Former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose is stepping away from his career as one of hockey’s most recognized analysts after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ESPN announced on Tuesday.
The news of Melrose’s illness and retirement was made on ESPN’s SportsCenter on the same day the NHL 2023-24 season opened with a three-game slate.
“I’ve had over 50 extraordinary years playing, coaching and analyzing the world’s greatest game, hockey. It’s now time to hang up my skates and focus on my health, my family, including my supportive wife Cindy, and whatever comes next,” Melrose said in a statement released by the network.
“I’m beyond grateful for my hockey career, and to have called ESPN home for almost 30 years,” he added. “Thanks for the incredible memories, and I’ll now be cheering for you from the stands.”
The 67-year-old Melrose’s journeyman playing career as a hard-nosed defenseman led to a brief coaching career – which included a Stanley Cup Final appearance – before he became one of the game’s top broadcasters. Melrose had a relatable everyman’s broadcasting style, bringing a sense of humor to his insights, and was easily recognized by his goatee and slicked-backed hair.
“Barry is a unique, one-of-a-kind person. And hockey on ESPN won’t be the same without him,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Barry‘s gigantic personality and trademark style have made our game bigger, more exciting and more entertaining.”
ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro congratulated Melrose for his “exceptional contributions to hockey on ESPN,” and wished him and his family the best.
“Barry has had a connection to the sport for an astonishing 50 years as a player, coach and analyst, and he has left an indelible mark both on and off the ice,” Pitaro said.
From rural Kelvington, Saskatchewan, the cousin of former Toronto star Wendel Clark, broke into pro hockey with the Cincinnati Stingers of the now-defunct World Hockey Association in 1976. He played three seasons in Cincinnati and, following the WHA’s demise, made the transition to the NHL with Winnipeg in 1979. He went on to play for Toronto and Detroit, where he closed his career following the 1985-86 season.
Overall, he finished with 10 goals and 33 points and 728 penalty minutes in 300 NHL career games. His WHA totals were five goals and 32 points and 343 penalty minutes in 178 games with Cincinnati.
Melrose turned to coaching and led the Adirondack Red Wings to win the American Hockey League Calder Cup in 1992.
The following year, Melrose was hired by the Kings, where he brought a sense of colorful flare and instant success to Los Angeles. In his rookie season, he coached a Kings team that featured Wayne Gretzky to make a memorable playoff run. They reached the Final before losing to Montreal in five games.
Melrose finished with a record of 79-101 and 29 ties over two-plus seasons in L.A. before being fired midway through the 1994-95 season.
He was hired by ESPN in 1996 and left broadcasting for what became a brief stint coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning in Steven Stamkos’ rookie season in 2008-09. Melrose was fired 16 games into the season following a 5-7-4 start and returned to broadcasting.