NEW YORK — Red Kelly, the Hockey Hall of Famer who helped propel the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships as a defenseman and the Toronto Maple Leafs to another four NHL titles while playing at center, died Thursday in Toronto. He was 91.
His family announced the death.
Mr. Kelly fended off onrushing forwards at the Red Wings’ blue line but was also brilliant in starting a rush up ice, becoming a prototype for the “offensive” defenseman. He displayed outstanding stickhandling and passing when he anchored Maple Leaf forward lines.
Mr. Kelly, who also spent 10 seasons as an NHL coach, won the first Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman with the Red Wings in 1954. And he won four Lady Byng Memorial Trophies for gentlemanly play, incurring only 327 penalty minutes in 1,316 games.
“I was the welterweight boxing champ at St. Mike’s; I could take care of myself,” he recalled in an interview for the Hockey Hall of Fame, telling of his years at St. Michael’s College in Toronto in the mid-1940s, “but you’re valuable to a team when you’re on the ice.”
Mr. Kelly combined hockey with politics in the mid-1960s while playing for the Maple Leafs, commuting on off-days between Toronto and Ottawa as a Liberal Party member of Canada’s Parliament.
Since he was one of Canada’s more familiar figures through his hockey exploits, people from all over the country would contact him to tell of their problems.
“As I returned to Toronto from one trip, my 4-year-old daughter saw me coming up the driveway and shouted, ‘Look, Mommy, here comes Red Kelly,’ he said in a 1989 interview. “It was as though she had seen more of me on television than in person and did not even think of me as Daddy.”
After playing in the NHL for 20 seasons, Mr. Kelly coached the Los Angeles Kings for two seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins for four, and the Maple Leafs for four. His teams made the playoffs in 8 of his 10 coaching seasons but never reached the Stanley Cup Final.
A first-team All-Star six times and a second-team All-Star twice while a Red Wing, Mr. Kelly was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, in Toronto, in 1969.
Leonard Patrick Kelly was born on July 9, 1927, in Simcoe, Ontario, where his family had a farm. He grew up a Maple Leafs fan and played hockey, in addition to boxing, at St. Michael’s. The Maple Leafs did not consider him a prospect, so the Red Wings signed him instead, and he made his NHL debut with them in 1947 without playing in the minors.
Mr. Kelly joined with Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay (who died in March), and goalie Terry Sawchuk on teams that captured the Stanley Cup in 1950, 1952, 1954, and 1955.
He was traded to the New York Rangers in February 1960 in a four-player deal, but said he would retire instead. A few days later, the Red Wings sent him to Toronto in a revised deal that he accepted. In his first home game as a Maple Leaf, he received a rousing reception.
“There was such a roar that the hair on the back of my head stood straight up, like a violin string pulled tight as you can get it,” he told the Canadian website Sportsnet “My life was back in hockey.”
Punch Imlach, the Leafs’ coach, switched Mr. Kelly from defense to center, in part to shadow the Montreal Canadiens’ brilliant center, Jean Beliveau, in their frequent matchups. Mr. Kelly also helped develop a young Frank Mahovlich, his linemate on left wing, into a star.
Mr. Kelly played with the Leafs’ championship teams in 1962, 1963, and 1964 and again in 1967, his last season as a player and the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup. By then Mr. Kelly was 39, a leader on a team that included the over-30 players Johnny Bower and Sawchuk in goal, George Armstrong at forward and Tim Horton, Allan Stanley, and Marcel Pronovost on defense.
Mr. Kelly scored 162 career goals and had 310 assists. His best points season came as a Maple Leaf in 1960-61, when he had 20 goals and 50 assists.
Mr. Kelly married Andra McLaughlin, an American who won many national figure and speedskating junior championships and then appeared in professional ice shows. In addition to Andra, Mr. Kelly leaves four children and eight grandchildren.
After his 30-year career in hockey, Mr. Kelly owned a company that maintained aircraft, mainly corporate jets. In 2002 he was named a member of the Order of Canada, an honor bestowed for service to the nation.
For all his hockey experience, Mr. Kelly did not always rely on his time-tested strategy while a coach. When his Maple Leaf team faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1976 playoff quarterfinals, he scattered small pyramids around the locker room and under the bench, in line with a fad at the time called “pyramid power,” suggesting that the pyramid shape can capture and transmit an energy force to those in its vicinity.
The Flyers had their own good-luck charm, a recording of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” which they played at home. It proved more powerful than the pyramids.
There was to be no ninth Stanley Cup for Kelly. The Flyers defeated the Maple Leafs in seven games.