Sid Abel excelled in a number of capacities during his extended hockey career. On the ice, he was an accomplished playmaking centre and team leader who contributed to three Stanley Cup championships in Detroit. Abel also fared well as an NHL head coach and television commentator. His life in hockey, centred mostly in Detroit, made him one of the most recognizable figures on that city's sporting scene.
After spending a year each with the Saskatoon Wesleys and Flin Flon Bombers in Canada's western junior system, Abel played 15 games with Detroit in 1938-39. He didn't look out of place but was sent to Pittsburgh of the AHL to work on his overall game. After splitting the next season between the Motor City and Indianapolis of the AHL, Abel plied his trade in the big league on a permanent basis beginning in 1940-41.
In only his second full NHL season, he averaged more than a point per game playing on the Liniment Line with Don Grosso and Eddie Wares and was selected to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. Abel's excellence contributed to the Wings' Stanley Cup championship run in the 1943 playoffs. That year, he also served as the team's captain at the age of 24.
Abel missed two full seasons due to military service during World War II but returned for seven games toward the end of the 1945-46 season. While in the service, he was based in Montreal and skated with the RCAF and the city's Car team. He also spent part of the year in Britain, where he managed to get on the ice with the Wembley Lions.
In 1946-47, he was teamed with wingers Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay for the first time. The line clicked and began to dominate opposing defences. In 1948-49, they were dubbed the "Production Line." Abel led all Detroit scorers and was the recipient of the Hart Trophy -- only the second Detroit player so honoured after Ebbie Goodfellow in 1940. The next year, Abel set career highs with 34 goals and 69 points. That same year, Lindsay, Abel, and Howe finished 1-2-3 in the NHL scoring parade and the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup.
Abel topped the 60-point mark for the second time in his career in 1950-51, then earned his third Stanley Cup ring with Detroit in the 1952 post-season. In a heart-wrenching move, the Wings traded him to Chicago on July 22, 1952, bringing an important era to a close. It was a difficult yet prudent decision for general manager Jack Adams since Abel's best years were behind him.
During his two years in the Windy City, Abel tried his hand as a player-coach. He scored only nine points but, more importantly, realized that he truly enjoyed instructing the players. Abel was encouraged by the role he played in getting Chicago into the playoffs for the first time in nine years. He retired as a player early in 1953-54, and then took some time off before planning his next move.
Partway through the 1957-58 season, he took over the Red Wings' coaching position when Jimmy Skinner was forced to resign due to an illness. The coaching assignment ended up lasting a decade, nearly as long as his playing career. Under Abel's guidance, the Red Wings reached the Stanley Cup finals four times -- 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1966. They captured the regular-season championship in 1964-65, but were upset by Chicago in the semi-final.
Abel added the responsibilities of general manager to his portfolio in 1962-63, a post he held until 1970-71. One of the major transactions he oversaw was the blockbuster trade that brought Frank Mahovlich, Peter Stemkowski, Garry Unger and Carl Brewer to Detroit and sent Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith to Toronto in March 1968. While still holding the position of Detroit general manager, Abel was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.
In 1971 Abel accepted a post as scout and player consultant with the expansion Los Angeles Kings. A few weeks later he couldn't resist the chance to become the general manager of the St. Louis Blues, where he remained until 1974. At one point in 1971-72 he stepped behind the bench on an emergency basis for ten games. Abel followed this up by taking on the same responsibilities with the expansion Kansas City Scouts in 1974-75. Although they finished with only 41 points that first season, Abel's Scouts accumulated nearly double the number of points that their expansion cousins, the Washington Capitals, did.
On April 29, 1995, the Red Wings organization retired Sid Abel's number 12. In January 2017, as part of the NHL's centennial, Abel was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.