Red Wings legend Red Kelly passes away at 91

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DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 01: Former Detroit Red Wing Red Kelly along with his family watch his #4 being raised to the rafters after being retired prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings announced Thursday that legend Red Kelly has passed away.

"Hockey legend Red Kelly passed away this morning in Toronto at the age of 91," the Kelly family statement said.  "Red was a devoted husband and caring father and grandfather and was tremendously proud of his many hockey accomplishments. 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."

Kelly, a 1969 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, spent parts of 13 seasons with the Red Wings and wore the red and white sweater for 846 of his 1,316 career games. During his tenure in Detroit, he accumulated 472 points (162-310-472) and 253 penalty minutes, ultimately finishing his career with 823 points (281-542-823) and 327 penalty minutes in 20 NHL seasons between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. Although he finished his career playing center for the Maple Leafs, Kelly was a defenseman for the Red Wings and was the first-ever recipient of the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 1953-54.

“Red Kelly was one of the most accomplished players in the history of the Detroit Red Wings, a tremendously impactful figure to the game of hockey, and a wonderful person and family man,” said Red Wings Governor, President and CEO Christopher Ilitch in press release. “I would like to extend our most sincere condolences, on behalf of Marian Ilitch and the entire Red Wings family, to his wife, Andra, and all of his family and friends. Red was a true hockey legend and had the remarkable distinction of being considered one of the best at his position as both a defenseman and a forward during his career. His on-ice achievements speak for themselves, between eight Stanley Cup championships and his collection of league awards and honors. Beyond that, he was a gracious and humble person, and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

The Red Wings signed Kelly as a 19-year-old prospect, after he attracted the attention of a Detroit scout while he was attending St. Michael’s College School in Toronto in 1946-47. That season, he led the St. Michael’s Majors to a 1947 Memorial Cup championship as the top team in all of Canadian junior hockey. Kelly would advance directly to the NHL the following season, debuting for the Red Wings in 1947-48 without spending any time in the minor leagues.

“Red Kelly was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game,” said Red Wings executive vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman in press release. “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 made an immediate impact on the Detroit blueline. In the 1949-50 campaign, just his third season with the team, Kelly became the third defenseman in Detroit franchise history to reach double-digit goals, a feat he repeated each year until 1958-59, averaging 16 goals per season in that stretch. He was the NHL’s top defenseman in goals and points for five-straight seasons from 1949-55 and led all Red Wings defensemen in points in nine-consecutive years from 1949-58.

With Kelly on the blueline contributing to a prolific offense that included the likes of Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, the Red Wings’ dynasty of the 1950s captured Stanley Cup championships in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. Kelly also served as the Red Wings’ captain in his final two seasons with the team (1956-58).

One of the most dominant defensemen of his era, Kelly was named to the postseason NHL All-Star Team in eight-consecutive years, making the First All-Star Team from 1951-55 and 1957 and the Second All-Star Team in 1950 and 1956. He also won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1951, 1953 and 1954 for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct and finished in the top five in Hart Memorial Trophy voting as the league’s most valuable player on four occasions during his time with the Red Wings, along with his Norris Trophy win in 1954.

In addition to his unique distinction as a player who had prolonged success as both a forward and defenseman, Kelly also has the honor of being the only player in NHL history to win more than six Stanley Cup championships without playing for the Montreal Canadiens. Kelly’s eight Stanley Cups are tied for fourth-most in league history and put him on an exclusive list of players who have won eight-or-more championships, along with Henri Richard (11), Jean Beliveau (10), Claude Provost (9), Yvan Cournoyer (8), Jacques Lemaire (8) and Maurice Richard (8).

Four of his Stanley Cup championships came with the Maple Leafs, where he spent the final eight seasons of his career from 1959-67 after a trade to Toronto late in the 1959-60 campaign which prompted his position switch to center. His offensive totals improved with the move to center, producing 351 points (119-232-351) and just 74 penalty minutes in his 470 career games in Toronto, including three-straight 20-goal seasons from 1960-63 and a career-high 70 points (20-50-70) over 64 games in 1960-61. Kelly would add one more Lady Byng Trophy in 1961 with Toronto and saw his name etched on the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967. Kelly appeared in the Stanley Cup Final 12 times, falling short with the Red Wings in 1948, 1949 and 1956 and with the Maple Leafs in 1960.

Upon retiring following his eighth Stanley Cup championship in 1967, Kelly began a decade-long career as a head coach. He was the first-ever head coach of the expansion Los Angeles Kings from 1967-69 and later had four-year stints in the same capacity with the Pittsburgh Penguins (1969-73) and Maple Leafs (1973-77). Kelly’s teams qualified for the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons behind the bench, and his all-time coaching record finished at 278-330-134.

Additionally, while he was still playing for Toronto, Kelly was elected a federal Member of Parliament in 1962 and served in the legislature for three years. During this time, he would shuttle between Toronto and Ottawa several times per week throughout the season.

Kelly was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players as part of the league’s celebration of its 100th Anniversary in 2016-17. His No. 4 also hung in the Maple Leafs’ rafters as an honored number until all honored numbers were officially retired by the organization on Oct. 15, 2016.

The Red Wings retired Kelly's No. 4 in February and it became the Red Wings’ eighth retired number in franchise history, joining Sid Abel (No. 12), Alex Delvecchio (No. 10), Gordie Howe (No. 9), Nicklas Lidstrom (No. 5), Ted Lindsay (No. 7), Terry Sawchuk (No. 1) and Steve Yzerman (No. 19).  

Kelly is survived by his wife Audra of 60 years.  They have four children and eight grandchildren.