Ranking All the NHL Coaches Who Used to Play
Of the NHL's 30 current head coaches, 13 played 100 games or more at the NHL level. Let's look at how successful they were.
Some struggled to really stay in the NHL full-time, while others were first-round picks who enjoyed long and successful careers.
The criteria I looked at to rank the coaches include number of games played, seasons played, points and individual awards and distinctions (such as performance-based trophies, captaincy or All-Star team appearances).
To be clear, if the coach did not play at least 100 NHL games, he did not make the list. For instance, San Jose's Todd McLellan only played in five games at the NHL level and Philadelphia's Peter Laviolette only played in 12 NHL games.
Without any further delay, let's get started.
13. Ron Wilson
Ron Wilson, the current head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and former defenseman was drafted into the league 132nd overall in 1975 by the team he now coaches. He played two seasons with the Toronto franchise, splitting time between the NHL and AHL.
He then went over to the Minnesota North Stars and stayed there for four seasons, playing very little in three of the four seasons—during one of these three, he briefly left to go play with Davos in the Swiss league where he also spent time between his stints with Toronto and Minnesota. The third season Wilson spent in Minnesota, however, was a near full-season worth of games.
Throughout 177 games, Wilson scored 26 goals and recorded 67 assists and was a minus-33.
Wilson had success at the AHL level and in the Swiss League but simply didn't have enough talent to have a remarkable NHL career.
12. Dan Bylsma
Dan Bylsma, bench boss of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is another coach who struggled to stay in the NHL.
Bylsma, however, enjoyed much more time in the NHL than Ron Wilson did.
Drafted 109th overall at the position of right-wing by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989, Bylsma was primarily a penalty-killer and it was his hard work ethic that allowed him to play a full six seasons in the Show.
The former King and (Mighty) Duck dressed for 429 games, but only scored 19 goals and 62 points during those games which caused his NHL career to be very limited.
11. Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau was still another player who had trouble finding the staying power necessary to stick with playing in the NHL.
The Washington Capitals head coach was drafted 42nd overall in the 1975 Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Playing the position of center, Boudreau had great offensive skills but couldn't find consistency at the NHL level.
He played 141 games and recorded 70 points—28 goals and 42 assists.
Boudreau actually ended up realizing that he wouldn't be able to ever make the NHL full-time, so he asked for clauses in his AHL contracts to prevent being called up to the big league so he could devote his time to the AHL teams he played for.
At the AHL level, Boudreau had incredible success.
In 634 games, Boudreau recorded 316 goals and 483 assists, good for a whopping 799 points. He still sits at No. 11 overall on the all-time AHL scoring charts.
He received the Memorial Trophy in 1974-75, awarded to the top scorer in the OHL, and in 1987-88, Boudreau was awarded the Sollenberger Trophy as the top scorer in the AHL. He was an AHL All-Star in 1988 and in 2009. After coaching the Hershey Bears to win the Calder Cup in 2005-06, he was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, even though he showed flashes of brilliance in the NHL, Bruce simply didn't translate that success to the top level.
10. Terry Murray
One of the older coaches in the league—which is saying a lot considering it seems like Ron Wilson may have walked with dinosaurs—Terry Murray was drafted 88th overall in 1970.
The L.A. Kings' bench boss played defense for four different NHL teams. Like all the coaches listed before him, Murray struggled to stay in the NHL full-time. On top of his four full seasons, he had five tweener seasons.
During his time as a player, Murray played for the California Golden Seals, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals.
Murray appeared in 302 games and posted 80 points—four goals and 76 assists—during that time.
9. Dave Tippett
The Phoenix Coyotes' head coach enjoyed a reasonably successful career despite being undrafted. He was signed by the Hartford Whalers in 1983 and split the next seven seasons in Hartford and then two with the Capitals and one each with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
During his eleven seasons in the NHL, Tippett played 721 games as a left-wing and netted 93 goals and recorded 169 assists.
8. Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco, one of the younger coaches in the league—less than a decade removed from his playing career—was drafted in 71st overall in 1987.
The right-winger had a 14-year professional career, 12 of which he saw full-time NHL action.
Sacco played 738 games with Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia.
He didn't enjoy a lot of offensive production—94 goals, 119 assists—but he still enjoyed and long and full career.
7. Scott Arniel
The sophomore Columbus Blue Jackets' head honcho played 11 seasons after being drafted 22nd overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. As a left-winger, Arniel played 730 games.
During that time, he put 149 goals, 338 points and 599 PIMS in the books.
After being drafted by Winnipeg, Arniel returned to play juniors in the OHL and in 1982 helped Team Canada win its first-ever gold medal in the World Junior Championships. Arniel then played in the NHL full-time where his career-high in points in a season was 56.
Following his 11 NHL seasons, Arniel finished off his playing days with seven seasons in the minors.
6. Joel Quenneville
Coach Q was taken 21st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1978 draft.
Quenneville played 13 seasons as a blue-liner. He split his time between Toronto, Colorado (the Rockies), New Jersey and Hartford.
Chicago's head coach enjoyed a fairly long career playing in 803 games.
To boot, the Jack Adams recipient recorded 54 goals and 136 assists, totaling 190 points.
5. Lindy Ruff
Lindy Ruff was drafted by the same team he now coaches. It's no wonder that he returned to the Sabres' organization and has had such success. In his playing days as a defender, he was known as a tough, hard-working, character player—exactly the same qualities he asks for in the players now under him.
Ruff was taken 32nd overall in the 1979 draft and proceeded to play 10 seasons in Buffalo before finishing his career with the Rangers.
From the backend, Ruff was fairly consistent offensively, and was tough on the back-end.
Throughout 691 games, Lindy broke the 100-goal plateau with 105 netted pucks and 300 career points. He also recorded 1,264 PIMs.
4. Paul MacLean
Paul MacLean is in his first year as the Ottawa Senator's head coach.
In his playing days, he appeared in 719 games as a forward. Drafted 109th overall in 1978, MacLean had a very successful career offensively. He potted 324 goals and put 673 points down in the books.
Of his 10 seasons, three were 40-goal seasons, five were 30-goal seasons, one was a 20-goal season. Only once, in his last NHL season, did he fail to record 20 or more goals.
MacLean also had 968 career PIMs.
3. Kevin Dineen
The Hartford Whalers' 1982 third-round draft selection enjoyed the longest playing career of all the NHL's current coaches.
Dineen skated an incredible 19 seasons in the NHL. Dressing for 1,188 games, the Florida Panthers' new coach posted 760 points—355 goals and 405 assists. He was also quite the tough customer, sitting in the sin bin for an also incredible 2,229 minutes.
He skated for Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus.
Playing for Philadelphia in 1995 following the 1994-95 lockout, Dineen was a runner-up for the Masterton Trophy. After struggling in the regular season, he surged during the playoffs and helped lead the Flyers to the Conference Finals.
The right-wing also showed great leadership abilities as he captained both the Whalers and the Flyers.
2. Brent Sutter
Brent Sutter, neither in coaching nor playing, has failed to live up to his last name.
Drafted 17th overall in the 1980 Entry Draft, Sutter played center-ice for 18 seasons for the Islanders and Chicago.
He scored 363 times in his career and assisted teammates scoring 466 times, good for 829 career points during the 1,111 games he played. To boot, he had 74 playoff points in 144 post-season games.
Entering the league with the, then-powerhouse Islanders, Brent Sutter advanced to the Cup Finals in all of his first three years and won the Cup twice. He made one more Cup Finals appearance with the Blackhawks.
The current Calgary head coach also captained the Islanders for his last four years on the Island.
This member of the Sutter family definitely had a great career.
1. Randy Carlyle
Randy Carlyle truly had a remarkable career.
After being drafted No. 30 overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1976, Carlyle played two tweener seasons on Toronto's blue line in which he saw more NHL action than minor-league action.
Following the 1977-78 season, the now Anaheim Duck's head coach was dealt to Pittsburgh where he exploded offensively and enjoyed six seasons of action. After Pittsburgh he moved up to Winnipeg where he played another solid 10 seasons of hockey.
Carlyle broke the 1,000-game mark, playing in 1,055 career games over the course of 17 seasons. During this time, he recorded 647 points—148 goals and 499 assists—and, being known as a tough defenseman, 1,400 PIMs.
Carlyle won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman in 1981 and appeared in four All-Star games.
His playing career is by far the best playing career of all the current NHL bench bosses.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!