The Toronto Maple Leafs' Five Greatest Coaches of All-Time
I have been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club for a very long time. As a lot of you have.
We've all seen players, coaches and GMs come and go all have our favorites. This list was going to be a difficult proposition to say the least but it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
When looking at the list of coaches that the Toronto Maple Leafs have had over the years, it was pretty easy to narrow it down to the five who would be on this list.
Only 17 of them coached the Leafs to winning records and only ten of those 17 coached more than 50 games ( King Clancey claims two of those ten spots.)
The point is, despite the franchise's storied history, statistically, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had more bad coaches than good ones so this list was actually fairly easy to fill.
One thing I did not do, was include any coach that won a Stanley Cup with a losing record. Right wrong or indifferent, I just don't think it would make any sense.
For the most part, the ranking of these men was decided by my readers.
#5 'Gentleman' Joe Primeau
'Gentleman' Joe Primeau likely never thought of himself as a coach, the fact is, he probably never thought he'd be a professional hockey player.
Passed over because of his size while trying out for the Rangers Primeau thought he would never play in the NHL.
While Conn Smythe was building the Rangers, he brought in Primeau as a prospect, but the Rangers felt Primeau, who was 5’11” and played at about 160 pounds, was too small and they refused to sign him.
Smythe however later with the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't forget about him and brought Primeau to the team in 1927.
Because he needed to polish his game, Primeau spent two years in the minors before joining the Leafs permanently in 1929, going on to center the famous 'Kid line' between Busher Jackson and Charlie Conacher.
Despite the dominance of the kid line, Joe only won one cup as a player and eventually retired at the age of 30 to build his already thriving concrete business.
Primeau started coaching shortly before WWII and again afterward. One of his more notable proteges was non other than eventual Leaf great Red Kelly who before he was one of the best forwards in Toronto history, was an all star defense man in Detroit.
In 1950 after coaching teams to both the Allen Cup and the Memorial Cup, 'Gentleman Joe' was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs and won a Stanley Cup as a coach in his second year 1951.
Joe Primeau's overall record was 97-71-42 for a winning percentage of .562. While he wasn't perhaps the most successful or celebrated coach in team history, all that he accomplished before he passed away in 1989 at the age of 83 certainly earned him a spot on this list.
#4 Roger Neilson
Roger Neilson is not only on this list because he was a great Leafs coach, but because he was a great man as well.
He may have been the coach with the best hair too.
Neilson was always a favorite of any team he coached for because of not only his skill and passion for the game and the position, but because he always seemed to be the center of something.
Whether it was being fired by the classless Bob Clarke in Philly because he was battling cancer and couldn't do his job or being fired by the in describable Harold Ballard, Roger Neilson always seemed to be in the middle of something.
One of the things that made Neilson such a great coach was his willingness to to learn, adapt and innovate. It was Roger Neilson who ushered in the idea of using video to analyze opposing teams and eventually his own teams tendencies.
He spent hours analyzing game videos to pick apart opponents' weaknesses, and to see where his own players might improve. He was a pioneer in the field, earning him the nickname Captain Video.
He also was among the first North American coaches to have his players do stretching before games and practices and to stress off-season fitness programs.
He once used his dog at the time, Jock, in an on-ice fore checking drill.
Definitely one of the greatest coaches of all time, easily the greatest to have never sipped from Lord Stanleys Mug.
#3 Punch Imlach
Punch Imlach coached the Toronto Maple Leafs for 11 years Arguably one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league winning four Stanley Cups and making six finals appearances.
Imlach was easily one of the most colorful Maple Leafs head coaches of all time, there are stories everywhere that illustrate his sense of humor as well as his command of his teams.
Micheal Langois of Vintage Leafs Memories also noted the obvious similarities between Imlach and current Leafs GM Brian Burke.
'While we are talking about very different people and very different eras, there are some similarities between the current Leaf GM and long-time Maple Leaf coach and GM Punch Imlach'
'But both Imlach and Burke like tough players (Bradley Ross, drafted in the second round by Burke on Saturday, just the latest example) and players with a more than a pinch of talent, too. Imlach wanted tough skilled guys like Bert Olmstead, Bobby Baun and Bobby Pulford, but he also needed the sublime skill and tenaciousness of kids like Dave Keon and Dick Duff. We know Burke loves toughness, but he well recognizes that he needs the Kessels' of the world to build a top team.'
Just one of my favorite stories of Imlach was one where in 1974 then Buffalo Sabres L GM, Imlach drafted a fictitious Japanese player by the name of Taro Tsujimoto from the Tokyo Katanas.
It was of course a spoof concocted by Imlach and his secretary out of sheer boredom during the NHL draft that season.
A month later with trainiing camp about to begin, Imlach could no longer keep a straight face on the subject and confessed to the gag.
There are literally so many humorous stories of this man you could easily write a book on the subject. ( I know, it's been done but you get my point)
Another interesting excerpt comes in the form of a letter that made it's way around cyberspace a couple of years ago from Imlach to his team shortly before training camp started in 1962.
'Golf will be a must in the training camp schedule, be sure to bring along your golfing equipment'
#2 Pat Burns
What can you say about Pat Buns? A former police officer and known associate of a couple of "Hell Angels" bikers, Burns has never been one to hold anything back.
Pat Burns remains the only coach in NHL history to not only have one the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in his first year as head coach, he is also the only one to have ever one it three times and each with a different team.
In four years as Toronto head coach, Burns posted a winning percentage of .546. His first two seasons with the club were the most successful for him and were the closest the Toronto Maple Leafs had ever come to the elusive 100 point mark reaching 99 and 98 points.
Burns coached in the NHL for 14 years making the post season 12 of those years and the only two times he wasn't in the play offs he was fired. How's that for pressure to perform?
Pat Burns was at once one of the most respected, feared and universally admired personalities to have ever paced the pine in the NHL
Not yet selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame for reason's that escape me, Pat Burns is as much a lock for the hall as I've ever seen.
Sometime in 2011, on the Campus of Stanstead College in Quebec, there will be an arena built and dedicated to Pat Burns and I along with at least 70 thousand other members of this FaceBook group hope he is still around to cut the ribbon.
#1 Pat Quinn and Hap Day
I said at the start of this list that I wouldn't put anyone on it that didn't have a winning percentage because it seemed like a little more than an oxymoron.
However, when it came to deciding who was the greatest Toronto Maple Leafs coach of all time, I just couldn't ignore a man who had won no less than five Stanley Cups with the club!
Pat Quinn holds the honor of owning the highest winning percentage (.591) of any other coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs except for Frank Carroll whose winning percentage was a lofty .625. In all fairness to Quinn however, Carroll only coached 24 games with the Leafs.
Frank Carroll was head coach of the Toronto St. Patricks ( now the Maple Leafs ) but was also their trainer in 1918 when he won a cup with then coach and brother Dick Carroll.
Pat Quinn arrived to Toronto in 1997 and assumed the head coaches role for the 1998-99 season. A well respected bench boss already, great things were expected from the Leafs that year and they delivered. In his first season as Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, Quinn helped guide his new club to a 97 point season, a 28 point improvement over the previous season under Mike Murphy.
Quin would remain coach of the Leafs for six more season and qualify for the post season six of his seven seasons with the club including two conference final appearances.
Quinn also holds the distinction of being the only coach in Leafs history to have a 100+ point season. Pat Quinn actually accomplished this feat three times while with the Leafs and remains fourth on the all time list of winningest NHL coaches.
Quinn's NHL coaching record also includes 11 first-round playoff series wins in 16 seasons. Quinn is known for promoting a rugged puck possession oriented style of offensive hockey.
The only complaint that people ever had about hi coaching style was that he didn't focus enough on the defensive side of the puck.
Hap Day is the only coach on this list with an over all losing record. One of the most renowned Leafs personalities of all time, Day has his name on the Stanley Cup seven times as a Toronto Maple Leaf. One as captain of the Leafs in 1932, five more as head coach and one as assistant GM in 1951
Though as a player, Day is most well known as a defense man, his first season as a pro he actually played left wing on a line with none other than Jack Adams and Babe Dye.
As a player he would captain the team for 11 years before becoming the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1940.
Despite all of his success as head coach Day only managed a .462 winning percentage though manages still to this day to hold the number two spot for number of wins in franchise history second to the legendary Punch Imlach.
Hap Day was also the coach of perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of the Stanley Cup Final.
During the 1942 playoff final, the Leafs had lost the first three games of the finals to Detroit but stormed back to win four in a row and claim the Stanley Cup.
All of the men on this list deserve their places. All are Hall of Famers, either as coaches or builders with the exception of Burns and Quinn but I feel safe in saying they they too will be inducted.