George "Punch" Imlach (March 15, 1918 – December 1, 1987), was an NHL coach and general manager. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Born in Toronto, Imlach attended Riverdale Collegiate Institute and played junior hockey in the OHA for the Toronto Young Rangers (1935–38) and senior hockey with the Toronto Goodyears (1938–40) and the Toronto Marlboros (1940–41). He enlisted in the army during World War II, where he coached for the first time, with an army team in Cornwall, Ontario.
In July 1958, at the age of 40, the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Imlach as one of the team's two assistant general managers, along with King Clancy.
Imlach was known as a harsh taskmaster who frequently abused his players verbally and physically. He had a preference for older players, many of whom were his strongest supporters as they felt Imlach was giving them their last chance at winning the Stanley Cup. By contrast, many younger players, such as Frank Mahovlich, chafed at Imlach's autocratic coaching style.
Imlach took over a team that had finished last the previous season and was mired in last place again at the time he took over for Reay. However, the team staged a strong run late in the season and finished a point ahead of the New York Rangers for fourth place, allowing them to squeeze into the playoffs. They defeated the favoured Boston Bruins in the first round before losing to the league-leading Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Three years later, Imlach led the Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 11 years. He won three more Cups in 1963, 1964 and 1967.
In February 1964, he traded Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and three young prospects – Rod Seiling, Arnie Brown and Bill Collins – to the Rangers for Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney. While Bathgate and McKenney played key roles in the Leafs' Cup win that year, Imlach may have traded away the Leafs' future in the process. Nevin played a major role in the Rangers' resurgence in the late 1960s, while Duff won four more Cups with the Canadiens. The players acquired by the Leafs were both gone following the next season. In the 1965 intra-league draft, Imlach left Gerry Cheevers, a young goaltending prospect, unprotected. He was snapped up by the Boston Bruins and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career there.
Following expansion of the NHL from six teams to 12 for the 1967–68 season, the Leafs struggled and Imlach responded by pulling off another big trade. In February 1968, he sent Mahovlich, 20-year-old Garry Unger, Pete Stemkowski and the rights to Carl Brewer to the Detroit Red Wings for Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith. Two months later, he sent 28-year-old Jim Pappin to the Chicago Black Hawks, where he would become one of that team's top scorers. In December 1968, Imlach was asked by Stafford Smythe to give the coaching job to John McLellan, but Imlach refused and told Smythe to fire him or leave him alone. During the season, Mike Walton walked out on the team, saying he wouldn't play for Imlach again. He returned about a week later. On April 6, 1969, minutes after an early and embarrassing playoff elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Imlach was fired by the Leafs. He still had a year remaining on his contract, which paid him about $35,000 a year. In the dressing room after the announcement was made, veteran Leafs Johnny Bower and Tim Horton both said they would leave with Imlach (they both returned the following season, although neither would remain with the Leafs for long). Imlach's assistant, Clancy, had previously said that he would walk away if Imlach was fired, but he was persuaded to stay with the team. Jim Gregory was immediately announced as Imlach's replacement as general manager.
After being fired by the Leafs, it was expected that Imlach would join the NHL's new Vancouver franchise. Imlach, Joe Crozier, and Foster Hewitt had become partners in the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League and were in line to become owners of the Vancouver NHL team. But they didn't have the financial resources to buy the team, which went to Medical Investment Corporation (Medicor). Medicor bought the WHL Canucks for $2.8 million, with Imlach making a reported gain of more than $250,000. He was offered a job with the NHL Canucks, but instead accepted an offer from the NHL's other expansion team, the Buffalo Sabres, as their first coach and general manager in 1970.
Over his career, Imlach amassed a coaching record of 423 wins, 373 losses and 163 ties to go along with four Stanley Cups. His 365 wins with the Leafs are still the best in franchise history. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1984.