Billy Coutu is chiefly remembered as the first player ever to be expelled from the NHL for life for his conduct.
In the 1923 NHL playoffs, Cleghorn and Coutu played so viciously in the opener against Ottawa injuring several Senators with their sticks and elbows, that their own manager-coach Leo Dandurand suspended them for the second and deciding game without waiting for the league to act.
When Sprague Cleghorn was sold to Boston after the 1924-25 season, Coutu was named captain of the Canadiens for a short time. When the Canadiens finished last, they traded Coutu to Boston for Amby Moran. The trade reunited him with Cleghorn, but the big prize was the Bruins getting Eddie Shore in 1926-27. Mind you, Shore may not have been too fond of Coutu. In their first practice together Coutu reportedly "body slammed" Shore and the two banged heads so badly that Shore's ear was severed. Shore supposedly visited several doctors trying to find someone who would reattach the ear. Shore, refusing anesthetics, used a mirror to carefully watch doctors reattach the ear to his satisfaction.
With Shore and Lionel Hitchman as the main defense and Cleghorn and Coutu as substitutes, the Bruins had a formidable defense that took them to the Stanley Cup finals in 1927, losing to Ottawa.
In the final game, the series was spoiled by the disgraceful brawl near the end of the game when tempers frayed. Hooley Smith viciously cross-checked Harry Oliver in the face, knocking him unconscious. Eddie Shore came to Oliver's rescue and pounded Smith to a bloody pulp. Then Hitchman and Buck Boucher got into a classic hammer and tongs fist fight, and then it was Coutu's turn to get into the act. He punched referee Jerry LaFlamme, knocking him down, and tackled Billy Bell, the other referee, as he was coming to
LaFlamme's aid. For this, Coutu was expelled from the National Hockey League for life by NHL president Frank Calder, and fined $100, a big sum in those days. Smith was suspended for one month the following season and fined $100. Hitchman and Boucher were fined $50 and given match penalties. Jimmy Herberts, a scorer on the Bruins, was fined $50 for intimidating the two referees.
Coutu, as the result of his expulsion, was sold to New Haven of the Canadian-American league. He played well in his first season there, and led the league in penalty minutes. However, he was again in trouble that year, 1927-28, when he hit George Redding of the Boston Tigers over the head with his stick, cutting him badly.
Coutu move on to play for Newark and then the Minneapolis Millers of the AHA before retiring after the 1930-31 season. Sprague Cleghorn was a successful coach with the Providence Reds, so the Montreal Maroons hired him and the Reds needed a coach. On Cleghorn's advice, they hired Coutu, and he coached the Reds to first place and the league championship.
Leo Dandurand had been trying for years to get Coutu reinstated to the NHL, and finally in 1932-33, he succeeded. For whatever reason, however, Coutu never did return to the NHL.
Coutu's name was always a source of confusion. Hockey history has somehow commonly referred to him as Billy Couture. It is possible this is due to the way the family pronounced Coutu - "Coo-chee."
Born in 1891, Billy Coutu died February 25th,1977. Interestingly, he is related to Howie Morenz and the three generations of NHL Geoffrions - Boom Boom, Dan and Blake. The mother of Howie Morenz's wife was the sister-in-law of Coutu. Boom Boom married Morenz's sister, and their son Dan was a 1st round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens. Blake became the first 4th generation player in NHL history when he debuted in the NHL in 2011.