Muckler dies at 86, Oilers assistant, coach for five Cup championships

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John Muckler, who was a coach with the Edmonton Oilers for five Stanley Cup championships, died Monday. He was 86.

Muckler joined the Oilers as an assistant coach in 1982 under coach and general manager Glen Sather. Edmonton would win the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. A year after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 8, 1988 and with Sather choosing to focus on his GM duties, Muckler helped lead the Oilers to the 1990 championship in his first of two seasons as coach, going 75-65-20 from 1989-91.

“On behalf of the Edmonton Oilers organization and John’s many friends in the game of hockey, I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to Audrey and the entire Muckler family,” Gretzky said in a statement. “When you have 22 pretty good hockey players and have enjoyed some success, it’s hard imagine that the addition of an associate coach would be the final piece to getting the Edmonton Oilers to the top of the mountain, but that’s exactly what happened when John joined the team.

“He was tough, strict, but most importantly fair, and he helped lay the groundwork to make our team more accountable to each other, which propelled us to become champions. A wonderful family man and great friend, he personally took my career to another level, and I will always cherish the hours we talked, from breaking down defenses to raising a family. Rest in peace, John, you will be missed.”

The native of Midland, Ontario, rose from a 13-year junior and minor-pro career as a defenseman, spanning the 1940s into the 1960s, to work various jobs over two decades. Muckler was coach of the Minnesota North Stars for 35 games in 1968-69 and worked for the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers in various roles before coming to Edmonton.

After two seasons as Oilers coach, Muckler left to become director of hockey operations for the Buffalo Sabres. He took over as coach 28 games into the 1991-92 season and went 125-109 with 34 ties in four seasons with Buffalo.

He was Rangers coach for three seasons from 1997-2000.

In 648 games as an NHL coach, Muckler was 276-285-3 with 84 ties.

In 2001, Muckler was hired as Ottawa Senators general manager and helped build the team that made it to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.

“The Ottawa Senators organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of John Muckler,” Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said. “John had the heart of a champion, was a consummate professional and a beloved family man.

“For years, the Senators were perennial Stanley Cup contenders because of John’s dedication and leadership. On behalf of myself and the entire Senators organization, I want to express our sincerest condolences to John’s family, friends and all those whose lives he touched in the hockey community.”

Muckler’s final NHL job was as a senior adviser for the Phoenix Coyotes, joining them in 2008 to work with then-coach Gretzky, whom he’d got to know well during their time together with the Oilers.

“This is a tough day for me, [Muckler] was a good man,” Sather told the Edmonton Journal. “He was methodical and had a great mind.

“The technical side made sense for John. He was really good at it. A good coach in all aspects. He was perfect for our winning. … He was a [heck] of a coach. I remember going to see him for a few games when he was coaching our (Oilers) farm team in Wichita and I thought, ‘This guy is a really good coach.’ So I brought him to us.”

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