Retired As Coach
Blake cut his coaching career short, retiring right after winning his eighth Stanley Cup in 1968. His Canadiens defeated the St. Louis Blues (coached by former protégé Bowman) that year. This eight Cup record stood until 2002, when his Bowman won his record ninth, and like Blake, promptly retired. As a coach, Blake had a record of 500 wins, 255 losses, and 159 ties. His playoff record was eighty-two wins, thirty-seven losses, with a series record of 18-5. Claude Ruel replaced him behind the Canadiens' bench.
Blake's reasons for retiring were complex. As the NHL expanded, there was more travel, more media to deal with, changing player attitudes, and little details like ticket demands that did not agree with the hard-lined Blake. In Bill Libby's The Coaches, Blake was quoted as saying "I had to quit. It's not that I had no new worlds to conquer. Every game, every season is a new challenge. But I'd been meeting these challenges as coach of the Canadiens for thirteen years. … The pressure was getting to be unbearable. On the day of the game I was getting to be unbearable. The afternoons were the worst. All the thinking. And then the waiting, waiting, waiting. I was no good to anyone, not even my family. … I had to quit."
Even after retiring, Blake remained with the Canadiens in some capacity, traveling with the team. He missed coaching, but never coached a team again. He remained in Montreal, and had a bar, Toe Blake's Tavern, for a number of years. This was a men's only bar near the Montreal Forum where the Canadiens played.
By 1989, Blake was in a nursing home in Montreal with Alzheimer's disease, and within a short time, he could barely recognize anyone. Many of his former players, family and friends helped raise awareness of the disease in Canada, which led to a number of fundraising activities. Blake died of the disease on May 17, 1995. His funeral was at Montreal's St. Ignatius Loyola.
Blake's legacy as a player resulted in his election to Hockey's Hall of Fame in 1966, but it was his legacy as a coach that was longer lasting. He was the model for many a coach who followed him in the NHL. As Red Fisher wrote in the Montreal Gazette, "He was rough, gruff, intimidating, wise, compassionate, unforgiving, scheming and hard-working—all of it dedicated to winning his eight Stanley Cups as a coach …. Winning wasn't merely a worthwhile target—it was
everything. It was life itself. Blake wore his strengths as a coach on his sleeve: the dedication, the humor, and the violent temper." To Blake, hockey was everything. He was quoted by Fisher in the Montreal Gazette as saying, "Hockey has been my life. I never had the opportunity of getting one of those million-dollar contracts, but hockey was worth more than $1 million to me in plenty of ways."