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Kelly, eight-time Cup champion, dies at 91

Starred as Red Wings defenseman, Maple Leafs center in 20-year career

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Red Kelly, who played on eight Stanley Cup-winning teams during a 20-season NHL career that earned him induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, died Thursday. He was 91.

Kelly was a member of four Cup-winning teams as a defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings from 1947-60 and four more as a center with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1960-67. His eight championships are more than any player in NHL history who did not play for the Montreal Canadiens.


[RELATED: Red Kelly: 100 Greatest NHL PlayersMahovlich, Kelly share strong bond from Maple Leafs' Cup wins]


"The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Leonard 'Red' Kelly -- a man whose hockey career is so storied and distinguished that it may never be duplicated," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It is no surprise that Red was a fan favorite at the NHL's Centennial Celebration in 2017, when he endeared himself to an entirely new generation of hockey fans. I was in awe at the reverence and respect today's players had for him -- even though they may have never seen him take the ice."

Kelly, whose given name was Leonard, was born July 9, 1927, in Simcoe, Ontario. Though he played junior hockey with St. Michael's Majors, usually a talent pipeline to the Maple Leafs, Toronto passed on Kelly and he joined Detroit as a 20-year-old defenseman in 1947.

By the 1949-50 season, Kelly was one of the NHL's best offensive defensemen. He scored at least 10 goals in nine consecutive seasons and was an NHL First-Team or Second-Team All-Star from 1949-50 through 1956-57. In 1954, he was the first recipient of the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's best defenseman, and was in the top three in voting for the award each of the next three seasons.

With Kelly on the blue line and players like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay up front, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup four times in six seasons from 1949-50 through 1954-55.

Video: Hall of Famer Red Kelly passes away at age 91

"Red Kelly was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game," Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He truly redefined how people viewed the defense position, and how it was played for decades to come. Being a former captain of the Red Wings during an era that featured numerous Hall of Famers demonstrates how well-respected he was within the organization, which is a sentiment that I know is still true today. Red was a great man and the hockey world will sorely miss him."

Kelly played through a broken ankle late in the 1958-59 season, and Detroit missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 21 years. He was traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 5, 1960, but the trade was voided when he wouldn't report to the Rangers and said he was retiring. However, Toronto general manager Punch Imlach received permission to talk to Kelly and persuaded him to accept a trade to the Maple Leafs.

Imlach decided to experiment with using Kelly as a center, a move that quickly became permanent after Kelly was able to shut down Canadiens center Jean Beliveau. His superb passing skills also helped linemate Frank Mahovlich score 48 goals in 1960-61, when Kelly finished with an NHL career-high 70 points and won the Lady Byng Trophy for the fourth time.

Video: Red Kelly won Cup four times each with Wings, Leafs

Injuries derailed Toronto's hope for a championship in 1961, but the Maple Leafs defeated the defending champion Chicago Black Hawks in the Cup Final one year later to win their first title since 1951. They finished first in the regular season in 1962-63 and took home the Cup again, then won Games 6 and 7 of the Final against Detroit in 1964 to make it three in a row.

By then, Kelly was doing double duty; he also was a member of Parliament, serving two terms in the House of Commons while continuing to play hockey.

"For those of us who were lucky enough to have known or encountered Red, we will all miss his sharp mind and keen intellect," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. "He was a gentle man but a fierce competitor. Above all, he was a family man, and he will be missed by his hockey family."

Kelly retired for good in 1967 at age 40 after helping Toronto win the Cup for the fourth time in six seasons. He finished his NHL career with 823 points (281 goals, 542 assists) in 1,316 regular-season games. Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969 and named to the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017.

But Kelly found himself back in the NHL for the 1967-68 season, this time as a coach. He went behind the bench for the first-year Los Angeles Kings and guided them to a second-place finish in the new Western Division of the 12-team NHL. Kelly spent two seasons with the Kings and four with the Pittsburgh Penguins before returning to Toronto and coaching the Maple Leafs to four consecutive playoff berths from 1973-77 before being fired, ending 30 consecutive seasons as an NHL player or coach.

He is one of the few players in NHL history whose number has been retired by two teams. The Maple Leafs retired his No. 4 on Oct. 15, 2016, and the Red Wings raised No. 4 to the rafters at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 1, 2019.

"Red was the ultimate hockey renaissance man who seemingly could do it all," Commissioner Bettman said. "The inaugural winner of the Norris Trophy, Red won his first four Stanley Cups as one of the League's best defensemen and his next four as a forward. He was a champion boxer during his school days at St. Michael's College, yet he won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct on the ice four times. ... Red Kelly was a hockey legend in every sense and his impact on the game will last forever."

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