The head coach position of any professional sports team doesn’t come with much job security. In the NHL, being the best in the league doesn’t even guarantee you job security; of the last five coaches to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, two have since been fired from their posts (Dan Bylsma and Paul MacLean), and one has a, shall we say, tenuous grip on his position (Ken Hitchcock).
There have been some incredible coaches throughout the years in the NHL, but today we’re going to take a look at the other end of the spectrum; the terrible coaches. Typically, these coaches don’t last too long in the league, but sometimes, for some reason, they do. This list includes both coaches whose stays in the big league were brief, and coaches who somehow managed to make a career out of sub-par coaching.
It was difficult to order this list, as all of the entries are subjective and furthermore, it’s tough to accurately say if these coaches were actually as bad as they come off here; many were saddled with terrible teams, and after all, it’s the players who play the game, not the coach.
In any case, without any further ado, here they are; the 15 worst coaches in NHL history.
15 Dave Lewis
Dave Lewis played over 1,000 games as a defenceman, and he’s one of the only coaches on this list who finished his coaching career with a winning record. So, you ask, what earns him a spot on this list? The answer: his inability to take the all-star-laden Detroit Red Wings past the second round.
Lewis was Scotty Bowman’s replacement in Detroit, and those are big shoes to fill. He coached the Wings for two full seasons (2002-04) in which they managed 48 wins in each. However, the first- and second-round exits qualify as egregious under-achievements, and possibly cost the Wings another Stanley Cup. Lewis later coached the Bruins for one season (2006-07), but was fired the following offseason.
14 George Burnett
George Burnett had experienced some success at the minor-league level, coaching the Cape Breton Oilers to a Calder Cup championship in 1992-93, but his skills didn’t translate well to the NHL when the Oilers brought him up to start the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
Burnett couldn’t get much out of his players, and was canned after stumbling to a 12-20-3 start. Burnett would go on to have a decent career as a junior league bench boss, but he’d never coach in the NHL again.
13 Mario Tremblay
Mario Tremblay was head coach of the Montreal Canadiens for almost two full seasons, form 1995 to 1997. His record wasn’t abysmal (71-63-25), but his tumultuous relationship with Patrick Roy takes the lion’s share of the blame for the star goaltender’s departure shortly into Tremblay’s first season behind the bench.
The Canadiens made the playoffs both seasons with Tremblay as the coach, but they never won a series. Tremblay was fired after the 1996-97 season, and the Canadiens were left to fend without their franchise goaltender because of Tremblay.
12 Jim Anderson
The 1974-75 Washington Capitals posted the worst record in the history of the NHL, finishing 8-67-5. Jim Anderson’s NHL coaching career started with the Capitals that season, and it lasted a whopping 54 games in the nation’s capital. His team managed just four wins with Anderson behind the bench.
By the time Anderson got canned (or resigned due to stress; it’s unclear), his record was an atrocious 4-45-5, giving him a winning percentage a shade over seven percent. The Capitals were a horrific hockey team during this era, but Anderson found a way to make them substantially worse than they already were.
11 Paul Holmgren
Ex-player Paul Holmgren coached 425 NHL games from 1988 to 1995, split fairly evenly between Philadelphia and Hartford. He made the playoffs just once in his coaching career, his first season with the Flyers in 1988-89, and he never managed to finish with a winning record (even in the season the Flyers made the playoffs, they were 36-36-8).
Holmgren was fired just 12 games into the 1995-96 season, and finishing his coaching career with an embarrassing record of 161-219-45.
10 John Paddock
John Paddock was coach of the Winnipeg Jets from 1991 until he was fired amid the lockout shortened 1994-95 season. During his three and a half seasons as Winnipeg’s bench boss, the Jets put up a dismal 106-138-37 record, losing in the first round of the playoffs in the team’s only two appearances during his stay.
He had one more shot at a head coaching gig after that, in 2007-08 with the star-studded Ottawa Senators. He was fired 64 games into the season thanks to a rough five weeks early in 2008, and he never got another shot after that.
9 Butch Goring
In yet another case of a good player not necessarily making a good coach, we have Butch Goring. Goring had two stints as head coach in the NHL; 1985-1987 with the Bruins, and 1999-00 with the Islanders., He actually got his Bruins to the playoffs in his first year, but they suffered a first round exit.
Goring was fired shortly into the following season, and when he joined the Islanders at the turn of the millennium he fared even worse. He won just 41 of 147 games with the Isles before he was shown the door, ending his NHL head coaching career with an 83-126-31 record.
8 Dave Allison
Dave Allison was only an NHL head coach for 25 games, but it’s what he managed to accomplish—or, rather, not accomplish—in such a short time that lands him on this list. The Ottawa Senators were a young and struggling franchise, but Allison’s version brought the team to a whole new low.
He managed just two wins as an NHL coach—the lowest total of anyone on this list. Allison has since bounced around from minor league to minor league, never truly establishing himself as a good coach at any level.
7 Dallas Eakins
In 2013, brand new Oilers GM Craig MacTavish interviewed Dallas Eakins for an associate coaching position. MacT was so impressed with Eakins that he went on to unceremoniously fire Ralph Krueger (who coached the team to a 24th place finish in his only season in 2012-13, the team’s best finish since 2008-09 and hasn't been bested since) and he hired Eakins as head coach.
Expectations were high for Eakins, but he stumbled out of the gate and never recovered, finishing third-last in the league in 2013-14. He was canned just 31 games into the 2014-15 season with a cumulative record of 36-63-14.
6 Wayne Gretzky
A great player does not necessarily make a good coach. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player in the history of the game, tried his hand at coaching for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005-06. Although Gretzky lasted until the end of the 2008-09 season, his Coyotes never made the playoffs and didn’t reach 40 wins once during his tenure. His final record was 143-161-24.
Dave Tippett took over for Gretzky in 2009-10, and the ‘Yotes finished that season with a 50-25-7 record with largely the same roster. Tippett won the Jack Adams that year, and the Great One started making wine or something.
5 John MacLean
The New Jersey Devils brought ex-player John MacLean on board to start the 2010-11 season. He was always a fan favorite in Jersey, so Devils supporters felt pretty good about this hire at the time. The journey didn’t last long, though, as MacLean was canned 33 games into the year, guiding the Devils to a 9-22-2 start.
What’s worse is that the Devils were actually a solid team. Jacques Lemaire stepped in to finish off the season, and the same squad went 29-17-3 under Lemaire’s guidance, falling short of the playoffs thanks to the rough start they had under MacLean’s tutelage.
4 Bryan Trottier
When Bryan Trottier was hired as head coach of the Rangers in 2002, it was a little weird for everyone. Rangers fans had spent years hating him because he was such a key player for the rival Islanders for so many years, and Islanders fans viewed him as a traitor for taking the job.
Luckily, neither side had to put up with it for too long. In another case of a great former player making an awful head coach, Trottier was fired just 54 games into the season after coaching a Rangers team that included Eric Lindros, Petr Nedved, Mark Messier, Pavel Bure, and many other notables, to a 21-26-7 start.
3 Milt Schmidt
Bruins legend Milt Schmidt coached 776 NHL games, so it’s hard to imagine why he’s on this list. He had very little success during his tenure with the Bruins from 1954 to 1966, missing the playoffs in the original six era eight times, and not winning a single cup.
Later, Schmidt was hired by the Washington Capitals late in the 1974-75 season to replace Red Sullivan, and he lasted only 36 games into the 1975-76 season, coaching the Caps to a 3-28-5 record to start the year. He was fired, and would never coach in the NHL again, finishing with a 257-410-127 all-time record.
2 Steve Ludzik
The latest generation of hockey fans may only remember Steve Ludzik as that loudmouth analyst on The Score, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was a head coach in the NHL posting an atrocious win/loss record with an awful Tampa Bay Lightning team.
Hired before the 1999-00 season, Ludzik coached the Lightning for a season and a half before being shown the door. They didn’t even manage 20 wins in Ludzik’s first season behind the bench, and they only had 12 by the time he was fired the following season 39 games into the year. His NHL coaching record stands at a pathetic 31-67-23.
1 Mike Milbury
That’s right; before he became everyone’s least favorite analyst, he was a deplorable head coach. His time with Boston actually got off to a solid start, as he lost in the Cup Finals his first year in 1989-90. He lasted one more season in Beantown, but it wasn’t until the New York Islanders brought him on in 1995-96 that his ineptitude started to show.
He never even came close to coaching the Isles to a winning season, missing the playoffs in each of the four years he was bench boss ion Long Island. In 351 games, Milbury has a 146-160-45 coaching record.