The 50 Worst Coaches in NHL History

Al DanielCorrespondent IINovember 21, 2012

The 50 Worst Coaches in NHL History

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    The Washington Capitals’ excitement over Adam Oates, who literally received the head coaching job the same day he was accepted as a member of the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class, should be harbored with caution.

    The NHL is dense with a history of exceptional players who subsequently transition to coaching, only to flop in their role behind the bench. A similar fate has befallen many successful minor league coaches.

    In other cases, unremarkable head coaches have kicked ice chips over their forgettable stints by later becoming respectable general managers or television or radio analysts.

    The following alphabetical slideshow is a salad bowl rich with all of the above as well as names that were little known before, during and after their attempts at coaching in the NHL.

John Anderson

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    A veteran of 11-plus NHL seasons, Anderson began coaching as a player-assistant coach for the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks in 1991-92.

    In 13 seasons as a minor league head coach, he made eight trips to a league championship series and won five titles―a Colonial Cup with the Quad City Mallards and two Turner Cups and Calder Cups apiece for the Chicago Wolves.

    Upon winning his last title in 2008, he garnered what many viewed as an overdue promotion to the Atlanta Thrashers, whose prospects he had coached for each of the seven preceding seasons. However, he hardly translated his success to The Show.

    Less than a month after an untimely five-game losing streak tripped them up, the Thrashers sputtered out of the playoff race upon going 0-3-1 leading up to the last game of the 2009-10 season. In turn, they finished five points out of a playoff spot after the race was much closer at the end of March, presaging Anderson’s dismissal.

George Boucher

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    “Buck” Boucher consistently finished above .500 when coaching at lower levels and below .500 during his two short-lived stints behind an NHL bench. The original Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Eagles had back-to-back non-playoff seasons on his watch between 1933 and 1935.

    Boucher re-emerged in 1949-50 with the Boston Bruins, who went 22-32-16 and finished seven points out of the four-team playoff bracket.

Eddie Bush

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    Ordinarily it would not be fair to lump someone into this group when he did not even coach for a full season, but there are extenuating circumstances with Bush.

    The former defenseman’s coaching days ended midway through his first year as the Kansas City Scouts’ skipper. The team got off to a 1-23-8 start in the first 32 games of the season on his watch.

Doug Carpenter

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    Carpenter logged more midseason firings in the NHL than he did playoff appearances.

    Shortly after the halfway mark of the 1987-88 season, the New Jersey Devils decided that 290 regular-season games and three straight playoff no-shows were enough and let Carpenter go. As it happened, he was replaced by Jim Schoenfeld, who promptly brought New Jersey to the third round of the 1988 Eastern Conference finals.

    Less than three years later, on the heels of a .500 regular season and a five-game loss to St. Louis in the playoffs, Carpenter was dismissed by the Maple Leafs only 11 games into the 1990-91 season.

    Upon returning to the minors, Carpenter redeemed himself a little by winning the AHL’s coach of the year award while leading a New Haven team and staff that featured the aforementioned Anderson.

Dave Chambers

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    The former OHA coach of the year went an abysmal 19-64-15 in a 98-game run with the Quebec Nordiques in the early 1990s.

Odie Cleghorn

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    As a player-coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleghorn alternated between barely finishing above .500 and losing in the first round and missing the playoffs altogether.

Bill Cook

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    One of the most endearing players on the New York Rangers during the franchise’s first decade of existence, Cook had a significantly less memorable return to Manhattan in the early 1950s.

    No amount of franchise pride or past success as an AHL coach could amount to any success in his 117-game ride behind the bench. The Rangers missed the playoffs in both of Cook’s seasons as their coach, finishing dead last in the six-team circuit by 17 points to end his stint in 1952-53.

Bill Dineen

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    For all of his success in the Western League, American League and WHA, which included five championships and two Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Awards, Dineen could not cut it with the Philadelphia Flyers.

    In 1991, Dineen inherited a team that was on the heels of two straight non-playoff seasons and oversaw two more. At no other time in franchise history have the Flyers missed the tournament in consecutive years.

Red Dutton

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    Dutton’s transition from playing to coaching with the New York Americans had a relatively promising start when they won two playoff series in his first three seasons on the job.

    But after they fell one goal shy of an appearance in the 1938 Stanley Cup Finals, Dutton and his pupils could not follow up. They lost in the first round each of the next two seasons and then missed the next two tournaments altogether, after which the Amerks went out of business and Dutton went out of professional coaching for good.

Jack Evans

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    Evans missed the playoffs five times in as many tries in three different NHL cities, first with the California Seals in 1976-77, then with the Cleveland Barons the next two seasons and later with Hartford in 1984 and 1985.

    The Whalers finally cleared that hurdle and played in three series in two years, but made a negative U-turn in 1987-88, during which Evans was discharged after 54 games.

John Ferguson

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    In each of eight years as a Montreal Canadien, Ferguson cracked double digits in both the goals and assists columns and triple digits in the penalty minutes column.

    In two seasons as a coach of the New York Rangers, the same Ferguson failed to crack .500 in the winning percentage column.

Curt Fraser

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    Fraser could have been given a break in his first year or two with the expansion Thrashers, but the team’s habit of hovering around the .300 range or worse in the way of winning percentage dragged on too long.

    He was eventually dismissed in December 2002 and left Atlanta with a cumulative record of 64-169-46.

Frank Frederickson

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    Another player-assistant coach for the old Pirates, Frederickson oversaw a 5-36-3 season in 1929-30. He had substantially better years when his sole focus was playing.

Gerard Gallant

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    Other than the expansion team’s inaugural coach, Dave King, and his interim replacement, Doug MacLean, Gallant has logged the worst career winning percentage among Blue Jackets bench bosses.

    King, who went 64-116-34 on the job, can get a little slack just for having to deal with an upstart team in its formative seasons. Ditto MacLean, who had previously coached the Florida Panthers during the franchise's best years.

    Conversely, the fact that the franchise was five years old and the league was coming off a landscape-shifting lockout in Gallant’s first full season on the job ought to have elevated Columbus’ expectations.

    But Gallant never got the would-be maturing franchise over that hurdle and into a playoff appearance over the course of his 147-game tenure.

Herb Gardiner

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    In between more glamorous tenures with teams in Calgary and Philadelphia, Gardiner’s lone season leading an NHL team saw the Chicago Blackhawks go 5-23-4 under the player-coach’s direction in 1928-29.

Greg Gilbert

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    The Calgary Flames finished 10th in the Western Conference in Gilbert’s only full season as their head coach. He sandwiched that campaign with a 4-8-2 finish to 2000-01 after replacing Don Hay and a 6-13-6 start to 2002-03 before he himself was replaced.

Fred Glover

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    An AHL legend in multiple capacities with the Cleveland Barons, Glover went on to coach all or part of six straight losing seasons with the Seals and Kings.

Ebbie Goodfellow

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    In two years under Goodfellow’s guidance (1950-51 and 1951-52), the Blackhawks finished sixth out of six NHL teams, trailing the fifth-place Rangers by margins of 25 and 16 points.

Butch Goring

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    Goring lived and contributed to the best years in the history of the New York Islanders as a player, then did the same in some of the franchise’s worst years as their skipper.

    Only Fraser’s first-year Thrashers had fewer points than Goring’s Isles in 1999-2000 and nobody finished lower on the league leaderboard in 2000-01.

Wayne Gretzky

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    Yep. There really is one aspect of hockey where The Great One couldn’t cut it.

    Whereas the Edmonton Oilers have four playoff championships bolstered by Gretzky in their memory books, the Phoenix Coyotes have four playoff no-shows guided by Gretzky.

Lorne Henning

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    An assistant for 15 nonconsecutive years with four different franchises, Henning had two tries at a head coaching gig in the NHL. After taking the Minnesota North Stars to the first round of the 1986 playoffs, he oversaw a losing season in the Twin Cities in 1987 and on Long Island in 1995.

Paul Holmgren

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    Holmgren preceded Dineen as the Flyers head coach, leaving early in the 1991-92 campaign with an 8-14-2 record.

    From there, he moved on to Hartford, where he oversaw the entirety of three more non-playoff seasons and a portion of another.

Steve Kasper

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    To be fair, Kasper was enlisted to supervise the Bruins far too early. He had barely turned 34 when his first season on the job began and had only one year of coaching in Providence on his resume.

    Boston finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and lost to Florida in the first round of Kasper’s first season. They subsequently plummeted to the very bottom of the 26-team NHL standings and saw their 29-year playoff streak end, prompting Kasper’s dismissal and replacement by 1998 Jack Adams Award winner Pat Burns.

Rick Kehoe

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins had been to either the second or third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the previous three seasons when Kehoe was elevated from assistant to head coach early in the 2001-02 season.

    On his watch, the Pens missed back-to-back tournaments, easily finishing last in the Atlantic Division both times.

Pat Kelly

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    Kelly had coached the Clinton Comets to three straight EHL playoff titles and the Charlotte Checkers to a Southern League crown before coming to the Colorado Rockies in 1977.

    His stint there saw his team tie more games than they won, going a cumulative 22-54-25 before he was canned with barely one quarter of the 1978-79 schedule gone.

Mike Kitchen

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    Kitchen, who played for Kelly’s Rockies, barely fared any better than predecessor Joel Quenneville after he was installed behind the Blues bench with roughly a quarter of the 2003-04 season remaining.

    On the other side of the 2004-05 lockout, Kitchen rolled up a 28-63-19 record in 110 games and was finished by the second week of December 2006 on the heels of a seven-game winless streak.

Bobby Kromm

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    Upon arriving in 1977-78, Kromm briefly raised hope for Detroit by snapping a franchise-worst slew of seven consecutive playoff no-shows. His efforts were good enough for the Jack Adams Award and made a sound follow-up on his CHL and WHA days, wherein he led teams to four championships and eight finals in a span of nine years.

    But the magic promptly gave way to reality afterward. In 1979, the Wings began a new string of five straight postseason misses, the first two of which were charged to Kromm’s tab and effectively ended his NHL coaching days.

Orland Kurtenbach

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    Kurtenbach replaced Phil Maloney in Vancouver during the 1976-77 season, inheriting a 9-23-3 team.

    Maloney and the Canucks had severed ties despite the fact that Maloney had just orchestrated the franchise’s first two playoff appearances in the preceding seasons. Perhaps a lack of patience came back to bite the upper management when Kurtenbach’s pupils proceeded to languish through back-to-back postseason misses, going 36-62-27 in his 125-game run.

Newsy Lalonde

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    One of the stars from the NHL’s formative years, Lalonde could not pass muster as a coach with either of the teams he had previously played for. His 1926-27 New York Americans went 17-25-2 and his 1932-33 Montreal Canadiens went 18-25-5 for what was only the franchise’s second losing record in their first 16 NHL seasons.

Dave Lewis

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    Upon replacing the retired Scotty Bowman after a championship in 2002, Lewis failed on two tries to push the talent-laden Red Wings beyond the halfway mark of the playoffs.

    When given a chance to get back on his feet in Boston, Lewis had even more egregious results with a team that, compared to Detroit, was more “normal,” but still had the likes of Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara coming in with him.

    The future Norris Trophy winner Chara and the future Selke Trophy-winning Patrice Bergeron finished their one year under Lewis with minus-21 and minus-28 ratings, respectively. Neither player has finished in the red in that category in any other year since the turn of the century.

Steve Ludzik

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    Other Tampa Bay Lightning coaches have overseen worse seasons, but at least Terry Crisp and Jacques Demers won Stanley Cups and had lengthy playoff runs elsewhere in the NHL.

    After three straight trips to the IHL’s final four with the Detroit Vipers, Ludzik was promoted with the task of snapping the Bolts out of a slew of three straight losing, non-playoff seasons. Instead, he prolonged that trend with 19-47-16 and 24-47-11 records.

Bill MacMillan

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    MacMillan was a regular Reg Dunlop in the late 1970s, winning a Central League championship in what was simultaneously his final year as a player and first as a coach.

    That promising tone never got much of a follow-up. MacMillan has overseen two of the five and three of the 10 lowest single-season winning percentages in the history of the Kansas City/Colorado/New Jersey franchise.

Tom McVie

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    Somehow, in his only season in the World Hockey Association, McVie won a championship with the Winnipeg Jets, yet never had equivalent success in the league.

    Immediately before going to Winnipeg for what would be the WHA’s final year of operation, he oversaw four straight non-playoff seasons in Washington. The Jets endured the same fate during their first two years in the NHL.

    Upon being dismissed after a 1-20-7 start to the 1980-81 season, McVie went back to the minors for a full decade. He returned to The Show for one uneventful year as New Jersey’s skipper followed by three as a Boston assistant.

Mike Murphy

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    At the same point in two different decades, Murphy unsuccessfully tried to bring stability to a franchise during a stint that touched all or part of two seasons.

    First, between 1986-87 and 1987-88, he amassed a 20-37-8 record with Los Angeles. Later, in both 1996-97 and 1997-98, he only mustered 30 wins for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who missed the postseason in both years.

    Even his one season as a minor league head coach was less than spectacular. The 1990-91 Milwaukee Admirals finished seven games below .500 and bowed out in the first round of the IHL playoffs.

Harry Neale

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    Better known these days as a longtime Hockey Night In Canada personality and Buffalo Sabres TV analyst, Neale’s coaching transcript went downhill after he transferred from the WHA to the NHL.

    Under Neale, the Vancouver Canucks failed on three consecutive tries to go beyond the first round of the playoffs. After an ugly incident against the Nordiques, he left in the middle of the 1981-82 season, which culminated in a trip to the finals under replacement Roger Neilson.

    Three years later, Neale tried again, only to guide the Red Wings to a league-worst record of 17-57-6. That happened to be Detroit’s only non-playoff season in the six years between 1983-84 and 1988-89.

Mike Nykoluk

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    The longtime AHL pivot immediately followed his playing career with a combined five seasons as an assistant for the Flyers and Rangers.

    Those gigs effectively parlayed Nykoluk into a head coaching job in Toronto, but that was kaput after he sandwiched a one-round wonder in 1983 with two non-playoff seasons.

    Nykoluk’s first year with the Maple Leafs saw the team miss the postseason for the first time in nine years. They finished last in the Norris Division in his third and final campaign.

Eddie Olczyk

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    The aforementioned Kehoe’s replacement in Pittsburgh coached the Penguins to last place in the 30-team NHL in 2003-04. When the NHL reemerged from the subsequent lockout, Olczyk’s pupils had a winning percentage (.355) virtually identical to the end of the previous season (.354) when he was fired at the 31-game mark.

    A former No. 3 overall draft pick by his hometown Blackhawks, Olczyk has garnered more glamour as Mike Emrick’s color partner on NBC.

Pierre Page

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    In eight seasons split among four different franchises, Page posted a winning record only once behind an NHL bench. That year, his Quebec Nordiques were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs as one of four postseason series he oversaw, and lost.

Barclay Plager

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    Over 10 years as a member of the Blues staff, Plager served 154 nonconsecutive regular-season games as the head coach, charging up a 42-82-30 record in that capacity.

Larry Pleau

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    The Hartford Whalers gave Pleau two tries and he never mustered a winning record in the regular season or a series victory in the postseason. His first stint preceded that of the aforementioned Evans and began a string of five straight playoff no-shows, three of which Pleau oversaw in part or in full.

    Pleau replaced Evans late in the 1987-88 campaign and hovered around the .500 borderline for the next 106 regular-season games while overseeing a cumulative 2-8 record in back-to-back playoff series losses to Montreal.

Nick Polano

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    To his credit, Polano split the four playoff rounds the Red Wings played between 1970 and 1986 with the aforementioned Kromm. But he went 1-6 in individual postseason games and 79-127-34 in the regular season.

    Detroit finished sub-.500 in each of Polano’s three years, making him and Kromm the only two men since expansion to oversee multiple losing seasons for the Red Wings.

Andre Savard

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    In 1987-88, Savard’s only season as the main man behind an NHL bench, the Quebec Nordiques saw the end of a string of seven consecutive playoff appearances and the beginning of a five-year playoff drought.

Cooper Smeaton

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    The infamously wretched Philadelphia Quakers, who went 4-36-4 for a .136 winning percentage in their only year of operation, also constituted Smeaton’s only major coaching job.

Vic Stasiuk

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    Keith Allen spent two years fostering the expansion Flyers through their feet-wetting years. Beginning in 1971, Fred Shero went on a glory-laden seven-year run on the Broad Street bench.

    In between, Stasiuk oversaw Philadelphia’s first-ever non-playoff season followed by the franchise’s third first-round fizzle in its four years of operation.

    In a similar situation, Stasiuk was summoned to succeed Hal Laycoe in Vancouver when the Canucks had been competing for two years. His only season yielded a 22-47-9 record and a failure to make the third year a charm as the Canucks once again missed the playoffs.

Mike Sullivan

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    Sullivan’s pattern nearly mirrored Kasper’s, which is little surprise considering both got their coaching call during Boston’s years of Harry Sinden-induced mediocrity.

    Regardless, after one season as a head coach in the AHL, Sullivan instilled momentary hope when the Bruins finished first in the division on his watch. But that quickly evaporated along with a 3-1 series lead against Montreal in the 2004 playoffs, which was a distant memory by the time a 29-37-16, non-playoff record cost him his job in 2005-06.

Red Sullivan

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    Sullivan coached the Rangers, Penguins and Capitals for all or part of six seasons, each of which had the common thread of a losing record and no bonus action in the springtime. His best single season was his first in 1962-63, when he took the job on the fly and led New York to a .414 winning percentage in 35 games coached.

    All four of the Rangers teams Sullivan led competed in the dying days of the Original Six era and always missed the four-team playoff bracket by a margin no slimmer than 17 points.

Mario Tremblay

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    Whether it was with their team or with another NHL franchise, every Montreal coach from the past three decades has gone on a deep playoff run with the exception of Tremblay.

    The Canadiens turned to Tremblay when Demers could not win them another postseason series in either of the two seasons after guiding them to their last Stanley Cup in 1993.

    In almost two full seasons under Tremblay’s guidance, the Habs made no progress, losing in the opening round in back-to-back years. There was also that little matter of Patrick Roy abruptly breaking up with the franchise after the coach kept him in the crease for the better part of an 11-1 shellacking versus Detroit on Dec. 2, 1995.

Phil Watson

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    After three straight first-round losses with the Rangers in the late 1950s, Watson fell into a recurring pattern.

    His tenure in Manhattan came to an end when the Blueshirts missed the dance in 1959, then got off to a 3-9-3 start in 1959-60. He spent the next year tutoring the AHL’s Providence Reds, then got a second chance with Boston.

    On Watson’s watch, the Bruins missed the 1962 playoffs and then started the 1962-63 campaign at 1-8-5. That effectively ended Watson’s coaching days.

Johnny Wilson

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    Wilson took the Penguins to second round of the 1979 playoffs, but not before missing the tournament as head coach of the Kings in 1969-70, the Red Wings in 1971-72 and 1972-73, the Rockies in 1976-77 and the Pens in 1977-78.

    In all, Wilson mustered only one postseason appearance over his first seven seasons as an NHL or WHA head coach with six different franchises.

Trent Yawney

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    As of this season, Yawney is back where he had his best seasons as the skipper of the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals.

    Five years at that post prepared him for his first, and so far only try at an NHL gig. It lasted all of 103 games and only 33 wins with the Chicago Blackhawks.