Ken Hitchcock is two wins away from reaching the 500 victory plateau. (Getty Images)
Perhaps it’s because he coaches in one of the least sexy markets in the NHL.
Personally, I’m more inclined to think that even though he has shed hundreds of pounds from his junior coaching days, Ken Hitchcock still doesn’t get the love because he doesn’t cut the most svelte figure behind an NHL bench.
Whatever the case, why don’t more people talk about this guy as one of the greatest coaches of all-time? Why does Wayne Gretzky, whose coaching credentials aren’t even close to Hitchcock’s, have to take himself out of the running for the Canadian Olympic team, while Hitchcock works in the trenches for Hockey Canada without getting the same kind of treatment? (Players will tell you when the team went off the rails early in the 2002 Olympic tournament, it was Hitchcock, an assistant coach, who instilled the fundamentals that led to Canada winning the gold medal.)
Believe it or not, Hitchcock could win his 500th game as an NHL coach as early as Thursday night in Toronto. That would put him in a tie for 12th place on the all-time list with legendary Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake and one behind Pat Burns.
It’s a grand achievement for Hitchcock, who coached six seasons in the Western League and two in the minors before getting his chance with the Dallas Stars in 1996. A former compulsive overeater whose personal habits hit the skids when he lost his father during his teenage years, Hitchcock spent the bulk of his early coaching career enduring fat jokes.
After all, at one time he tipped the scales at north of 450 pounds. Opposing coaches in junior hockey used to arrange to have pizzas delivered to the Kamloops Blazers bench. Legendary coach Ernie “Punch” McLean once waved a hotdog at Hitchcock on the bench. (Hitch did manage to get back at him by covering one of his eyes. McLean is blind in one eye.)
Hitchcock undoubtedly has a couple hundred more wins in him before his coaching career ends, which will move him up several more notches on the all-time list. But what makes Hitchcock’s record more impressive is the fact that among the 12 other coaches with at least 500 wins, Hitchcock’s winning percentage is third, behind only Scotty Bowman and Blake.
Hitchcock has only once been a runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach, something that likely won’t change this season even if he manages to get the Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs. There just never seems to be a lot of buzz around Hitchcock, which is sad, because he’s one of the most innovative, intelligent and productive coaches in the game today.
Here’s how his record stacks up against others who have won 500 games. Coaches are listed in order of winning percentage:
Scotty Bowman 1244-574-323 (.656) – 9 Stanley Cups
Toe Blake 500-255-159 (.634) - 8 Stanley Cups
Ken Hitchcock 498-315-145 (.596) – 1 Stanley Cup
Pat Burns 501-353-165 (.573) – 1 Stanley Cup
Billy Reay 542-385-175 (.571) – 0 Stanley Cups
Pat Quinn 657-481-180 (.567) – 0 Stanley Cups
Al Arbour 782-577-248 (.563) – 4 Stanley Cups
Bryan Murray 620-465-154 (.562) – 0 Stanley Cups
Dick Irvin 692-527-230 (.557) – 4 Stanley Cups
Jacques Lemaire 528-405-171 (.556) – 1 Stanley Cup
Mike Keenan 659-519-183 (.551) – 1 Stanley Cup
Jacques Martin 517-406-175 (.551) – 0 Stanley Cups
Ron Wilson 539-452-157 (.538) – 0 Stanley Cups
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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