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

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John Muckler, who was a coach with the Edmonton Oilers for five Stanley Cup championships, has died at the age of 86, the Oilers announced Monday.

Muckler joined the Oilers as an assistant coach in 1982 under coach and general manager Glen Sather. Edmonton won 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 guided the Oilers to the Cup in 1990, his first of two seasons as coach, and was 75-65 with 20 ties 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. 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 being hired to coach Edmonton’s Central Hockey League team in Wichita, Kansas, in 1981-82.

“The team that we had — (assistant) Ted Green and John Muckler and myself — it’s sad to see those guys pass away (Green died in 2019),” Sather said Tuesday. “They were such good quality people and contributed so much to the history and championships in Edmonton. We’re going to miss them all forever.

“… [Muckler] was a little older than me and I guess a little more mature and sometimes a little more patient. But he was also a strong-willed individual who was very fair in his discipline. He had one focus, and it was to play the way we wanted to play. He followed through with it. The players understood that, they respected him, and he made my job a lot easier.”

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

“John Muckler’s passion for the game and for working with hockey players impacted so many at every stage and talent level,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “His addition to the Edmonton Oilers organization and coaching partnership with Glen Sather were keys to what became a dynastic championship run — Muckler won five Stanley Cups, the final one in 1990 as the Oilers’ head coach.

“In a career that spanned 50 years — first as a defenseman in the old Eastern Hockey League and then in various coaching and managing roles with six NHL franchises — Muckler made countless friends in the game and contributed to the success of some of the greatest players in hockey history. The National Hockey League mourns his passing and sends its heartfelt condolences to his family.”

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,” 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. He joined them in 2008 to work with then-coach Gretzky, having gotten to know him well during their time together with the Oilers.

“You’ve seen Wayne’s quotes, and I certainly echo those,” said Kevin Lowe, a defenseman on all five of Edmonton’s Stanley Cup championship teams. “The Oilers were great for a lot of reasons — great players, a great leader in Glen Sather. But John Muckler and Teddy Green’s contributions were as impressive and as important as the great players on the team. I can attest to it. I lived it. There was never a day leaving the arena that we wouldn’t be a better team, and John was a big part of that. He embodied the game of hockey.

“I’m really disappointed to hear of his passing, but he’s leaving a fantastic legacy for his family.”

NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs contributed to this report

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