Former Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs great Leonard "Red" Kelly, who won eight Stanley Cups between the two franchises, has died at 91.
His family released a statement announcing his passing in Toronto Thursday.
Kelly finished his 20-year career with 281 goals and 542 assists in 1,316 games. He was an eight-time All-Star and four-time winner of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the most gentlemanly and effective player in the NHL. In 1954, while with Detroit, he won his only Norris Trophy as the top defender in the NHL.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.
"Throughout the '50s, the two premier defensemen in the world, one was Doug Harvey of Montreal Canadiens, and Red Kelly was the other," Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano told the Free Press in January. "Red Kelly was pretty remarkable, eight Stanley Cups. He was probably the first defenseman in the Original Six-team league that really carried the puck and would be considered an offensive defenseman."
Red Kelly played for the Red Wings from 1947-60 and the Maple Leafs from 1960-67. (Photo: Detroit Free Press file photo)
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Kelly and his family were at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 1 when the Red Wings retired his No. 4 sweater, five decades after he retired.
“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. The Red Wings organization would like to offer its deepest sympathies to Red’s friends and family.”
Kelly starred in Detroit alongside the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel. His Red Wings tenure ended in 1960 after a newspaper headline appeared suggesting he had played on a broken ankle.
“There was a big headline: 'Was Red Kelly forced to play on broken foot?' ” Kelly recalled in January. “Ted Lindsay’s wife called my wife, ‘Got your bags packed?’ "
Red Wings general manager Jack Adams promptly traded Kelly, along with young forward Billy McNeill, to the New York Rangers for fellow star defenseman Bill Gadsby and young forward Eddie Shack.
But Kelly didn't want to go to New York and instead decided to retire. A week later, he came out of retirement and agreed to be traded to Toronto, where he moved from defenseman to center and continued playing until 1967.
“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 in a statement. "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."
Former Toronto Maple Leafs stars Frank Mahovlich, left, Red Kelly and Johnny Bower, right, take a final look at the depths of Maple Leaf Gardens as they prepare to head on to the ice for the arena's closing ceremonies in 1999. (Photo: Frank Gunn, AP)
In 1962, Kelly was elected to Parliament of Canada and served for three years while still playing for Toronto, according to the Red Wings. After retiring as a player, Kelly spent the next decade as a head coach with the Los Angeles Kings (1967-69), Pittsburgh Penguins (1969-73) and the Maple Leafs (1973-77).
In February, he became the eighth player to have his jersey retired by the Red Wings.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Andra, their four children and eight grandchildren.
"Red was a devoted husband and caring father and grandfather and was tremendously proud of his many hockey accomplishments," Kelly's family said in a statement. "He was very moved by decades of love and support from Red Wings fans and was humbled to have his jersey retired earlier this year. We are comforted in knowing that he impacted so many people both at and away from the rink and know that his life will be celebrated.
"Arrangements will be announced once they are finalized."
Detroit Free Press archives contributed to this report.
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