Dallas Stars

25 greatest coaches in NHL history

Home » NHL » Greatest NHL coaches of all-time: Best NHL coaches ever

There are a select few in the history of the league that can be regarded as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time. There have been many coaches that have come and gone in this league and been forgotten, while the greatest ones are and will be remembered for decades after they retire.

The 25 greatest NHL coaches of all-time

The most successful NHL coaches have found ways to get the best out of their players each and every night. A great coach has the ability to bring a team from playoff contention to a Stanley Cup hopeful.

The best NHL coaches ever have elevated each team they have coached and have a long history of success. Stanley Cups play a big factor in determining the best coaches, but so do playoff appearances, division or conference titles, and a coach’s career record.

The coaches on this list have shown their ability to impact the game, even while standing behind the bench.

25. Roger Neilson

Roger Neilson coached in the NHL for 16 seasons. He started his career back in 1977 and coached his final game in 2002.


Neilson has a career record of 460 wins, 378 losses, 159 ties, and three overtime losses in the regular season. He coached eight teams throughout his career: Maple Leafs, Sabres, Canucks, Kings, Rangers, Panthers, Flyers, and Senators.

Neilson made the playoffs 11 times with five different teams during his head coaching career. He coached 106 postseason games, winning 51 of them. Neilson made it to the Conference Finals three times in his career and made the Stanley Cup Finals with the Vancouver Canucks in 1982.

24. Hap Day

Although Hap Day only coached for 546 regular-season games in his career, he was one of the most successful NHL coaches in history.

Day started his career in 1940 and coached his final game in 1950. He spent all 10 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has a career record of 259 wins, 206 losses, and 81 ties.

The main reason why Day is on this list is because of his playoff success. He coached the Maple Leafs to nine playoff appearances, which resulted in five Stanley Cup victories.


23. Art Ross

Art Ross’ head coaching career in the NHL lasted four decades. His coaching career began in 1917 and ended in 1945.

Ross spent the majority of his 19-year coaching career with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins made the playoffs 12 times under Ross and reached the Stanley Cup Finals five times. They would come out on top in two of those finals, winning the Stanley Cup in 1929 and 1939.

Ross coached 802 regular-season games in the NHL. He finished with a record of 394 wins, 313 losses, and 95 ties. In 1931, Ross became the first coach to pull the goalie for an extra attacker, which is a common strategy used in the NHL today.

22. Fred Shero

The winningest coach in Philadelphia Flyers history, Fred Shero coached the Flyers for seven seasons.

In addition to coaching the Flyers, Shero was the head coach for the New York Rangers for three seasons. He has a regular-season career coaching record of 390 wins, 225 losses, and 119 ties. Shero also has 63 playoff victories in 110 games.

He made the playoffs six times with the Flyers and twice with the Rangers. The Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups under Shero in 1974 and 1975. Shero was the first recipient of the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the best coach each season.

21. John Tortorella

John Tortorella has coached 1383 regular-season games in his career, which is the 12th most in NHL history. He began coaching in 2000 with the New York Rangers.

In addition to coaching the Rangers (on two separate occasions), Tortorella has coached the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, and Columbus Blue Jackets. During his 20-year coaching career, he made the playoffs 12 times. In 2004, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup Finals under Tortorella, which is his lone Stanley Cup victory.

Tortorella has a career record of 673 wins, 541 losses, 37 ties, and 132 overtime losses. He won the Jack Adams Award in 2004 with Tampa and in 2017 with Columbus.

20. Jacques Lemaire

Jacques Lemaire is not only one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time but also one of the greatest players in NHL history. He was named to the “100 Greatest Players” list in 2017.

Lemaire’s coaching career lasted 17 seasons. He spent time with the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, and New Jersey Devils. He won his lone Stanley Cup as a head coach with the Devils in 1995.

Lemaire is the winningest coach in franchise history for both the Minnesota Wild and New Jersey Devils. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1994 with the Devils and 2003 with the Wild.

19. Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice began his head coaching career in 1995 with the Hartford Whalers. He has coached 1684 regular-season games in the NHL across 24 seasons.

After coaching the Whalers, Maurice went on to coach the Carolina Hurricanes (on two separate instances), Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets. His 775 regular-season wins sit seventh all-time among coaches.

Maurice’s teams made the playoffs nine times in his career but never won the Stanley Cup. He is the winningest head coach for both the Hurricanes and Jets.

18. Mike Babcock

He may not be a fan favorite, especially after his stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the success that Mike Babcock has had in the NHL cannot be denied.

He coached the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, and Toronto Maple Leafs during his 17 seasons in the NHL. His 1301 games coached is the 16th most all time. Babcock has a career regular-season record of 700 wins, 418 losses, 19 ties, and 164 overtime losses.

Babcock’s teams made the playoffs 14 times in his career. He has a career playoff record of 90-74, which includes a Stanley Cup victory with the Red Wings in 2008.

17. Alain Vigneault

Eighth on the all-time regular-season wins list, Alain Vigneault is one of the most successful NHL coaches to not win a Stanley Cup.

Vigneault has a career coaching record of 722 wins, 489 losses, 35 ties, and 117 overtime losses. He began his career in one of the top NHL arenas with the Montreal Canadiens in 1997. He then moved on to coach the Canucks, Rangers, and Flyers.

Vigneault is the winningest coach in Canucks history with 313 wins. In his first season with Vancouver in 2006-07, Vigneault won his only Jack Adams Award after leading the team to 49 wins.

16. Jack Adams

Jack Adams was a player, coach, and general manager in the NHL throughout his hockey career. During his coaching career, Adams coached 964 regular-season games and won three Stanley Cups.

Adams began his coaching career back in 1927 with the Detroit Cougars. He spent his entire career coaching in Detroit.

Due to his impact as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, the league’s Coach of the Year award is named after Adams.

15. Peter Laviolette

Peter Laviolette has been coaching in the NHL for two decades. He has spent time with the Islanders, Hurricanes, Flyers, and Predators. He is currently the head coach of the Washington Capitals.

Laviolette has racked up over 700 regular-season wins in his career. He made the Stanley Cup Finals three times with three different teams (Hurricanes, Flyers, and Predators). His lone Stanley Cup win came with the Hurricanes in 2006.

Laviolette sits second all-time in wins for both the Hurricanes and Predators and third all-time in wins for the Flyers.

14. Pat Burns

Pat Burns spent 14 seasons as an NHL head coach between 1988 and 2004. He won the Jack Adams Award three times, which is the most by any coach.

Burns began his career coaching the Montreal Canadiens for four seasons. In his first season with the team, Burns won Coach of the Year and led Montreal to the Stanley Cup Finals. He would then go on to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and New Jersey Devils.

In his 13th season as a head coach, Burns captured his first and only Stanley Cup, doing so with the New Jersey Devils in 2003.

13. Darryl Sutter

Darryl Sutter is the current coach of the Calgary Flames in his 19th season in the NHL. Sutter’s playoff success is the main reason why he is one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time.

He has coached 170 playoff games (and counting) in his career and has a record of 89-81. His 89 playoff victories are the eighth-most in NHL history, and he has the opportunity to climb higher up on the list this season with the Flames.

Sutter has a record of 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals, winning it all with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.

12. Punch Imlach

The winningest coach in Toronto Maple Leafs history, Punch Imlach played a key role in the team’s success in the 1960s.

Imlach coached the Maple Leafs to nine straight playoff appearances from 1959 to 1967. During that span, Toronto won the Stanley Cup four times, which included a three-peat from 1962 to 1964.

In addition to coaching the Maple Leafs, Imlach also spent one and a half seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. He finished his NHL coaching career with 402 regular-season wins.

11. Lindy Ruff

One of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time to not win a Stanley Cup, Lindy Ruff has coached the fifth-most games in league history. He is the current coach of the New Jersey Devils.

Ruff began his career coaching the Buffalo Sabres for 15 seasons. He then coached the Dallas Stars for four seasons before heading to New Jersey in 2021.

Ruff has won over 775 regular-season games in his career. In 2005-06, Ruff won the Jack Adams Award after the Sabres finished with 52 wins.

10. Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan coached 20 seasons in the NHL between 1984 and 2009. He coached many teams, which included the Flyers, Blackhawks, Rangers, Blues, Canucks, Bruins, Panthers, and Flames.

Keenan won his first and only Jack Adams Award in his first season as an NHL coach. He made the playoffs 13 times as a coach and won the Stanley Cup with New York Rangers in 2004.

Keenan has a career regular-season coaching record of 672 wins, 531 losses, 147 ties, and 36 overtime losses. His 96 playoff victories are the fifth most in NHL history.

9. Pat Quinn

Pat Quinn coached exactly 1400 games in his career, which is the 10th most all time. Although he never won the Stanley Cup, his teams often made deep runs in the playoffs.

In his 20 seasons of being an NHL head coach, Quinn only missed the playoffs five times. He is a two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award. The first one came with the Flyers in 1980, while the second one came 12 years later with the Canucks in 1992.

Quinn’s 94 playoff wins sit sixth all-time, while he sits 13th all-time in regular-season wins with 684.

8. Glen Sather

Glen Sather’s playoff success alone puts him as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time.

Sather’s postseason win percentage of 70.6% is the best of any coach that has coached at least three playoff games. He has a career playoff record of 89 wins and only 37 losses.

Sather coached the Edmonton Oilers for the majority of his career and was the head coach for the entire length of Wayne Gretzky’s career in Edmonton. Sather won the Stanley Cup four times and was named the Jack Adams Award winner in 1986.

7. Barry Trotz

Barry Trotz is the current head coach of the New York Islanders. Trotz has the third most wins all time and is the winningest active NHL head coach.

He began his coaching career with the Nashville Predators in 1998. After 15 seasons with the team, Trotz headed to Washington to coach the Capitals. He spent four seasons with the Capitals and helped the team capture its first Stanley Cup in 2018.

Trotz currently sits second all-time in games coached and has won two Jack Adams Awards in his career.

6. Dick Irvin

One of the best NHL coaches ever, Dick Irvin coached for 27 seasons in the league. He coached 1448 regular-season games, and only missed the playoffs three times.

Irvin recorded 100 playoff wins in his career, which is the fourth most all-time. He won the Stanley Cup once with the Toronto Maple Leafs and three times with the Montreal Canadiens.

Irvin has a career coaching record of 691 wins, 527 losses, and 230 ties.

5. Ken Hitchcock

Ken Hitchcock coached in the NHL for 22 seasons between 1996 and 2019. He coached the Stars (on two separate occasions), Flyers, Blue Jackets, Blues, and Oilers.

Hitchcock has the fourth-most wins in NHL history with 849, while only coaching the seventh-most games on the all-time coaching list. He won one Stanley Cup in his career, which came with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

Hitchcock coached 168 games in the playoffs and has a record of 86-82 in those games.

4. Toe Blake

One of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, Toe Blake never missed the playoffs as a head coach.

Blake coached the Montreal Canadiens for the entirety of his 13-year coaching career. In those 13 seasons, the Canadiens won eight Stanley Cups. Blake’s eight championships are the second-most all-time among NHL coaches.

Blake has a career record of 82-37 in the playoffs, which is the fourth-best playoff win percentage by a coach.

3. Al Arbour

Al Arbour coached in the NHL for 23 seasons, 20 of which were spent with the New York Islanders.

In his career, Arbour coached 209 games in the postseason. His playoff record is 123-86, which is the second-most playoff wins of any coach in NHL history.

Arbour won the Stanley Cup four consecutive seasons with New York from 1980 to 1983. He holds the Islanders franchise records for games coached, regular-season wins, and playoff wins.

2. Joel Quenneville

Joel Quenneville is one of the top NHL coaches ever. He coached for 25 seasons in the league, racking up 969 wins in the regular season.

Quenneville coached the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, and Florida Panthers. He is best known for his time with the Blackhawks, where he helped lead the team to three Stanley Cup victories.

Quenneville sits second all-time in regular-season wins and playoff games coached. He won his only Jack Adams Award in 2000 with the St. Louis Blues.

1. Scotty Bowman

When looking at the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, there is no debate as to who the best is. That title belongs to Scotty Bowman.

Bowman has the record for most games coached, most wins, and most Stanley Cups of any other coach in NHL history. He coached for 30 seasons, and only missed the playoffs twice. Bowman spent time with the Blues, Canadiens, Sabres, Penguins, and Red Wings.

He won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, three with the Detroit Red Wings, and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His 1244 regular-season wins are 275 more than the coach with the second-most wins all-time (Quenneville). Bowman also holds the record for most playoff games coached with 353 and most playoff victories with 223.

Leave a Comment

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