STH News - Scotty Bowman History

Is Scotty Bowman the Greatest Hockey Coach of All Time?

There have been many great coaches in the history of the National Hockey League. However, one man stands above the rest as the greatest coach ever. With 1244 wins and nine Stanley Cup championships to his credit, Scotty Bowman is the all-time winningest coach in NHL history in a nearly 50-year coaching career. Counting his wins as an executive, he has 14 Stanley Cup victories, behind only Jean Beliveau's 17. Today, let's look at his case as the greatest coach ever. 

Who Is Scotty Bowman?

Born in Quebec, Canada, in 1933, Bowman grew up with the same aspirations as nearly all his childhood friends: play professional hockey in the NHL. However, a slash by future NHL defensemen and coach Jean-Guy Talbot in junior hockey resulted in a fractured skull for Bowman, ending his dream prematurely. As a result, he began coaching at age 23 as an assistant coach for the Ottawa-Hull Canadiens of the Quebec Junior Hockey League. He was promoted to head coach in 1958, winning the 1958 Memorial Cup and moving to the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League next. 

The Petes were the Montreal Canadien's junior farm team, Bowman's first taste of the NHL. He spent years coaching the Petes before getting his first opportunity with the NHL squad.

Humble Beginnings

In 1967, Bowman joined Lynn Patrick's coaching staff for the expansion St. Louis Blues. Patrick was the general manager, and the Blues were sitting in last place in November. Patrick resigned from his post as head coach and promoted Bowman at just 34 years old. As an expansion team, the Blues were not favored by any NHL odds, but Bowman led a miraculous comeback, sneaking the Blues into the playoffs and leading a dramatic run to the Stanley Cup Finals. After a consecutive seven-game series, the Canadiens ultimately swept the Blues. 

The success carried over, however, with the Blues winning the Western Division in back-to-back seasons and leading them to two more Stanley Cup Finals. St. Louis was swept in both. Despite reaching the Stanley Cup in its first three consecutive seasons, the Blues didn't win their first Stanley Cup game until 2019.

Massive Successes in Montreal

Scotty Bowman Montreal Canadiens
After a dispute with St. Louis ownership, Bowman left the team in 1971, signing with Montreal. The decision changed Bowman's life. The Canadiens were reigning champs when he signed but lost in the first round of his first year in Montreal. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1973 but became a legend between 1976 and 1979, leading the Canadiens to four consecutive championships. It was the first four-peat of the expansion era, and only one other team has accomplished it since.

The 1976–77 team led by Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt has long been regarded as one of the greatest teams ever. They finished the season with a 60-8-12 record, logging 132 points. The 60 wins and 132 points were both records at the time. The 60-win mark stood until his own 1995–96 coached Detroit Red Wings won 62 games, and the 132-point mark stood until the 2022–23 Bruins scored 135 points. However, neither of those teams won the Stanley Cup championship. Montreal breezed through the playoffs, going 12–2 and sweeping Boston in the finals. He is viewed as the greatest coach in Montreal’s history.

Four More Titles With Pittsburgh and Detroit

Despite winning four consecutive titles, several key players left the team, along with Bowman, who left for Buffalo. With the Sabres, he made the playoffs in five of his six seasons but failed to make it past the Conference Finals after his first year. He missed the playoffs in 1985–86 and was fired 12 games into the 1986–87 season after his team got off to a 3-7-2 start. It was eventually the only coaching gig he had that didn't result in a Stanley Cup win. 

It looked like he might be done in coaching for good, missing the next four seasons before signing with Pittsburgh. He won the title in his first year and spent just one more year with them before moving to Detroit. There, he reached the Stanley Cup finals and the Conference Finals in his first three seasons before breaking through with back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1996–98. He won one more Stanley Cup in 2001–02 with Detroit before retiring from coaching but still stays involved with the NHL.

Is He the Greatest Coach of All Time?

Bowman won over 1,200 games, made the postseason 28 times, and reached the Stanley Cup 13 times, winning it nine times. 1971-2002, he was 9–1 in the Stanley Cup finals. When Bowman retired, he was nearly unanimously viewed by analysts and experts as the greatest coach of all time. He started in a league with only 12 teams and immediately reached the Stanley Cup finals. He finished his career winning the Stanley Cup in a league with 30 teams. The argument could be made that no coach has ever seen the longevity of success Bowman had in both a pre-expansion and post-expansion era, making Bowman the greatest coach of all time.


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