The 23 Best NHL Coaches of All Time Ranked

An ice hockey coach talking to his players who are taking a knee on the ice

In the high-stakes and ultra-competitive world of hockey and the National Hockey League, the difference between victory and defeat often comes down to the little things, like the line combinations and matchups, what forechecking strategy is used, and when to pull the goalie if you’re down. These are just a few of the hundreds of decisions a head coach has to make during the course of a game and a season. In this article, we’ll go through our rankings of the best NHL coaches of all time.

As much as star players dazzle us with their jaw-dropping goals and the goalies with their breathtaking saves, it’s the strategic genius of great coaches that binds a team together and elevates their game. The role of an NHL coach extends well beyond the Xs and Os sketched on a whiteboard. They have to manage all the players’ egos, know how to motivate them, know when to be hard on them, and when to be their friend. They serve as the emotional anchor of a team during a long season with lots of ups and downs.

The factors we used to determine our rankings for the best NHL coaches of all time are a combination of career wins, Stanley Cups, overall winning percentage, the team they coached, and when they coached (if they were an Original Six coach, we have to count that against them as there just wasn’t the parody and competition that there is in modern-day hockey). 

Honorable Mention Herb Brooks

While Herb Brooks didn’t have much success in the NHL, we felt he deserved to be on this list for his job with the 1980 USA Men’s Hockey Team. Arguably, the biggest upset in hockey history was when they took down the mighty Red Army Soviet team at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. 

The job Brooks did to pull his rag-tag team of mostly unknown players together to win the gold medal is nothing short of remarkable, and many hockey experts consider it the single-best coaching job of all time. It’s puzzling to wonder why his coaching philosophies didn’t translate to NHL success.

22. Paul Maurice

Starting his NHL coaching career at the tender age of 28 with the Hartford Whalers, Maurice quickly gained a reputation for being a players’ coach, someone who knows how to get the best out of his team by understanding the individual personalities that make it up. Maurice doesn’t just read the play; he reads the room. His emotional intelligence sets him apart, whether knowing when to crack a joke to lighten the mood or when to crack the whip to get his team focused.

21. Alain Vigneault

Alain Vigneault is one of those NHL coaches with an innate knack for turning teams around. His career, dotted with stints at the helm of several clubs, has almost become synonymous with rejuvenation.

He has two Stanley Cup Final appearances, but could never win the Stanley Cup. One with the Vancouver Cannucks and the other with the New York Rangers led by Henrik Lundqvist, the best Swedish goalie of all time. Vigneault’s approach has always been characterized by a certain finesse and tactical shrewdness that is nothing short of masterful.

20. Jon Cooper

Jon Cooper holding the Stanley Cup with the Lightning players in the background

Although Jon Cooper hasn’t been around as long as some of the other names on this list, he has undoubtedly made his mark on the NHL, as evidenced by his two Stanley Cup rings. You have to respect how he got his chance to coach in the big leagues; he worked his way up through many different hockey leagues, starting with high school and up through junior hockey, which is a unique path to the NHL.

With a coaching style rooted in accountability, adaptability, and a dash of swagger, Cooper has set new standards for what it means to be a modern NHL coach. He has spent his entire coaching career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, dating back to 2012, which is also a remarkable feat in today’s NHL, where it seems coaches are given a very short leash to product results.

19. Lindy Ruff 

Lindy Ruff’s coaching career is like a vintage wine—it just seems to get better with age. With over two decades in the NHL, his coaching acumen has not only stood the test of time but also evolved to meet the game’s ever-changing dynamics. Remember, he took the Buffalo Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and earned the Jack Adams Award for being the league’s best coach.

Beyond the x’s and o’s, Lindy Ruff is a keen motivator. Whether he’s rallying his troops with a fiery locker-room speech or quietly pulling aside a struggling player to offer some wisdom, he’s not just directing players; he’s helping them grow, both on and off the ice.

18. Jacques Lemaire

Jacques Lemaire’s coaching style is rooted in a blend of traditional Canadian grit and a European sense of positional play, a hybrid philosophy he’s mastered and adapted to great effect. Often credited with popularizing the neutral-zone trap, a defensive forechecking strategy that revolutionized the NHL and won the New Jersey Devils a Stanley Cup!

Lemaire was an early adopter of analytics before analytics were cool. He understood the importance of controlling space on the ice, turning each game into a tactical chess match. But what’s most striking about Lemaire is his versatility as a coach. He could win with star-studded lineups or with scrappy, underdog teams, and he was as much a teacher as a strategist.

17. Claude Julien

When you think of Claude Julien, a few things immediately come to mind: steadfast leadership, tactical brilliance, and an ability to bring out the best in his players. Julien has been a mainstay in NHL coaching circles for years, and for good reason. 

His unforgettable Stanley Cup run with the Boston Bruins in 2011 is a testament to his knack for making teams better than the sum of their parts. Often described as a player’s coach, Julien intuitively understands how to manage the complexities of an NHL locker room and bring out the best in his players.

16. Mike Keenan

A hockey coach, Mike Keenan yelling at the ref his players are in front of him wearing red jerseys

Love him or hate him (which some of his players definitely did), you can’t deny that Mike Keenan is one of the most fascinating and impactful coaches the NHL has ever seen. Leading the New York Rangers to their long-awaited Stanley Cup win in 1994.

Keenan’s coaching style is as complex as the man himself. He’s been described as authoritarian, a hard-nosed leader with a penchant for pushing his players to their limits—and sometimes beyond. His methods may have raised eyebrows, but they also yielded results. He had winning teams everywhere he went, from Philadelphia to Chicago to New York.

15. Pat Quinn

Pat Quinn had a coaching style that was equal parts tactical intelligence and emotional wisdom, making him a beloved figure among players and fans alike. But beyond his strategic mind was a man deeply respected for his integrity and leadership. He had the rare ability to command a room yet also make every individual feel valued. To play for Pat Quinn was to be part of a family, a band of brothers united in pursuit of hockey’s ultimate prize.

Although Quinn never reached the ultimate pinnacle of hockey, the Cup, he did win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL Coach of the Year. He was also heavily involved in Canada’s international hockey program as both coach and director, winning a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics.

14. Hap Day

Hap Day might not be a household name to casual hockey fans but ask any historian of the game, and they’ll tell you—Day was a coaching titan. If you’re looking for evidence, look no further than the 1940s and 1950s Toronto Maple Leafs, a franchise that thrived under his careful stewardship. Day etched his place among the greats with five Stanley Cup Championships.

13. John Tortorella

John Tortorella’s name stands out among the best NHL coaches, but maybe more for his intensity and controversy. Known for his fiery demeanor and a coaching style that’s as confrontational as it is passionate, “Torts” is a figure you can’t ignore. His teams tend to get a lot of penalties, but he’s a special teams genius, so that’s ok.

Famous for benching star players, his journey across multiple franchises, from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the New York Rangers and later, the Columbus Blue Jackets, tells a tale of a man committed to instilling a winning culture, often at the expense of popularity.

12. Glen Sather 

No offense to Glen Sather, but I think if I had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and those dominant Edmonton Oilers teams of the ’80s, I’d also have a couple of Stanley Cups to show for it.  But we have to give him credit; he was a masterful architect, as he was responsible for building that team, one of the best dynasties in NHL history, as evidenced by their four Stanley Cups.

Yet, for all his successes on the ice, what sets Sather apart is his longevity and adaptability. His influence in hockey extends beyond coaching, including a lengthy stint as a front-office executive. Whether behind the bench or in the front office, Sather’s one of the best hockey minds ever.

11. Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock’s credentials are as robust as they come, with a resume boasting a Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, and multiple appearances in the NHL playoffs. These accomplishments certainly put him up with the best NHL coaches of all time. His motivational techniques are legendary within NHL circles, a blend of old-school grit and modern psychological tools that make him one of the most compelling figures in the game today.

However, we have to note that there is controversy associated with Babcock. Accusations of mistreatment from former players have cast a shadow over his otherwise illustrious career. Yet, whether you view him as a flawed genius or a complex character, his impact on the game is undeniable.


Stickhandling Deke Trainer

A hockey stickhandling and deke trainer

Slide Board Pro Training

A hockey player training on a slide board, a great piece of hockey training equipment

Hockey Topics is reader-supported; when you purchase something through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. To learn more, click here.

10. Dick Irvin

When it comes to legendary NHL coaches, Dick Irvin often flies under the radar, but make no mistake, his impact on the game is monumental. Irvin was a pioneer in many respects, with a coaching career that spanned three decades from the 1930s through the 1950s. He coached the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens and won the Stanley Cup four times. Coaching in the Montreal Forum also adds some pressure to the coaching hot seat.

Irvin was known for his shrewd understanding of hockey tactics at a time when the sport was still defining itself. He could read the game like few others, making adjustments on the fly that often left opponents stumped. But more than just a tactician, Irvin was an incredible motivator, which earned him a spot in the top 10 best NHL coaches of all time.

9. Ken Hitchcock

Ken Hitchcock, affectionately known as “Hitch,” is a bit of a paradox in the world of NHL coaching. On one hand, he’s old school—a master of defensive schemes and a firm believer in structure and discipline. On the other, he’s not afraid to adapt and evolve, incorporating analytics and modern training techniques into his repertoire. 

Hitchcock’s 1999 Stanley Cup win with the Dallas Stars wasn’t a fluke; it was the culmination of years spent honing his craft, understanding the psychology of his players, and breaking down the game into its most granular elements. 

8. Darryl Sutter

With a demeanor as rugged as the Alberta farmland he hails from, Darryl Sutter has always been a coach who believes in simplicity, hard work, and accountability. Take his two Stanley Cup championships with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, for example. Those teams were known for their bruising physical style but were also incredibly well-structured, they didn’t take a lot of PIMs.

One of the most underrated aspects of Sutter’s coaching is his knack for in-game adjustments. This blend of tactical moves and motivational skills makes Sutter one of the most respected figures in the game. Throw in his dead-pan delivery during his press conferences that make some of the best sound bytes, and you can see why he’s one of the NHL’s best coaches of all time.

7. Peter Laviolette

Peter Laviolette has always been a maverick in the NHL coaching fraternity, and that maverick spirit has made him such a fascinating figure in the sport. Laviolette is a coach who’s never afraid to experiment, whether tinkering with line combinations, implementing unconventional strategies, or giving unproven players a chance to shine. This adventurous approach has won him admirers, detractors, and, most importantly, games.

From the moment he won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, it was clear that Laviolette was a coach who could motivate and inspire. His teams play with passion and intensity, reflecting his fiery personality.

6. Barry Trotz 

When you think of Barry Trotz, a few words immediately come to mind: stability, resilience, and adaptability. Trotz’s journey through the NHL coaching ranks wasn’t easy; he built his reputation the old-fashioned way by consistently getting results, often in the face of adversity. Trotz is known for taking a squad with limited talent and turning it into a playoff contender year after year. 

That knack for getting the most out of his players is one of Trotz’s defining qualities. His teams are meticulously well-drilled, defensively sound, and universally praised for their work ethic. He got the Washington Capitals over the hump and won the Stanley Cup in 2018. He did this by getting Alex Ovechkin to buy into his system and play a more defensive style of hockey, which seemed like an impossible task.

5. Jack Adams

When you consider the great pantheon of NHL coaches, the name Jack Adams looms large—and for good reason. He didn’t just coach; he also managed and built the Detroit Red Wings into a powerhouse. With a career that spanned from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, Adams was one of the original architects of modern hockey, and his influence is felt to this day. 

The present-day NHL award for the best coach of the year is called the Jack Adams Award, and for good reason. Adams was a man of vision but also one of grit. His coaching philosophy revolved around discipline, teamwork, and an uncompromising dedication to winning. And win he did, capturing three Stanley Cups and laying down the foundations for what would become one of the NHL’s most storied franchises. 

4. Joel Quenneville

A closeup of Joel Quenneville a NHL hockey coach with a mustache

Joel Quenneville, affectionately known as “Coach Q,” embodies a unique blend of old-school toughness and modern coaching sensibilities. His unmistakable mustache may give him a timeless aura, but make no mistake: This coach understands hockey’s evolving intricacies, adapting to its ever-changing dynamics while staying true to the game’s core values. With three Stanley Cups during his tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks, Quenneville secured his place among the best NHL coaches of all time.

What distinguishes Quenneville is his tactical brilliance. Whether it’s his quick line changes, penchant for finding favorable matchups, or tactical decisions during power plays and penalty kills, he’s always one step ahead. But his genius isn’t just X’s and O’s; it’s also about fostering a team culture that values each player’s individual contributions within the context of team success. Players want to win for Coach Q.

3. Toe Blake

Toe Blake is an almost mythical figure in the annals of hockey history and is often overlooked because he coached back in the 1930s. His impact wasn’t just about numbers, though the numbers themselves are staggering—eight Stanley Cups as a coach, two more as a player, and a coaching record that’s the stuff of legends. Toe Blake was much more than a stats sheet; he was the soul of the Montreal Canadiens during one of the most dominant periods any sports team has ever seen.

Even his adversaries respected him, a nod to his sportsmanship and grace under pressure. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player who didn’t improve under Blake. Toe Blake wasn’t just a coach; he was an institution whose legacy has withstood the test of time, remains a golden standard in the NHL, and makes him one of the best coaches in NHL history.

2. Al Arbour

If you’re talking NHL coaching legends, Al Arbour belongs near the top of any list, the mastermind behind the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. With four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-1983, Arbour set a gold standard for excellence that few have come close to matching. His remarkable run with the Islanders became a masterclass in building and sustaining a winner in the NHL.

But what made Arbour truly exceptional wasn’t just his knack for crafting championship teams but his people skills. Players often remarked about how he was as much a psychologist as he was a coach. He knew how to get into his athletes’ heads, inspire, challenge, and bring out their very best when the stakes were the highest. But he was also a tactical genius, pioneering strategies still studied and implemented by coaches today.

1. Scotty Bowman

Scotty bowman holding the Stanley Cup, he was one of the best NHL coaches of all time

Ah, Scotty Bowman—where do you even start with this legend of the ice? The greatest coach in NHL history, Bowman’s accolades speak for themselves: a jaw-dropping nine Stanley Cup championships and two Jack Adams Awards. Bowman is the only NHL coach to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams.

Known for a brilliant tactical mind, he was forever ahead of the curve, anticipating trends and innovations in the game years before they became mainstream. And let’s not forget his notorious attention to detail. Yet, for all his analytical brilliance, Bowman possessed an emotional intelligence that was just as keen. He knew how to manage star egos and rookie jitters, creating locker-room chemistry that was second to none. We think it’s pretty obvious that Scotty Bowman is the best NHL coach of all time.

Final Thoughts on the Best NHL Coaches of All Time

In the fast-paced, ever-changing landscape of the NHL, there’s one constant: great coaching can be the linchpin that transforms a roster of talented individuals into an unforgettable championship team. These masterful bench bosses have proved they’re worthy of being on the list of the best NHL coaches of all time. They all share certain qualities—a deep understanding of the game, an ability to adapt, and an innate skill for getting the best out of their players.

These coaches have shaped the very fabric of the NHL, leaving an indelible mark that extends far beyond the banners hanging from arena rafters. They’ve not only won games and Stanley Cup Championships but also have shaped careers, influenced how the game is played, and, in some cases, even changed the culture of the organizations they’ve served. In a league as competitive as the NHL, where the margin between victory and defeat can be razor-thin, the impact of a great coach is immeasurable.

Related Articles

What is a Hockey Puck Made Of? And Other Facts about NHL Pucks

One of these key components in this great game that undoubtedly stands out and demands attention is…

83 Of the Best Letterkenny Quotes – Pitter Patter!

Welcome to the whimsical and lighthearted world of Letterkenny, where quick-witted banter…

What is High Sticking in Hockey? When is it a Penalty?

We’ll take a deep dive into high-sticking and explain why it’s a critical penalty to ensure player…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *