'True hockey legend': Red Wings Hall of Fame defenseman Red Kelly dies at 91

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Red Kelly, whose No. 4 was raised to the rafters in February at Little Caesars Arena, died Thursday in Toronto at the age of 91.

Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969, after having spent 13 of his 20 NHL seasons in Detroit. He played 846 of his 1,316 games in a Wings uniform — the remainder in Toronto in an illustrious career that included eight Stanley Cup championships.

Red Kelly, whose No. 4 was raised to the rafters in February at Little Caesars Arena, passed away Thursday in Toronto at the age of 91.

Kelly was a defenseman with the Wings and was the first winner of the Norris Trophy in 1954, and then played center for Toronto.

The Red Wings released a statement from Kelly’s family regarding his death.

“Red was a devoted husband and caring father and grandfather and was tremendously proud of his many hockey accomplishments,” the statement said. “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.”

Chris Ilitch, Red Wings governor, president and CEO, called Kelly "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. ...

"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."

Kelly became just the eighth player to have his jersey retired by the Wings’ organization. He won four of his Stanley Cups with Detroit and four with Toronto, making Kelly one of only seven players in NHL history to win more than six Stanley Cups.

Kelly was unique, also, for having success as both a forward and defenseman.

“Red Kelly was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game,” said Steve Yzerman, executive vice president and general manager. “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 Kelly, shown here taking to a fan in 1955, played 13 seasons in Detroit,  helping the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups.

“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 was part of a prolific Red Wings team that included the likes of Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay at forward, and was part of a dynasty that 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 from 1956-58.

He was named to the postseason NHL All-Star team in eight straight seasons, and won Lady Byng Trophies in 1951, 1953, 1954 and 1961 for sportsmanship. He finished in the top five in Hart Trophy voting for the league’s MVP in four seasons during his time with Detroit.

“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Leonard ‘Red’ Kelly — a man whose hockey career is so storied and distinguished that it may never be duplicated,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“Red was the ultimate hockey renaissance man who seemingly could do it all. The inaugural winner of the Norris Trophy, Red won his first four Stanley Cups as one of the league’s best defensemen and his next four as a forward.

“For three years, he was simultaneously a player for the Maple Leafs and a member of the Canadian Parliament.

“For all of his professional success, Red often said the greatest joys in his life came from his family — especially his wife, Andra, who was his lifelong partner. We send our deepest condolences to the entire Kelly family, as the hockey world mourns the loss of one of the greatest players and men that the game has ever known.”

Kelly is survived by his wife of 60 years, Andra, and their four children and eight grandchildren.


Twitter: @tkulfan