We have a few giants in our midst and it’s nice to see the hockey world appreciate the careers of three legends, all in their final season or two. Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur define a generation of hockey excellence.
But there’s another trio of hockey personalities who are in the midst of distinguished careers that will surely take them to the No. 2, 3 and 4 positions of all-time. Joel Quenneville, Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff are gradually moving up the chart of NHL coaching wins and by the time they’re ready to settle into retirement will sit next in line behind the great Scotty Bowman.
Hitchcock, last night, moved into a tie with Bryan Murray for eighth place on the all-time coaching wins list with 620. The St. Louis Blues’ bench boss, who turns 62 Dec. 17, is still among the best in the game. Even though the NHL coaching vocation is supremely uncertain at the best of times, it’s tough to imagine Hitchcock wouldn’t be in demand if and when his ticket in St. Louis runs out.
At 40 wins a season (conservative for the Blues), Hitchcock will pass Al Arbour for second place on the all-time list with 782 wins about four years from now. That’s money in the bank.
Sitting in fifth place all-time with 675 wins is Quenneville. He’s 55 and coaching a Chicago team that looks like it will remain competitive for another decade. Quenneville will pass Pat Quinn (684 wins) and Dick Irvin (691) and move into third place before the Olympic break. And Quenneville is projected to pass Arbour sometime in 2016.
Again, even if Quenneville doesn’t last in Chicago, he’ll be in demand elsewhere in short order. That’s exactly what happened to Ruff, who at 53 is well on his way to passing Arbour before the age of 60. After 15 years in Buffalo, Ruff was hired this off-season by the Dallas Stars and now stands at 582 wins. He’ll make a run this season for the coaching top 10, currently occupied at the bottom by Jacques Lemaire at 617.
So it’s a safe bet to imagine Quenneville, Hitchcock and Ruff sitting No. 2, 3 and 4 on the all-time wins list by the end of this decade. That’s a pretty big deal for the NHL.
As for catching Bowman at 1,244 wins in the No. 1 spot, don’t count on it. Hitchcock isn't even halfway there yet. Quenneville has the best chance. Averaging 50 wins a season – which is what the Hawks have done in his time in Chicago – Quenneville would need another 12 years. He’d be 67.
Never say never.
Top 10 all-time NHL coaching wins:
1. Scotty Bowman, 1,244
2. Al Arbour, 782
3. Dick Irvin, 691
4. Pat Quinn, 684
5. Joel Quenneville, 675
6. Mike Keenan, 672
7. Ron Wilson, 648
8. Ken Hitchcock, 620
–. Bryan Murray, 620
10. Jacques Lemaire, 617
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN