The Capitals’ family lost one of its most distinguished alumni and the NHL community lost one of the game’s true gentlemen on Sunday when Max McNab passed away. The former Washington general manager was 83 years old.
McNab had the distinction of serving in the game as a player, coach, general manager and a league executive. His involvement in the game he loved extended for nearly half a century. A native of Watson, Saskatchewan, McNab played junior hockey in Saskatoon before turning pro during the 1946-47 season. He was called up to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings in 1947-48, one season after the great Gordie Howe began his own NHL career with the Wings.
McNab played in 128 regular season and 25 playoff games over parts of four seasons with Detroit, and he had his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Red Wings’ 1949-50 championship team. Back surgery cost him the entire 1951-52 season and he finished out his playing career with seven seasons in the old Western Hockey League, skating for the New Westminster Royals.
His playing and coaching careers actually overlapped during the 1950s when he served the Royals as a player/head coach. McNab won the George Leader Cup in 1955 as the WHL’s MVP. Shortly after his playing career ended, McNab began coaching full time. He spent more than a decade as the head man for three different WHL clubs, working in San Francisco, Vancouver and San Diego. He also held the post of GM in both San Francisco and San Diego.
By 1971 he had become vice-president of the San Diego Gulls, a post he held until he was named president of the Central Hockey League in 1974. McNab ran the CHL until the Caps came calling in late December of 1975. Almost halfway through their second season in the NHL, the hapless Caps had fired original GM Milt Schmidt. McNab took over as Washington’s GM on Dec. 29, 1975, returning to the NHL after an absence of a quarter century.
He held the Capitals’ GM post for nearly six years. The Capitals grew from expansion laughingstock to playoff contender during his tenure. The Caps missed out on a playoff berth on the final day of the season twice during McNab’s years on the job. Washington drafted Rick Green, Ryan Walter, Bengt Gustafsson, Mike Gartner, Bobby Carpenter and Gaetan Duchesne under McNab’s watch.
Although his teams in the District did not have as much success as he would have liked, McNab was universally respected and admired by those who knew him. Years after having played under him, his old players still remark on what a fair and good man he was to work under.
McNab was relieved of his duties in Washington on Nov. 5, 1981. Soon thereafter, he became the vice president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils. McNab stayed with the Devils into the early 1990s when he retired from the game and moved to Las Vegas with his wife, June.
McNab’s son Peter had a distinguished NHL career as a player and currently serves as a television color analyst for the Colorado Avalanche. His son David played goal for the University of Wisconsin and was later a scout for the Capitals. David McNab is currently with the Anaheim Ducks, where he serves as the team’s assistant GM. He has been with the Ducks since the team’s inception in 1993 and is one of the game's best talent evaluators, particularly at the U.S. college level.
The Capitals extend their sympathies and condolences to McNab’s family and his many, many friends in and out of the game.