Former Devils Head Coach Pat Burns Passes Away from Cancer at 58

Today just became much sadder. Tom Gulitti reported the news that Pat Burns has passed away earlier today.  He has suffered and fought cancer for years, passing from his colon to his liver and then to his lungs.  He has perished at the age of 58 at Maison Aube-Lemire in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Gulitti's post has the team's official statement; and NHL.com has this initial post up as well. Clearly, the hockey world lost no just a great and respected coach, but a great and respected man. Devils fans know him best as the head coach of the 2002-03 team that not only got him a Jack Adams Award (his third, most of any coach) but also the Stanley Cup.  I tried to put into words how much he meant to the franchise over the summer, I've added it after the jump as a tribute of sorts.  However, he was more than a coach to others. He was a father. A husband. A cop.  A mentor. And so much more.

On the behalf of ILWT, my condolences and prayers to the Burns family, as well as his friends and colleagues.  After fighting cancer for several years, may Pat Burns finally be able to rest in peace.

 

The New Jersey Devils have been a successful franchise throughout the prior decade.  Despite the consistent success, however, the head coaching position was in flux for one reason or another.  Last November, with Steve Lepore and Thibaut "Tibbs" Deshayes, we worked on determining an all-decade team for In Lou We Trust and we decided on naming two teams.  Yet, given the changes at the behind the bench in addition to the performances, we would only name a coach for the first team.   We quickly agreed that there could be only one: Pat Burns.

Pat Burns will always be held in high regard by Devils fans for leading the team to the Stanley Cup in 2003.  However, I don't believe that alone is why he is appreciated by the Devils faithful.   In a way, he was the perfect coach for the organization - at least at that time.  As an organization, the Devils stressed responsibility and accountability, especially on defense.  Two traits that would definitely define Burns as a coach.  It didn't matter if you were Scott Stevens, Patrik Elias, or Mike Rupp.  You had to get back in position and make the proper decision on-ice.  And Burns definitely wasn't afraid to let anyone know about a mistake they made and ensure that they would not make them again. 

Yet, like the organization, the disciplinary, my-way-or-highway perception was only true to a point.  Burns would get on guys cases, but not to point where they would tune him out or just give up on him.  His actions, tactics, and communications all had a purpose. The results on the ice reflected this, as the Devils were almost the literal example of a team that would never stop working hard in the two seasons he coached the Devils. While the Devils definitely weren't an offensive powerhouse in 2002-03 (the power play was especially horrendous), the team played defense like never before.  They didn't sit in a 1-2-2 trap from the mid-90s under Jacques Lemaire, but they would relentlessly check opponents appropriately. I would argue they were just as effective defensively as they were when the trap just stymied teams; if not more so.   Burns and the players would make the in-game adjustments to play more effectively and efficiently. 

Sure, it helped that his top four included Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer; as well as Martin Brodeur being Martin Brodeur.  However, it was no accident the team gave up only 166 goals in 02-03 and 164 goals in 03-04.  It was no fluke the Burns era yielded a record of 89-45-22-8 (208 points) in 2 seasons. It was not pure luck that the Devils did not sulk after a loss, especially not in the 2003 playoffs.  Those teams had great talent, no one doubts that.  But Pat Burns was as instrumental as anyone in their success. 

To put it simply, Burns got so much more out the Devils in those two seasons than any coach in the last decade.  It led to the team's third Stanley Cup, his first as a head coach, and it cemented him as a legend among New Jersey supporters. 

A part of me wants to think that in a perfect world, Burns would still be coaching the Devils to this day.  After all, Burns falls completely with the organization's principles and goals; and as with the organization itself, I believe Burns would take the steps to ensure he didn't wear out his welcome among the players. Burns certainly held the organization in high enough regard to be a part of the team as a special assignment coach for a few seasons after the lockout - even if it meant just fighting cancer in Florida.   Alas, this is not a perfect world; the cancer spread to the point where Burns is trying to enjoy what he has left; and the Devils are still trying to find a more permanent answer at head coach.  Still, as a fan myself, I can't think of anyone who was as close to being a perfect fit as a head coach for the Devils.

After all, there is only one Pat Burns.

ADDED: I was mistaken, he didn't win the Jack Adams with New Jersey: just Montreal, Toronto, and Boston.  Sorry.  At the same time the NHL put this video put together about Burns.  Plenty of footage of his career in NHL, including footage from one his final public appearances.

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