickname "The Big Whistle."

    Chadwick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.

46. Roger Neilson

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    Roger Neilson was a popular and innovative coach for eight different NHL teams during his coaching career.

    Although he never won a Stanley Cup, Neilson was usually able to get his teams to overachieve. He had long playoff runs with the Maple Leafs, Canucks and Flyers and led the Rangers to a President's Trophy in 1991-92.

    Neilson was always popular with his players and known for his enthusiasm, hard work and faith.

    He also earned the nickname, "Captain Video" for being one of the first NHL head coaches to scout opponents by using video of their past games.

45. Jacques Demers

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    Jacques Demers is the only coach to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year in back-to-back seasons.

    He was a successful coach in the WHA before making five coaching stops in the NHL.

    Demers won the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1993.

    He was responsible for naming Steve Yzerman as captain of the Red Wings and helping Vincent Lecavallier adjust to life in the NHL during his first few seasons.

    After his coaching career ended, Demers became a Canadian senator.

    He has done a lot to promote literacy after admitting he coached hockey without knowing how to read.

44. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Nicklas Lidstrom was one of the most consistent hockey players in NHL history, and his play was consistently excellent.

    Lidstrom's play was not flashy, but he has such great hockey intelligence that he was almost always in the right place at the right time and made it all look easy.

    He was also a leader on and off the ice, serving as captain of the Red Wings for the final six seasons of his career.

    During his career, Lidstrom won seven Norris Trophies as the league's best defenseman, second only to Bobby Orr. He also won four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and was voted to 12 NHL All-Star Games.

43. Hap Day

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    Hap Day has been involved in hockey in so many capacities and been successful at nearly all of them.

    The Owen Sound, Ontario, native enjoyed a successful playing career with the St. Pats and Maple Leafs before finishing his career with the New York Americans in 1937-38.

    For two years after he retired as an active player, Day worked as an NHL referee.

    Day won the Stanley Cup as captain of the Maple Leafs in 1931-32 and then won five more as coach of the Leafs during his 10 years behind the Toronto bench.

    After his coaching days were over, he served as assistant GM of the Leafs and helped build the team that won the Stanley Cup in 1951.

    Day was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

42. Pat Burns

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    Pat Burns was a popular hockey coach for the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Bruins and Devils.

    He is the only coach to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year three different times for three different teams.

    Burns helped lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final in 1989, but they were defeated by the Calgary Flames that year. It was also the season he won his first Jack Adams Award.

    In 1993 and 1994, Burns coached the Maple Leafs to back-to-back appearances in the conference final round of the playoffs but lost to the Kings and Canucks. In 1993, he captured his second Adams Trophy. The third Adams Award came in 1997-98 with Boston.

    Burns finally won his first Stanley Cup behind the Devils bench in 2003.

    He died after a prolonged and difficult bout with cancer in 2010.

41. Joel Quenneville

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    Joel Quenneville was a solid stay-at-home defenseman during his playing days in the NHL, but he truly made his mark on the game and made this list by being a successful coach.

    So far, the Windsor, Ontario, native has been successful at each of his stops in the NHL, having good runs in St. Louis, Colorado and Chicago. Quenneville has surpassed the 600-win mark as a head coach and has never finished a season with a losing record. He is known around the league as a no-nonsense coach who is tough but fair with his players.

    He won his first Stanley Cup in 2010 when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

    He remains the coach of the Blackhawks, who should be contenders again this season once the lockout is over.

40. John Davidson

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    John Davidson was a pretty good goaltender during his career with the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. His spectacular goaltending helped lead the Rangers to an unexpected appearance in the 1979 Stanley Cup Final.

    But JD's biggest impact on the game came after he retired as a player. He later became one of the most respected and well-connected broadcasters in the sport. Davidson was known for his knowledge of the game both on the ice and behind the scenes.

    Later, the former goalie became an executive in the St. Louis Blues organization. It's no coincidence that the Blues finished with the league's third-best record last season as Davidson helped build the club into a winner.

    After an ownership change in St. Louis, Davidson joined the Columbus Blue Jackets organization earlier this month. We'll see if JD is equal to the challenge of resurrecting the team with the worst record in the NHL last year.

39. Eddie Shore

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    Eddie Shore was one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history known for his tough, fearless and physical style of play.

    Shore won the Hart Trophy as league MVP four times as a player.

    His career-ending hit on Toronto's Ace Bailey ended Bailey's career and created the first ever All-Star Game when players held a benefit game to raise money for Bailey and his family.

    Shore later owned the AHL's Springfield Indians and quickly gained a reputation as being as tough with his money as he was on opposing players. 

    He once refused to pay three of his players for "indifferent play," and the players' opposition to Shore helped lay the ground for the NHLPA.

    Shore came to personify "Old Time Hockey," as any fan of the film Slapshot is well-aware.

38. Jean Beliveau

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    Jean Beliveau has done it all in hockey, winning 10 Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and then getting his name on the Cup another seven times as an executive with the Habs.

    As a player, Beliveau helped personify the smooth-skating Canadiens teams of the 1950s and 60s. He was so good that the Canadiens actually purchased the entire league he was playing in just to make sure they obtained his rights.

    Beliveau was worth the investment. He finished his career with 507 goals and 1,219 points in 1,125 NHL games. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 1955-56, won a pair of Hart Trophies as the league's MVP and became the very first player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1965.

    "Le Gros Bill" was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, just one year after his retirement as an active player.

37. Jim Devellano

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    Jimmy Devellano is considered one of the better scouts and GMs in NHL history. He had a part in building two great teams, the Islanders of the 1980s and the Red Wings of the 1990s.

    Devellano worked as a scout under Bill Torrey in the early days of the Islanders. Among the players he recommended to the organization was Denis Potvin, the first overall pick in the 1973 NHL draft. He also helped encourage the Isles to hire Al Arbour as coach.

    The Islanders went on to win four Stanley Cups with Devellano acting as Director of Scouting.

    In 1982, Jimmy D was hired as GM of the Detroit Red Wings. He served as GM from 1982-1990, and again from 1994 through 1997.

    Among the players drafted during Devellano's tenure as GM are Steve Yzerman, Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom.

    Devellano has seven Stanley Cup rings, three with the Islanders and four with the Red Wings. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

36. Mike Keenan

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    Mike Keenan has had success at nearly every stop he's made as an NHL head coach, reaching the Stanley Cup Final four times with three different teams.

    After falling short on his first three trips to the Final, Keenan finally captured hockey's ultimate prize in 1994 with the New York Rangers. The Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the seventh and deciding game of that series to end a 54-year title drought on Broadway.

    Keenan is known for his drive and his fiery temper. "Iron Mike" was always consistent. His teams reached the playoffs for the first 11 seasons he was behind an NHL bench.

    Keenan won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year in 1984-85.

    He is now working as a broadcaster for the MSG Network.

35. Bud Poile

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    Bud Poile was a builder of teams, being a coach or GM for several minor league teams before helping to build two key NHL expansion teams.

    In 1967, Poile was named GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. In Philadelphia, he drafted players that would become a big part of the Flyers' Stanley Cup-winning teams of the mid-70s, including Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz and Don Saleski.

    In 1970, Poile became GM of the Vancouver Canucks, adding players like Dale Tallon, Jocelyn Guevremont and Don Lever.

    Poile went on to help run teams in the WHA and later became president of the CHL and commissioner of the IHL.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.  His son David has been the only GM in the history of the Nashville Predators.

34. Herb Brooks

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    Herb Brooks is best known as the coach that led the American "Miracle on Ice" club that won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.

    But Brooks was also a successful NHL coach who introduced a very different style of play to the NHL. Before Brooks, hockey was mostly a station-to-station game where players skated up and down their respective wings and either skated or moved the puck forward towards the opposing goal.

    Under Brooks' system, players could circle back, criss-cross and pass the puck back to looping wingers who skated back behind the play.

    The former Olympic coach was also a master motivator who changed the way the game was played.

33. Emile Francis

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    Emile Francis was one of the stronger GMs in the NHL between the 1960s and 1980s. He served as GM of the Rangers, Blues and Whalers, helping to make significant improvements to each club.

    Francis took over a Rangers team that had struggled for more than a decade and led them to the postseason for nine straight seasons. He completely revamped the Rangers' barren farm system and helped make hockey more popular throughout the New York metropolitan area.

    The Rangers were one of the best teams in the league in the early 1970s. They defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions three straight years (1972-74), but injuries or bad luck always kept the Rangers from winning a championship.

    When his Rangers team started to age, he pulled off one of the biggest trades in league history, sending Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi to the Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.

    Francis was helped change the game as a player, becoming the first goalie to use a slightly modified baseball glove to catch the puck.

32. Cliff Fletcher

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    Cliff Fletcher built the Flames franchise from its earliest days in Atlanta through their Stanley Cup title win in Calgary in 1989.

    The Flames found success early, reaching the postseason in just their second season of existence in 1973-74. They made the playoffs six of their last seven seasons in Atlanta under Fletcher's leadership. He also was instrumental in the club's move to Calgary in 1980.

    Once there, the Flames became a powerhouse, winning a pair of President's Trophies and a Stanley Cup title in 1989.

    Fletcher joined the Maple Leafs organization in 1991 and pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Doug Gilmour to Toronto, and the Leafs reached the conference final in 1993 and 1994.

    After working as an adviser for both the Lightning and Coyotes, Fletcher is again working for the Leafs organization. First, he was named interim GM, and now, he is an adviser to GM Brian Burke.

    Fletcher was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

31. 'Badger' Bob Johnson

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    "Badger" Bob Johnson was a great college coach at the University of Wisconsin, but he continued that success in stints with the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Johnson helped the Flames reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1986, where they fell to the Montreal Canadiens.

    In 1991, Johnson coached Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins to their first Stanley Cup championship.

    Shortly after winning the Cup, it was revealed that Johnson had a brain tumor. He was dead less than a year later.

    Johnson was known as an enthusiastic coach who exuded his love of the game. His favorite saying was "It's a great day for hockey!"

    At the time of his death, Johnson had won more NHL games than any other American-born NHL coach.

30. Don Cherry

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    Don Cherry has done a lot in the hockey world. He was a career minor leaguer as a player (appearing in one NHL game during his career), then became a successful coach and influential broadcaster.

    "Grapes" led the Bruins to five straight playoff appearances in the late 1970s, including back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 1977 and 1978. His teams were known for their hard-working, lunch pail style of play, often defeating teams with more raw talent then they had.

    After his coaching career ended, Cherry joined CBC as a commentator. His "Coach's Corner" segment on Hockey Night in Canada has long been the most popular five minutes of hockey talk in Canada. Love him or hate him, you can't ignore Cherry, who is known for his love of old-fashioned, North American-style hockey.

29. Lou Lamoriello

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    Lou Lamoriello has served as GM of the New Jersey Devils since 1987. He took over a team that had a reputation as a "Mickey Mouse organization," according to Wayne Gretzky, and helped turn them into one of the most consistent winners in the NHL.

    The Devils have qualified for the playoffs in 20 of the last 22 NHL seasons under Lamoriello. New Jersey has won three Stanley Cup titles under Lamoriello's guidance and reached the Stanley Cup Final on two other occasions.

    Lamoriello drafted Martin Brodeur and brought in defensemen like Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer, which made the Devils one of the best defensive teams in the NHL.

    Meanwhile, Lamoriello is considered one of the most skilled and shrewdest GMs in the league.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

28. Glen Sather

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    After a workmanlike career as an NHL player, Glen Sather went on to great success as an NHL coach and general manager. He is considered the man who built and led the great Oilers dynasty of the late 1980s.

    Sather coached the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in five years from 1984-1988 and was the GM of the club when they captured their fifth title in 1990.

    "Slats" helped convince Oilers owner Peter Pocklington to acquire Wayne Gretzky in 1978. He also was responsible for drafting future stars like Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr.

    Sather was unable to sustain his success in Edmonton in the 1990s when the team was constantly short on money. He left the Oilers in 2000 and joined the New York Rangers as their GM.

    The Rangers struggled early on in Sather's tenure, as many of his high-priced free-agent acquisitions failed to gel in New York. But eventually, Sather built the Rangers into a contender again, and the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final last year after finishing with the top record in the conference during the regular season.

    Sather was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.

27. Fred Shero

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    Fred Shero is best known as the coach of the "Broad Street Bullies," the Flyers teams that set records for penalty minutes and thuggery on their way to two Stanley Cup titles in 1974 and 1975.

    While the Flyers' brawling style was not new, they did take it to a level never seen in the league until that time.

    Shero was an innovator in other ways as well. He was one of the first NHL coaches to study the training methods used by Soviet teams and to adapt aspects of their playing style. He was also the first NHL coach who had a full-time assistant on his payroll.

    After leaving the Flyers in 1978, "Freddie the Fog" led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979.

26. Wayne Gretzky

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    No player has ever matched the offensive production of Wayne Gretzky.

    "The Great One" took the NHL by storm in 1979, and by the time he retired 20 years later, he held nearly every meaningful offensive record in NHL history, including most career goals, assists and points as well as the single-season marks of 92 goals and 215 points.

    Gretzky wasn't the biggest player or the fastest and he didn't have the hardest shot, but he thought about the game better than anybody and anticipated where the puck was going to go better than perhaps any player in the history of the game.

    The native of Brantford, Ontario, won four Stanley Cups with the Oilers and led the Kings to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993.

    Gretzky finished his career with 894 goals and 2,857 points in 1,487 games. The traditional three-year waiting period was waived, and Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 just after he retired as a player.

25. Craig Patrick

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    Craig Patrick served as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins and helped build the Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.

    Patrick was a journeyman NHL player, scoring a career-high 20 goals with the California Golden Seals in 1972-73.

    After he retired as a player, he served as Herb Brooks' assistant for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team that shocked the world and won a gold medal.

    Shortly after that, Patrick was named GM of the New York Rangers, who reached the semifinal round of the playoff in 1986 under his direction.

    In 1989, Patrick became GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He built a team that won a President's Trophy and two Stanley Cups. Patrick drafted Jaromir Jagr and pulled off a one-sided trade with Hartford that brought Ron Francis to Pittsburgh.

    The Pens fell on hard times financially in later years, and Patrick had to trade away many of his better players to save money. Before he left Pittsburgh, Patrick built the foundation for another Stanley Cup winner by drafting players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    Patrick was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. He currently works for the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.

24. Doug Harvey

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    Defenseman Doug Harvey revolutionized the game of hockey. Before Harvey, very few defensemen actively rushed the puck up the ice. But Harvey excelled at it and remains one of the best blueliners in the history of the NHL.

    Harvey won seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman and was named to one of the league's postseason All Star Teams for 11 straight seasons.

    Harvey won six Stanley Cups, including five straight with the Canadiens from 1956-1960, making him an integral part of what may have been the league's most dominant dynasty. 

    In 1961-62, Harvey served as player-coach of the New York Rangers. He ended his career with the expansion St. Louis Blues.

    Harvey was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.

23. Milt Schmidt

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    Milt Schmidt has been associated with the Boston Bruins and the NHL for close to 75 years now, and he has definitely left his mark on the sport of hockey over that time.

    Schmidt joined the Bruins during the 1936-37 season. He played 15 seasons for the Bruins despite the fact that his career was interrupted by World War II.

    Schmidt was best known as a member of the "Kraut Line," along with Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. He was a part of two Stanley Cup championship teams in Boston, first in 1939 and again in 1941.

    After retiring as a player, Schmidt took over as coach of the Bruins and later also served as general manager and as a scout. He was involved in scouting Bobby Orr for the Bruins, and as GM, made the trade that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston from Chicago. That trade and some shrewd drafting led to a pair of Stanley Cups in Boston in 1970 and 1972.

    Schmidt later served as the first GM of the Washington Capitals.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

22. Brendan Shanahan

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    While many fans are growing tired of seeing Shanahan's explanations for his latest suspension, Shanny has had a huge impact on the modern NHL both as a player and now as the league's discipline czar.

    After the last lockout ended in 2005, Shanahan was instrumental in introducing changes to the game. He was still a player at that point and was a big part of the committee that tried to open up the game and improve scoring and reduce the clutching and grabbing that had become such a big part of the game in the "Dead Puck Era."

    Some of the changes approved by the committee which Shanahan was a big part of included the elimination of the red line when counting two-line passes, closer enforcement of interference on other obstruction penalties and the addition of the shootout to determine a winner in games that were still tied after a five-minute overtime.

    Most of the changes were successful, and the "new NHL" helped bring fans back to the game after the frustration associated with losing the entire 2004-05 season.

    Shanahan should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame some time in the near future. While working for the league, he remains a force in the game. But his vision and open-minded approach helped improve the game in 2005.

21. Alan Eagleson

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    Sure, putting Eagleson on this list is going to cause controversy, but while Eagleson is a convicted felon and clearly had many conflicts of interest during his involvement in the game of hockey, he did also accomplish much for the game during his involvement. While his wrongdoings cannot be overlooked, neither can some of his major accomplishments.

    Eagleson served as director of the NHL Players Association for the first 25 years of its existence and he was one of the first big-time player agents, representing Bobby Orr and several other superstars of the 1970s.

    He was also responsible for staging the 1972 Summit Series between a team of NHL All-Stars representing Canada and the best players from the Soviet Union. Paul Henderson's last-minute goal in Game 8 gave Team Canada a narrow 4-3-1 series win in what became one of the most famous moments in hockey history. The series transcended hockey, and most of the greatest hockey players of the day took part in the series (with the exception of players like Bobby Hull, who had signed with the WHA).

    Unfortunately, Eagleson didn't always represent his clients fairly. He had a very close relationship with NHL president John Ziegler, which created a conflict of interest. Eagleson also didn't provide Bobby Orr with information about an offer from the Bruins to give the superstar defenseman an ownership option in the team. Orr ended up signing with the Chicago Blackhawks for less money and without an ownership share. Eagleson was close friends with Hawks owner Bill Wirtz.

    More importantly, an investigation into Eagleson's dealings with the NHLPA by some members of the Canadian media later revealed that Eagleson had been embezzling funds from the NHLPA pension fund. He was also skimming money off the top before former players got their disability payments. Eventually, Eagleson was convicted and served time in prison. Although he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989, he later resigned from the Hall in disgrace.

    While Eagleson's own misbehavior destroyed his career, he was instrumental in the creation of the NHLPA and staged one of the most famous and successful international hockey events of all-time and that still earned him a spot on this list.

20. Al Arbour

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    Al Arbour is by far the greatest coach the New York Islanders ever had and one of the greatest coaches in NHL history.

    Arbour took over the Islanders in their second year of existence, and the team reduced its goals against by 100 goals in his first season. Players immediately felt the difference once Arbour took over the team. Their new coach knew how to motivate his players, and he clearly wanted to win.

    After two disappointing playoff defeats in 1978 and 1979, the Islanders went on a run of four straight Stanley Cup wins under Arbour's leadership from 1980-1983. In 1984, the Isles again reached the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Edmonton Oilers, ending their remarkable playoff series winning streak at 19, a record for the four major North American team sports that still stands.

    Arbour was also able to win using a number of different styles. His teams could play wide-open hockey and beat you 7-5, or play a tight defensive game and win 2-1. If the opposition wanted to play physical, the Isles had players that could go toe-to-toe with anybody.

    Arbour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.

19. Mario Lemieux

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    Mario Lemieux has been a savior to the Pittsburgh Penguins both on and off the ice.

    As a player, "Super Mario" was one of the best ever, effectively using his size and skills to dominate opponents. He joined the Penguins in 1984, and his arrival helped save a team that was in bankruptcy off the ice and playing horrible hockey on the ice. He later led them to Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992.

    Lemieux not only showed his savvy on the ice, but has proven an adept owner and administrator. After he retired, Lemieux saved the Penguins from bankruptcy again by deferring payments owned to him and taking over in an ownership capacity. The team rebounded, and after drafting great players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins won another Stanley Cup in 2009.

18. Ed Snider

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    Ed Snider is responsible for creating the Philadelphia Flyers franchise and making it one of the most consistent organizations in the NHL.

    Snider was involved with the creation of the Flyers and built the Spectrum in Philadelphia in order to attract an expansion franchise to the City of Brotherly Love when the league expanded to 12 teams in 1967.

    The Flyers became the first expansion team to win a Stanley Cup, winning back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975 behind Coach Fred Shero and stars like Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Bernie Parent.

    In 1996, Snider was actively involved in the building of a new arena in Philadelphia. He remains one of the most influential owners in the NHL and has helped the league grow since he joined it in 1967.

    Snider was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

17. Bobby Orr

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    Few players have revolutionized the game of hockey like Bobby Orr.

    The native of Parry Sound, Ontario, rushed the puck like few defensemen before or since and controlled the tempo of many hockey games with his speed, anticipation and skills.

    After Orr broke in, each team featured at least one puck-rushing defenseman, something that remains the standard to this day.

    Orr won the Norris Trophy eight straight times and remains the only defenseman in NHL history to lead the league in scoring (he did it twice). Three times, he won the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP, and twice, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins won a pair of Stanley Cups during Orr's tenure with the team.

    In 1970-71, Orr set a record that still stands when he finished the regular season with an incredible plus-124 rating in 78 games.

    Knee injuries shortened Orr's career, but he finished with 915 points in 657 regular season games.

    Orr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979. The usual three-year waiting period was waived.

    He remains active in hockey as a well-respected agent.

16. Gary Bettman

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    While he's far from the most popular figure around hockey these days (and probably never has been), it's tough to deny the business moves Gary Bettman has made to help the NHL grow.

    The NHL has added six new teams since Bettman took over as NHL Commissioner in 1993. Bettman also oversaw the move of several franchises, including the Whalers from Hartford to Raleigh, the Quebec Nordiques to Denver and the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix. The latter two moves made him very unpopular in Canada.

    Bettman attempted to expand the league's presence in non-traditional, southern and western US markets. This was designed to help the NHL get a better television deal in the United States, which Bettman eventually achieved. The NHL has had a network presence on Fox, ABC, ESPN and NBC over the course of Bettman's tenure. Prior to Bettman, the NHL had not been a regular feature on US network TV since 1975.

    Bettman also oversaw several changes to the game after the 2004-05 lockout, which included a crackdown on obstruction, the elimination of the red line with regard to two-line passes and the addition of shootouts to decide games that were still tied after a five minute overtime period.

    League revenues have increased under Bettman from roughly $400 million in 1993 to approximately $3.3 billion in 2011-12.

    Unfortunately, Bettman's growth has come at a cost. He has angered fans in Canada because of the move of two Canadian teams early in his tenure and for turning his back on traditional markets. There have also been three major lockouts of the players under Bettman's leadership, which caused the 1994-95 season to be reduced to 48 games, the 2004-05 season to be canceled altogether and the 2012-13 season to be delayed indefinitely.

    Love him or hate him, Bettman certainly has influenced and grown the game, and he therefore earns a spot on this list.

15. Harry Sinden

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    Harry Sinden was a major reason for the long-term success of the Boston Bruins, a team which made the playoffs for 30 consecutive years while Siden was associated with the team.

    Sinden coached the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 1969-70, which culminated with Bobby Orr's famous overtime goal in Game 4.

    In 1972, Sinden coached Team Canada in the famous Summit Series against the Soviet Union that saw Canada come from behind to edge the Soviets 4-3-1 on Paul Henderson's famous last-minute goal.

    Sinden took over as GM of the Bruins in 1972-73 and remained in that capacity for 28 years. The Bruins made five trips to the Stanley Cup Final under Sinden's leadership, but were unable to win another championship. He still works for the Bruins organization today in an advisory capacity.

    Sinden was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

14. Bill Torrey

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    Bill Torrey was the architect of one of hockey's greatest dynasties: the New York Islanders team that won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83.

    Torrey helped turn the Oakland Seals into a playoff team in 1969 and 1970, but a dispute with controversial owner Charles O. Finley led to his departure from Oakland.

    He then became the GM of the expansion New York Islanders in 1972 and quickly built the Isles into a hockey powerhouse. In their third season, the Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal and stretched the defending champion Flyers to a seventh and deciding game in that series.

    By 1979, the Islanders won the President's Trophy with the league's best record. They then went on a run of four straight championships from 1980-83.

    Players Torrey brought to Long Island included Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Butch Goring, Bob Nystrom and Pat LaFontaine.

    Torrey later worked for the Florida Panthers and helped build the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

13. Toe Blake

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    Toe Blake was a  Hall of Fame player and part of the "Punch Line," along with Elmer Lach and Rocket Richard.

    But it is as a coach that Blake made his mark on this list. He took over as coach of the Canadiens in 1955-56 and won five Stanley Cup titles in his first five seasons behind the bench. No team has matched Blake's clubs' mark of winning five Stanley Cups in a row.

    By the time he stepped down as coach of the Habs, Blake's charges had won eight titles for the Canadiens. He remains one of the greatest coaches in NHL history.

12. Lester Patrick

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    Lester Patrick was a pioneer coach and GM in the National Hockey League and helped establish the New York Rangers franchise.

    Today, most people remember Patrick for his brief emergency stint in goal for the Rangers during the 1928 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Maroons. At the age of 44, Patrick donned the pads and helped the Rangers eke out a 2-1 overtime win against the Maroons.

    Patrick was also one of the founders of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and is credited with introducing the red line into the game of professional hockey.

    He coached the Rangers to a pair of Stanley Cup championships and served as GM of the franchise for two decades.

11. King Clancy

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    King Clancy did just about everything there was to do in the world of hockey. He was an All-Star player, a referee, coach and served in the front office of several NHL teams.

    Clancy won two Stanley Cups with the original Ottawa Senators and refused to back down from anybody despite his lack of size.

    After retiring as a player, Clancy spent 11 years working as an NHL referee. He then became a coach and front office executive, mostly working for the Maple Leafs organization under Punch Imlach.

    Clancy was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

10. Punch Imlach

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    Punch Imlach was a tough taskmaster who helped lead the Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups as coach and GM of the club in the 1950s and 60s.

    Imlach often angered his players and rubbed them the wrong way, but he got results. His teams reached the Stanley Cup Final six times, and he won championships in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. The Maple Leafs haven't won one since he left.

    He later served as the first head coach and GM of the Buffalo Sabres and helped build that team into a contender. He drafted Gilbert Perreault with the franchise's first pick. The Sabres were in the playoffs by their third season and reached the Stanley Cup Final by their fifth.

    Imlach was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984. He wasn't always liked by his players, but he got results and was always respected for his hockey knowledge and acumen.

9. Ted Linsday

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    "Terrible" Ted Lindsay was influential to the game of hockey both on and off the ice.

    As a player, Lindsay was tough as nails despite possessing only average height. He played on four Stanley Cup winners with Detroit alongside stars like Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.

    Lindsay became involved with the NHLPA in its early years and was very influential with the union's formation. The Red Wings traded Lindsay to the Chicago Blackhawks in retaliation, something several teams did in an attempt to squash the union.

    After his retirement, Lindsay served as a broadcaster for NBC in the United States and later served as GM of the Red Wings in the 1970s.

    Lindsay's toughness on the ice and dedication to the cause of players' rights made him one of the most influential players ever to take the ice.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

8. Dick Irvin

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    Keep in mind we're talking here about Dick Irvin, Sr., not his son who is so well-known as a hockey broadcaster. 

    Dick Irvin, Sr. was actually the first captain in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks and later coached the club.

    He was hired by Conn Smythe to coach the Maple Leafs in 1931 and led the Leafs to a Stanley Cup championship during his first year behind the bench.

    Over the next eight seasons, Irvin's Leafs reached the Stanley Cup Final six times, but he did not win another title in Toronto.

    In 1940, Irvin took over as coach of the Montreal Canadiens. He would remain in Montreal through the 1954-55 season and won three more Stanley Cups with the Habs.

    Irvin finished his career with another brief stint with the Blackhawks. He has 692 career coaching wins, third all-time behind Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

7. Art Ross

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    Art Ross was an innovator as both a player and as a coach.

    When he played defense during the early years of the 20th century, Ross was one of the first players to skate the puck up ice rather than pass it.

    Ross later helped make the Boston Bruins into a quality NHL team. He served as coach of the club off and on between 1924 and 1945, coaching them to a Stanley Cup title in 1938-39.

    Ross was also the Bruins' first GM, serving in that capacity between 1924 until 1954. The teams he built won a total of three championships.

    Among Ross' other innovations were a defense that became the forerunner of the neutral-zone trap and changing the shape and style of the goals that were used in NHL games.

    He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1949.

6. Frank J. Selke

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    Frank J. Selke was one of the greatest builders of hockey franchises in NHL history.

    He joined the Maple Leafs organization in 1929, and during World War II, served as acting general manager. It was Selke who was responsible for the Maple Leafs, acquiring the great Ted "Teeder" Kennedy.

    He later joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1946, and he built one of the great dynasties in NHL history. Selke added key players to the organization like Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Tom Johnson.

    The Canadiens became arguably the game's greatest dynasty, winning five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960. Selke remained with the Habs until the end of the 1963-64 season.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame 1960. His teams won nine Stanley Cups, making him one of the all-time great GMs in NHL history.

5. Conn Smythe

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    Conn Smythe was a great owner and franchise builder, being largely responsible for the long-term success of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise.

    In 1927, Smythe purchased the foundering Toronto St. Pats and renamed them the Maple Leafs. Two years later, despite the stock market crash, Smythe began construction on a new home for his club, the Maple Leaf Gardens.

    Under Smythe's ownership, the Maple Leafs won six Stanley Cups between 1942 and 1951 and went on to become one of the most successful franchises both on and off the ice.

    He retired from an active, day-to-day role with the club in 1962 and he son Stafford succeeded him.

    Smythe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

4. Scotty Bowman

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    No NHL head coach has won more Stanley Cups than Scotty Bowman's nine. The Montreal native won five Cups with the Canadiens, one with the Penguins and three more with the Red Wings.

    Bowman was not always popular with his players—he often used mind games to motivate them—but nobody could argue with his results.

    He was a great tactician, knowing exactly when to bench a player or when to shorten his bench or juggle his lines.

    From 1975-76 through 1978-79, Bowman's Montreal teams won four straight titles. In 1976-77, his club finished the season with a remarkable 60-8-12 record.

    Bowman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.

3. Clarence Campbell

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    Clarence Campbell spent more than 30 years as president of the National Hockey League. From 1946 until 1977, his word was practically law across the league.

    Campbell took over in the heyday of the Original Six Era and oversaw the league during the time its caliber of play may have been at its height. Still, the league was slow to expand, and while every other major team sport in North America had added many teams in the early 1960s, Campbell and the NHL resisted adding new franchises until 1967.

    Once six new teams were added, Campbell oversaw the rapid expansion of the league. There were six teams in the NHL in 1966, but by 1974, there were 18.

    Campbell also helped the league fend off a major challenge from the rival WHA, which signed many NHL players to large contracts and increased the average player salary significantly.

    The most famous incident involving Campbell was the Richard Riot of 1955 when he suspended Rocket Richard for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs after the Canadiens' star punched a linesman in the face. When Campbell showed up at the Montreal Forum a few days later, bedlam ensued and the NHL president needed a police escort to get out of the building safely.

    Campbell's reign was not without controversy, but he served the NHL for more than three decades and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

2. Sam Pollock

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    Sam Pollock was one of the shrewdest and successful GMs in NHL history.

    Pollock is best known for pulling off one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history and then pulling off another trade to make sure the first one worked as planned.

    In 1970, Pollock made a deal with the California Golden Seals to acquire the Seals' first-round pick that year in exchange for journeyman Francois Lacombe and Ernie Hicke. The goal was to land Guy Lafleur, one of the most highly-touted goal scorers in recent memory.

    Midway through the season, it appeared the Los Angeles Kings would finish in last place and therefore get the rights to Lafleur. So, Pollock practically gave away Ralph Backstrom to the Kings to help them finish ahead of the Golden Seals in the standings. It worked like a charm. Backstrom scored 14 goals and 27 points in just 33 games for the Kings, and they passed the Seals in the standings and guaranteed the Habs the top pick in the draft.

    Pollock also helped acquire Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden from the Bruins via a trade while Dryden was still in college. Among the other players Pollock signed over the years were Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lapointe. All of them were key components to Montreal's run of four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-1979.

    During his career with the Canadiens, Pollock got his name on the Stanley Cup 12 times in various capacities.

    Pollack was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.

1. James Norris

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    James Norris built the Detroit Red Wings and was such a big part of the early days of the NHL that many people argued that the league's initials stood for "Norris House League."

    At one point, the Norris family owned an interest in either the team or the facility of four of the six teams in the league.

    When Norris took over the NHL's Detroit franchise in 1931, the team was known as the Falcons, and they were in bankruptcy. Norris took over the team, re-named them the Red Wings and introduced the famous winged wheel logo that was designed to represent Detroit's status as the automobile capital of the world.

    Norris quickly built the Wings into a power house on the ice and a successful business off it. The Red Wings won five Stanley Cups during Norris' tenure as team president.

    Norris was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958. The Norris Trophy is awarded annually to the best defenseman in the NHL in his honor.