Now that we’ve heard the announcements regarding who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this November it begs the question not only as to who is getting enshrined but who was left out in the cold for another year. Former NHL coach Pat Burns has long been a hot topic and a strong sentimental choice to be the next coach selected. So what do I – a diehard Toronto Maple Leaf fan in which Burns once coached – think about this? You’d be surprised.
For 2013 we are going to see the late Fred Shero inducted into the “builders category” of the Hockey Hall of Fame. This category is reserved for coaches and General Managers and owners of teams that made a big impact on the game. You see the likes of Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and Glen Sather in this group among other names. The bottom line is that it’s a difficult standard and coaches have a tough go getting in there. Here is the official criterion for getting inducted as a builder directly from the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website – hhof.com:
“Coaching, managerial or executive ability, where applicable, or any other significant off-ice skill or role, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to their organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
In my honest opinion they waited too long to elect Shero. He built the classic 1970s Philadelphia Flyers teams from the ground up and as a coach had an impact on the culture of the game. The Flyers in those days were the “Broad Street Bullies” and Shero guided them to two straight Stanley Cups and a third straight trip to the final in 1976 in a losing cause. That same year the Flyers faced off against the Soviet Red Army team and handed them their lunch in a 4-1 shellacking. The Flyers of those days combined team toughness, skill, talent and tenacity. They were the envy of the NHL at that time, and were a flagship team in which everyone loved to hate. When you combine Shero’s coaching career with the impact he had on the game, there is no doubt in my mind he belongs in the builders’ category.
So let’s move on to Burns for a moment. As a Maple Leaf fan I am nostalgic about the Burns era. The Maple Leafs reached the final four two years in a row with him as coach. However, when you judge the man’s coaching career there is a glaring pattern. Burns first coached Montreal from 1988-’92, Toronto from 1992-’96 with part of the season remaining in 1996 when he got fired and then Boston picked him up in 1997 and he lasted 8 games into the 2000-’01 season. Finally when it seemed like he was going to stick it out with New Jersey he left after two seasons and fought cancer the last few years before passing away in 2010.
Altogether Burns has a 501-353-165 career record. He finished with a 78-71 career playoff record winning the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003 and reaching the Cup final in a losing cause with Montreal in 1989. The key arguments that go in Burns’ favour is that he won the Jack Adams trophy – presented to the top coach in the NHL – three times which is unheard of. I’ll credit Burns for winning it three times – once with Toronto, Montreal and Boston – but the award doesn’t necessarily go to the best coach but to the coach who improved his team the greatest. That being said, Burns never lasted more than 4 years on a team. It would surprise many Maple Leaf fans to know that Ron Wilson coached more games behind the Maple Leaf bench than Burns. Granted, Burns was more successful during his tenure, but like Wilson he was fired while coaching in his 4th season. For a guy who still gets worshipped by the Toronto faithful it is telling that he didn’t even last four seasons. Burns actually coached more games for Montreal than any of his other teams.
You wish you could have seen him leave his footprint with one team for a longer period of time. The question I have is did he have an impact on the game that would allow him to be inducted or do we get too sentimental and emotional when discussing Burns? Yes, he won a Stanley Cup but so did Randy Carlyle, Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella in recent years. Tortorella also has a Jack Adams to his name back in 2004, the same year he won a Cup with Tampa Bay behind the bench.
This isn’t to diminish Burns at all, but there are several coaches who had as good of a career as he did and I can think of at least a couple other – besides Shero – who deserve to get into the Hall before he does. Pat Quinn and Mike Keenan are the first two names to come to mind. Quinn himself won the Jack Adams award twice for what it’s worth and took two different teams to the brink of the Stanley Cup, Philadelphia in 1980 and Vancouver in 1994. Philadelphia had that 35 game unbeaten streak during the 1979-’80 season with Quinn behind the bench calling the shots. While he never won a Cup as a coach he did guide Canada to Olympic Gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Not to mention Quinn was the backbone of some memorable years as coach of the Maple Leafs from 1998 to 2006. Yes, he was there about twice as long as Burns was and his teams also reached the final four twice. He also has the longevity factor in his favour spanning almost three decades as an NHL coach.
Keenan didn’t get the nickname “Iron Mike” by being a pushover either. He led the New York Rangers to the Cup championship in 1994 and took three other teams to the Cup final in his career. Keenan also didn’t stay a long time with one team, however overall he had a more prolific coaching career than Burns and if you want to talk about a person’s footprint on the game you have to look no further than who was standing behind the bench for the 1987 Canada Cup team which featured Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Some may say that was the best team ever iced, and the man picked for the job was Keenan.
So if I am going to ever start entertaining the idea of Burns in the Hall of Fame I’d like to see at least a couple more names in there before starting the process with him. Burns didn’t do a lot of things that stood out amongst his peers that I would classify as a “builder” for the game. Unfortunately coaches are judged rather strictly for enshrinement but as far as the standards go there are certainly more deserving names ahead of Burns.Tags: Altogether Burns, Canada Cup, cancer, Fred Shero, General Managers, Iron Mike, Jack Adams, Maple Leafs, New Jersey, NHL, Pat Burns, Philadelphia Flyers, Randy Carlyle, Ron Wilson, Salt Lake City, Scotty Bowman, Soviet Red Army, Stanley Cups, Toronto Maple Leaf