Print and Go Back NHL [Print without images]

Thursday, November 18, 2004
Bowman's greatness more than just accomplishments

The Hockey News

The Hockey News
Purchase at
Who is the best coach of all time?
Writers' choice
A panel of 41 writers were asked their opinions on various great debates in hockey. Multiple choices were not provided so as not to color the outcome.
Coach Votes
Scotty Bowman 40
Al Arbour 1
Bobby Orr 11
Fans' choice
Winning nine Stanley Cups with three teams made Bowman a great coach, but spending five decades behind the bench of a continually changing game made him a legend.
Player Votes
Scotty Bowman 81.6%
Toe Blake 6.8%
Al Arbour 5.5%
Bob Johnson 3.2%
Dick Irvin 1.1%
When the Detroit Red Wings won the 2002 Stanley Cup, Scotty Bowman lifted the object of his obsession, carried it around the arena and skated off into the sunset. He had nothing more to accomplish.

"What a way for the greatest coach in the history of the sport to exit," said GM Ken Holland as he looked on.

Bowman was the greatest coach in the history of the sport. There's really no debate -- great or small -- about it.

He won nine Cups as a coach, one more than his mentor Toe Blake, who won seven of his eight at a time when Original Six teams had to survive only two rounds, not four.

Bowman won 1,244 regular season games, more games than all but two men, Al Arbour and Dick Irvin, have coached. Bowman won 223 Stanley Cup playoff games -- 100 more than the next best man, Arbour.

Bowman won the Jack Adams Award twice and was runner-up three times. He coached the three teams that won the most games and earned the most points ever in a season: the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (132 points, 60 wins), the '95-96 Red Wings (131, 62) and the '77-78 Canadiens (129, 59).

The list of records, awards and accomplishments goes on and on. But Bowman's greatness goes beyond it.

He took his first job in the 1960s when the NHL had only 12 teams and players were making real-world money. When he retired, it was the 21st century, the league had ballooned to 30 teams and players were multi-millionaires. He found ways to succeed in five different decades.

Bowman kept the same old-school principles, but he adjusted with the times and came up with innovations. He studied video before other coaches did. His encyclopedic, calculating mind took to computers quickly.

When the Wings had five talented Russians in the 1990s, he put them on one unit, the "Russian Five," to take advantage of their native, puck-possession style in a North American, dump-and-chase league.

How many of his former players have become coaches? Or GMs? Everyone has adopted something from him.

As good as Bowman was, he spent the best part of his career coaching powerhouse teams, which had been assembled before he got there.

He took over a Stanley Cup champion his first season with Montreal in 1971-72. He did the same thing in Pittsburgh in 1991-92. The Buffalo team he took charge of in 1979-80 still had two-thirds of the high-scoring French Connection line and a 56-goal scorer in Danny Gare.

And when he arrived in Detroit in 1993-94, the Red Wings had just come off a 103-point season.

The same can't be said for Al Arbour, who took over an Islanders team in 1973-74 that won only 12 games in its inaugural season and built it into a four-time Stanley Cup winner over the next decade.

Arbour took raw stones and turned them into gems. That's why he's the best coach ever.
No, not everyone liked him. Standing behind the bench, sucking on ice chips, jutting his jaw like a bulldog, Bowman barked at referees, shuffled his lines and played mind games.

There are so many stories: from how he supposedly had the visitors' dressing room painted before games, to how he scheduled practice so the players would have to drive in rush-hour traffic and remember what life was like for regular people. Players swore by him; players swore at him.

Off the ice, he's approachable and even humble. He was spotted recently making conversation with a unsuspecting middle-aged man in a college football bomber jacket on a flight between Detroit and Buffalo.

"What business are you in?" Bowman was asked.

"Oh, I'm just a consultant," he responded. "I do some work for a hockey team."

"Nice. Is that where you got that big ring? Wow, that must've been a pretty good team you worked for."

With Bowman, the bottom line was always winning.

"You hated him 364 days a year," former Montreal winger Steve Shutt once said, "and on the 365th day you collected your Stanley Cup rings."