I still have this hat on my wall, believe it or not
It’s a couple of years overdue, but as the old idiom goes, “better late than never”. The Hockey Hall of Fame announced their class of 2014 today, and former Leafs head coach Pat Burns has finally earned the sport’s greatest honour.
For those who aren’t super familiar with his time with the team (don’t roll your eyes, we have some younger readers), Burns was hired by Cliff Fletcher to replace Tom Watt, who was the tenth consecutive Leafs coach to fail to get above 0.500 in his tenure. Burns brought a winning reputation to the blue and white, having previously captured two division titles in four years with the Montreal Canadiens.
Together, the two lead a renaissance for a team that had spent a solid decade in comedically bad shape. improving by 32 points in the standings and ending up within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. For this, Burns was awarded the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year. Toronto made it back to the conference finals the following year and qualified in 1994/95, but a first round exit in that lockout-shortened year followed by an underwhelming 95/96 lead to his firing. Despite that, his four-year tenure is looked back on fondly by Leafs fans. When you consider that his 0.546 record (103-107-41) is the second best winning percentage by a full-time Leafs coach in the expansion era, it’s not hard to blame them.
After Toronto, Burns spent three seasons with the Boston Bruins, making two playoff appearances. His last and most rewarding tour of duty was when he escaped the Original Six and joined the New Jersey Devils. Burns’ teams ended up posting back to back 100+ point seasons, the first one culminating in him winning his only Stanley Cup Championship.
Overall, Burns finished his career with a 501-353-151-14 record, ranking him 16th all time in wins and giving him a 0.572 points percentage. To put that into context, it’s like averaging a 12th to 14th place finish in today’s NHL year in, year out for twelve and a half years. That’s a playoff team every year, which is impressive when you consider that there were no points for losing in overtime for three quarters of his career. He’s also the only coach to win a Jack Adams with three different teams, having won with Montreal in 1989 and Boston in 1998 to go with his Toronto trophy.
Not bad for a former police officer. Unfortunately, Burns’ coaching career ended when he was just 53 years old. While he had survived colon cancer the year prior, a diagnosis of liver cancer in 2005 lead him to retire. To make matters worse, in 2009, his colon cancer returned and spread to his lungs. Knowing that this was a battle he wasn’t going to beat, he opted against treatment. He eventually decided to give chemotherapy a shot, but it wasn’t sucessful and he died in November of 2010. Over the past several years, many have rallied for him to make it into the Hall of Fame, ideally while still alive. That didn’t happen, but today, he finally gets his due.
Burns will be heading in as a builder and remembered as a great coach, but also by many as a great person. Practically anybody who knew him will leap at the opportunity to sing his praises, describing him as a caring person with a great sense of humour. He was the type of coach and person who carried his heart on his sleeve, and many feel that to have been a key component to his success in winning over his locker rooms and getting results behind the bench.
Also joining Burns are Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg, Dominik Hasek, Bill McCreary, and Mike Modano. induction weekend is November 14th to 17th. This also means that the November 14th game between Pittsburgh and Toronto is likely to be this year’s “Hall of Fame Game”.