Being an NHL coach comes with a lot of responsibility, pressure, and uncertainty. Some coaches have gone on to have extremely successful careers, winning multiple Stanley Cups over the course of several decades and becoming legends or members of the NHL Hall of Fame in the process, while others failed so miserably that they never coached in the NHL again after disasters of seasons. In fact, many more have failed than succeeded by quite a large margin. This article is going to dig deep and focus on the worst of the worst in each franchise’s history. Maybe you’ll come across some names you’ve never heard before – because we certainly did – and maybe that’s for the best because these guys aren’t exactly what their franchises would like to remember either.
Within this article we’ll be mentioning some NHL jargon like points and points percentages which were used to determine the quality of each coach’s tenure. Points are determined each game by a win (2 points) or a tie/overtime/shootout loss (1 point). Regulation losses count for zero points. So to determine total points for each coach, you simply add together the number of wins they gained multiplied by two plus the number of ties/overtime/shootout losses to come up with total points for each coach. Points percentage is how many points a coach earned divided by the number of points that were possible to earn each season, so a “sub .500 points percentage season” refers to a team/coach that failed to win at least half of the total points that were possible. Typically a sub .500 season is the benchmark for a bad season, so this was a major factor in our process in determining who deserved the title of “worst.”
Also worth mentioning is that we’ve excluded interim coaches who didn’t compile a big enough sample size on which to be judged. We focused on coaches that had a long enough tenure with their team before they were fired for being terrible. So with that being said, here is our list of the worst coaches in NHL history for each current franchise.
30. Anaheim Ducks – Pierre Pagé
In the years leading up to the Walt Disney Company (the franchise’s original owners) selling the team in 2005 and their subsequent 2006 Stanley Cup championship under Randy Carlyle, the Ducks went through a total of five different coaches from 1997 to 2004, including one of the best in all of hockey (Mike Babcock). That’s almost a coach per year, with only two making into or past their second season. That being said, of the three coaches that never made it past one season, Pierre Pagé tops the list as the worst head coach in Ducks history. In his lone season with the Ducks, he posted a record of 26-43-13, which was good for only 65 points (lowest in franchise history), 6th place in the Pacific Division, and was especially bad considering that the teams that preceded AND succeeded his tenure as coach both made the playoffs.
29. Arizona Coyotes – Wayne Gretzky
Even though the 1980-1981 Winnipeg Jets (original franchise name before they moved to Phoenix) had one of the worst seasons in NHL history: 9-57-14, good for a whopping 32 points, and set an NHL record with 30 consecutive losses, AND went through three separate head coaches during that tire-fire of a season, their worst coach in franchise history is arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky coached the franchise for a full four years, which many believe would have never lasted that long if he weren’t The Great One himself. Through Gretzky’s tenure as coach, his teams never came close to the playoffs, finishing above .500 only once. Important side note: Gretzky’s former assistant coach Rick Tocchet was sentenced to 2 year’s worth of probation for running an illegal gambling ring that allegedly involved Gretzky’s wife, which undoubtedly tarnished the franchise and Gretzky’s name.
28. Boston Bruins – Phil Watson
The years between 1955-1966 saw some horrid times for such a storied franchise like the Boston Bruins. For much of this time, Milt Schmidt was the head coach, who some people would consider to be the worst coach in franchise history (overall points percentage of .421), but he was able to lead his team to back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances early on in his coaching tenure (1956 and 1957). But there was one season during that period in particular that was especially brutal and that was the 15-47-8 (38 points/.271 points percentage) season of 1961-1962 under the watchful eye of Phil Watson. Watson didn’t last very long after his abysmal first season as head coach, being fired shortly after starting the next season with an impressive 1-8-5 record. Milt Schmidt would assume the reins once again as coach for another four years until 1966.
27. Buffalo Sabres – Punch Imlach
Easily the best name on this list, Punch Imlach is also easily the worst coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He only coached the team for their first year and a half of existence – which is always a good indication of his team’s performance – to an overall record of a staggering 32-62-25 (89 points/.374 points percentage) through 119 games from 1970-1972. Here’s the thing about Punch, though: he won the Stanley Cup four times with a much, much better Toronto Maple Leafs organization prior to joining the expansion Sabres, so it’s tough to pin all the blame on him as a coach. Also, he may have coached Buffalo longer than a year and a half if it weren’t for a heart attack he suffered mid-season that forced him to resign.
26. Calgary Flames – Brian Sutter
Of all the coaches that have been behind the bench in Calgary Flames history (including three different Sutters), Brian Sutter tops the list as the worst of them all. Although the franchise itself has always been kind of middling – never really great, never really horrible – Brian Sutter’s tenure as coach from 1997-2000 never saw a team with a points percentage above .470, never made the playoffs, and posted their franchise’s worst season points percentage in his first year as coach (.409). Sutter would find work coaching the Blackhawks directly after leaving Calgary in 2000, leading them to the playoffs in his first year.
25. Carolina Hurricanes – Paul Holmgren
The 1982-1983 Hartford Whalers (previous franchise name) posted one of the worst seasons in the history of the NHL (19-54-7, 45/.281 points percentage) and went through three different head coaches, but the title of worst coach in franchise history goes to Paul Holmgren. Despite Larry Pleau having been fired three separate times in their franchise history, Holmgren wasn’t any better: he only coached one full 84 game season, was only able to muster up a measly .379 points percentage through 161 total games in four years, and failed to make the playoffs throughout his sporadic tenure. It was a toss-up between Holmgren and Pleau, but points percentage and lack of playoff appearances tilted the balance in favor of Holmgren.
24. Chicago Blackhawks – Ebbie Goodfellow
For a team that has seen extreme success recently (three Stanley Cups in the last six years), the Chicago Blackhawks have had some truly awful seasons in their history. In two seasons from 1927-1929, Chicago had a total of four different head coaches that combined for 14 wins in 88 games played. However, Ebbie Goodfellow may not only top the list of worst coach in Chicago Blackhawks history, he may be the worst coach of all time. Between 1950 and 1952, he coached a team that was in the middle of a tail-spin into a downright nose-dive, posting a total of 30 wins in 140 games (79 points/.282 points percentage). Sid Abel would take over the team in 1952 and coach the Hawks to the playoffs in his first season.
23. Colorado Avalanche – Dave Chambers
Although the 1989-1990 Quebec Nordiques (previous franchise name) only garnered a .194 points percentage under Michel Bergeron, he actually isn’t the worst head coach in their franchise history. Yes, he was fired after that horrific season, but he had already coached the Nordiques to seven straight playoff appearances from 1981-1987. Dave Chambers – who had no previous coaching experience, mind you – took the helm after Bergeron was fired in his second stint with the team and was only able to amass a total of 19 wins in 98 total games. He lasted the entire 1990-1991 season, but was mercifully fired after only 18 games of the 1991-1992 season, never to coach in the NHL ever again.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets – Doug MacLean
In the short history of the Columbus Blue Jackets, there have been a total of nine head coaches in 15 total seasons. That’s a lot, so let’s try to weed out the worst of the worst. Honorable mention: Gary Agnew became an interim head coach for only five games after Gerard Gallant was relieved of his position, failing to win a single game (0-4-1). I’m giving him a pass simply because the sample size is so incredibly small and he was only a placeholder before the hiring of Ken Hitchcock. That being said, after the franchise’s first head coach in Dave King was fired mid-season in favor of Doug MacLean, his team only managed to win a total of 24 games in the 79 that he coached over two overlapping seasons, good enough for an impressive 60 points/.380 points percentage. MacLean would be fired in the middle of his second season to be replaced by the aforementioned Gerard Gallant.
21. Dallas Stars – Herb Brooks
The Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars have had success in hiring coaches that last more than a couple of years, with a couple of exceptions to the rule, naturally. There is one glaring sore spot in their list of coaching prowess: Herb Brooks, who you may remember as the head coach of the 1980 United States Olympic team that upset the heavily favored Russian Olympic team in Lake Placid. Although an otherwise talented coach, he only made it through one year before getting the proverbial axe from his hometown team, going only 19-48-13 in 80 games (51 points/.319 point percentage).
20. Detroit Red Wings – Larry Wilson
Well, it wasn’t going to be Scotty Bowman. And it certainly wasn’t going to be Jack Adams, the legendary coach whose namesake is on the award that’s given to the NHL’s best coach. In fact, this one goes to a Detroit Red Wings coach that managed to win only three games in the NHL in 36 attempts. THREE! We’ve excluded coaches from this list before due to only being interim coaches after firings, but 36 games is a good enough sample size to know a coach’s prowess. So to only win three games in the last 36 games of an NHL season – especially for a heritage team like the Detroit Red Wings – is simply inexcusable. Larry Wilson never coached in the NHL after that disaster of a finish.
19. Edmonton Oilers – Pat Quinn
Typically when you’re fired after your first year with a team, it’s not a very good sign of your coaching ability, but who would have guessed that Pat Quinn would fail so miserably in Edmonton? In his 19 years as a head coach for the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and Toronto Maple Leafs, he only had a sub .500 season on three occasions. After a brief NHL coaching hiatus from 2006 to 2009, Quinn was brought in to coach a struggling Edmonton Oilers team, but only managed to amass a 27-47-8 record. Quinn called it quits after that 2010 season.
18. Florida Panthers – Duane Sutter
The Florida Panthers were somehow able to make a Stanley Cup run a mere three years after becoming a franchise in 1993, which is an unbelievable feat. However, things after the turn of the century weren’t so great for the Panthers, as they would make some disastrous coaching decisions. After losing in the Quarterfinals in 2000 under Terry Murray, the Panthers got off to a miserable start the very next year, which led to Murray’s mid-season firing. After Murray was ousted, Duane Sutter took over and finished the season with a sub .500 record (16-20-6-4), only to be fired 26 games into the following season (6-15-2-3). After Sutter left town, Mike Keenan finished out the 2002 season to a franchise worst .366 points percentage (combined with Sutter’s efforts). Sutter never coached in the NHL after his 22 total wins in two years with Florida.
17. Los Angeles Kings – Fred Glover
Fred Glover might not only be the worst coach in Los Angeles, he is also a front-runner, along with Ebbie Goodfellow, for the worst in NHL history. He existed in an era where player-coaches were still a thing – and he was fairly successful at doing that – but his behind-the-bench work is less than stellar. He took over a 1971-1972 Los Angeles Kings team that had recently fired their head coach in Larry Regan 10 games into the season, only to have Fred Glover muster up 18 wins in 68 games. Maybe LA thought that since he previously won the Sporting News’ Coach of the Year title that he was going to turn the franchise around, but every year after his first in Oakland (where he posted a .454 points percentage) were just pathetic. Here’s a good indicator of Fred’s work: .382, .288, .333, .324, .311, .263 – those are his career points percentages as a coach from 1969-1974. Terrible.
16. Minnesota Wild – Todd Richards
There have only been three coaches in the short history of the Minnesota Wild, so it’s a little unfair to call any of them the “worst.” But since that’s what we’re attempting to do, Todd Richards gets the title due to the fact that the other two coaches on the list have either led their teams to seasons well above .500 on more occasions and/or have made deep playoff runs in consecutive years. Richards was never able to get over the hump as a coach in Minnesota, but would end up working in Columbus up until his firing earlier this year, after starting the season 0-7-0.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Pit Lépine
If ever there has been a model franchise for success in the NHL, it’s the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1939 to find a coach who failed to make the playoffs during his tenure (knowingly excluding interim coach Randy Cunneyworth) and 1939 is where you’ll find the name Pit Lépine. Pit was named coach of the Canadiens due to an unusual circumstance: Babe Siebert had drowned shortly after he was hired to coach the team in 1939, so perhaps Pit was overwhelmed by his newfound position. He only lasted one season, posting a 10-33-5 record that was good for last place.
14. Nashville Predators – Barry Trotz
Not unlike the problem also found in Minnesota, Barry Trotz is essentially the default pick strictly due to him being the only other coach besides current head coach Peter Laviolette in franchise history. Trotz was behind the bench from their inception in 1998 all the way to 2014, making the playoffs seven times in the process. He compiled a total of 557 wins (.533 points percentage overall) in his 15 years as Nashville’s coach, so while he unfortunately makes our list as Nashville’s worst coach, it’ll be quite a long time before he’s dethroned as Nashville’s best coach as well.
13. New Jersey Devils – Billy McMillan
The Devils franchise started off in Kansas City for a couple of years, then moved to Colorado for a few more before landing in New Jersey in 1982. It’s important to point that out because Billy McMillan coached a particularly miserable season in 1980 for the Colorado Rockies (22-45-13) before being fired in 1981. He was succeeded by two different coaches who combined for a whopping 18 wins the next season before he was hired yet again by the franchise, this time as the first coach for the newly branded New Jersey Devils. Despite the name change, it didn’t change Billy’s coaching ability: he would post an even worse 17-49-14 record his first year back as coach. He was finally put out of his coaching misery the following season after starting off 2-18-0.
12. New York Islanders – Mike Milbury
Mike Milbury is an interesting case study: he had back-to-back 100 point seasons in his first two as head coach in Boston, including a Stanley Cup run in the 1989-1990 season and was named Executive of the Year by the Sporting News. His coaching career could not have been more different in New York, however, where he spent four total years as a coach and many more as a general manager. In 1995, Milbury was brought in to fix an Islanders franchise that was trending in the wrong direction under Lorne Henning, but Milbury threw gasoline on the fire. He’d go 22-50-10 in his first season, 13-23-9 in his second before he replaced himself with Rick Bowness. He then went 8-9-2 after taking the job back from Bowness and finally 13-29-3 the next year, before stepping away from the bench again.
11. New York Rangers – Frank Boucher
Frank Boucher isn’t going to be given a pass by us just because he happened to win a Stanley Cup. Sometimes mistakes are so glaring that they have to be acknowledged and that’s exactly the case here: Frank took over an already established playoff contender (which he was a part of as a player) and won the Cup in 1940, but within a few short years he would manage to drag the Rangers down to bottom-feeding status. To his credit, World War 2 was in full swing while he was a coach, but his records of 11-31-8, 6-39-5, 11-29-10, and 13-28-9 during that time frame (between 1942 to 1946) make up one of the worst stretches in NHL history.
10. Ottawa Senators – Rick Bowness
This one isn’t even close. Rick Bowness through three years and chance in Ottawa was lucky to make it to double digits in wins twice, won a total of 39 games in 235 games played under his watch (.204 points percentage), and clearly never even came close to a playoff berth. Although I stated in an earlier entry that it’s not always fair to judge a coach based on the first years of an expansion team, Bowness was never able to show the organization that he could even come close to cracking a .500 points percentage record, as he hit .143, .220, .240, and finally .250 before he was fired.
9. Philadelphia Flyers – Vic Stasiuk
While an argument could be made for Paul Holmgren to make our list for the second time, Vic Stasiuk simply could not be overlooked. In his first year after taking over for inaugural head coach Keith Allen, Stasiuk managed to win only 17 games in the 1969-1970 season to finish 18 games below .500. His next year was an improvement of sorts, as he was able to make the playoffs despite still being five games below .500, but they were quickly ousted in four straight games and he was fired after the conclusion of the 1971 season.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins – Lou Angotti
Statistically speaking, Lou Angotti is clearly the worst coach in Pittsburgh Penguins history. In his one year as coach, he established franchise records for fewest wins in a season, fewest points in a season, and most losses in a season (16-58-6, 38 points/.238 points percentage). He inherited a last place team from Eddie Johnston in 1983 and managed to make them worse, which is a sure-fire way to lose your job after a single season. The Penguins would eventually rebound shortly after his brief tenure, drafting Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick the year directly after Angotti was let go.
7. San Jose Sharks – George Kingston
Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence for an expansion franchise’s first coach to buried under a young group of players that have absolutely no experience in the NHL (see Punch Imlach in Buffalo, for example) and George Kingston can easily make that argument for himself as well. However, the numbers simply don’t lie: the Sharks went 17-58-5 and 11-71-2 under Kingston in his only two years with the team, the latter being the worst points percentage in franchise history to date by a mile (.143). Kingston was replaced by Kevin Constantine, who would immediately lead the Sharks to two consecutive playoff appearances, adding a little insult to injury.
6. St Louis Blues – Barclay Plager
Barclay Plager only coached for parts of four seasons with the St. Louis Blues, but he was given the chance at one full season as head coach in 1978-1979, which subsequently ended up being the franchise’s all-time worst: 18-50-12, 48 points/.300 points percentage. After posting that disaster of a season, he was still somehow allowed to coach into the beginning of the 1979-1980 season, but was fired after starting 7-14-3. He would come back briefly as an interim coach in 1982 after the firing of Emile Francis, but he would never be given another real chance at coaching in the NHL again after posting career totals of 49-96-33, for 131 total points/.368 points percentage.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Jacques Demers
Jacques Demers took over the head coaching job in Tampa during the 1997 season after two previous coaches in the same year only managed to win a total of two games in 17 attempts. However, despite his coaching acumen, he wasn’t able to do much better with the squad, posting an extremely poor 15-42-8 record to finish off the most miserable season in franchise history at 17-55-10. His follow-up season as full time head coach, you ask? 19-54-9 (47 points/.287 points percentage), which ranks second worst in franchise history behind his previous season. He was ultimately fired and replaced by Steve Ludzik in 1999.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs – Dan Maloney
1980s Toronto Maple Leafs hockey is an era that most people in Toronto would soon like to forget, as the Leafs were never able to break .500 as a team throughout the entire decade. And right in the middle of that era was Dan Maloney, who through two seasons as coach was only able to win barely over a quarter of his games (45 wins in 160 games). His first year as coach in the 1984-1985 season was especially bad, as the team went 20-52-8, good for the worst season in franchise history. Even with such a poor performance, he came back for a second season and actually improved – albeit not very much – to 25-48-7, good enough to make the playoffs somehow despite a .356 points percentage. The Leafs would quickly lose and let go of Maloney upon their playoff exit.
3. Vancouver Canucks – Hal Laycoe
When the Vancouver Canucks joined the league in 1970, their first head coach was clearly given a team that lacked NHL talent. Hal Laycoe was the unfortunate soul who has his name next to these season records: 24-46-8 and 20-50-8, good enough for .359 and .308 points percentages, respectively. He was inevitably fired after those wretched seasons, joining the ever-so-long list of coaches who never coached again after fewer than five seasons in the NHL. Honorable mention: John Tortorella will perhaps be notorious for the single year he spent in Vancouver, most notably for the time that he tried to forcibly enter the Calgary Flames locker room after the end of the first period. Tortorella was suspended for 15 days (six total games) and was not able to have any interaction with his team throughout the duration of his suspension.
2. Washington Capitals – Tom McVie
In the Washington Capitals’ first season of existence, they burned through three coaches that combined for eight total wins in 1974-1975. It’s one of the worst seasons in NHL history, so we could have taken our pick between Jim Anderson, Red Sullivan, or Milt Schmidt, but we’re going to focus on the fourth coach in franchise history, Tom McVie. As mentioned before, Milt Schmidt took over the Capitals in their first year but was fired midway through his next season after starting out 3-28-5. Tom McVie would be hired to replace Schmidt, but he was only able to win eight more games that season (8-31-5), finishing at an overall 11-59-10. In his next two full seasons as head coach, McVie compiled a 41-91-28 overall record, which is a .344 points percentage. We gave him the title as worst over the other three based on his longevity as coach, as none of the others lasted a full season, let alone two full ones.
1. Winnipeg Jets – Curt Fraser
It’s important to note that these Winnipeg Jets have absolutely nothing to do with the previous Winnipeg Jets franchise. This one only dates back to when the Atlanta Thrashers became a franchise in 1999, where Curt Fraser was king for three and a half seasons. Again, it’s hard to list an expansion team’s first coach, but he’s the only coach in franchise history to never post a points percentage above .366, putting him atop the list as their worst ever. He’s also the second longest tenured coach in franchise history at 279 games, so we weren’t basing our decision on a small sample size either.
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