The Worst Firings in Hockey History


    It has been reported that Patrick Roy, who has been hovering around Denver these last few days, has been offered the head coach position for the franchise. I know what you’re thinking, “but doesn’t Tony Granato have that job?” No, not really. He’s been fired but everyone forgot to call him. I’m sure he’ll figure it out when he opens the paper sometime in the next few days and reads that he’s been replaced, unless he’s somewhere hockey isn’t mainstream. I hope he is, for his sake, because Day 1 of training camp would be awkward if no one bothers to let the poor sap know of his circumstance.

    That brings us to the Worst Firings in Hockey History.

    November 1981, Harold Ballard, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, wanted to get rid of Punch Imlach. Hoping to ignore a confrontation with the head coach, he decided to take away his parking space. He figured Punch would show up, notice his space was no longer in his name, and he’d understand. Well Punch certainly did understand. What he did not understand was why the decision was made during which he was recovering from a heart attack.

    In December 1976, Bill Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks, was not impressed with his team’s record and thus wanted to fire his head coach, Billy Reay. He had a messenger go to Reay’s house and slide a note under his door that not only informed him of the firing, but that he was also no longer a part of the organization and was not to return. His wife found the note, and read it aloud with her husband. The note was delivered 3 days before Christmas and thus marked the end of Billy Reay’s 13 and a half seasons coaching the Blackhawks. Happy Holidays!

    In March of 1979, Harold Ballard was looking to fire Roger Neilsen. Neilsen was informed the night prior by then general manager Jim Gregory that it would be his last game and thus Roger had a talk with his team then approached the reporters that an announcement would be made at noon by Leafs management. When no one showed up, Neilsen announced his own firing. The Leafs offered the position to three candidates, all of which refused the offer knowing full well exactly who Harold Ballard was. Harold then contacted Neilsen to ask him to coach that weekend, but there was a catch: Roger would have to wear a bag over his head and become the “mystery head coach”. “I actually was considering it”, said Neilsen. “Then this guy who helped me with the game videotapes said, ‘Don’t be crazy. You’re coming out of this looking pretty good.’” Neilsen then informed Gregory that he would not wear the bag, and Ballard seemed to not care as the Leafs were back in mainstream publicity. Neilsen coached the Leafs to five straight victories, helping the Leafs to finish with a 34-33-13 record, which was the last record over 0.500 for the Leafs for the following 13 years. It wasn’t until the 1992-93 season in which the Leafs posted a 44-29-11 record that they were over 0.500 again. That offseason, Neilsen and some friends got together and while he was outside, a report over the Sports News television cast announced his firing. The following day, he went to see Harold and was informed that the team wanted to go in a new direction. They shook hands and Neilsen was on his way.

    Prior to the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Roger Neilsen had undergone cancer treatment and hoped to return for the first round with his Philadelphia Flyers. Then general manager, Bobby Clarke, was informed by Neilsen’s doctors that he would be too weak to join the team for the start of the playoffs. Bobby Clarke brought in Craig Ramsay and announced him as the replacement for Neilsen. The media and fans had publicly lashed out at Clarke for his lack of class and respect, while Neilsen concluded that it was the right decision to be made due to his illness.

    If you can recall more insane, funny, or downright ridiculous firings in hockey or pro sports, feel free to share them in the comments section.

    Micheal A. Aldred
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