For the Hockey Hall of Fame, a gross oversight at best and a big mistake at worst will finally be corrected this year. The late, legendary hockey coach Pat Burns will finally be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. As this article from NHL.com stated today, Burns will go in as a builder in a class that features Dominik Hasek, Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano, Rob Blake, and former referee Bill McCreary.
Pat Burns was more than just the boss on the bench for the 2003 Stanley Cup winning New Jersey Devils. Pat Burns was one of the top coaches in NHL history. He remains as the only head coach to win the Jack Adams trophy three times and did it three different teams: Montreal in 1989, Toronto in 1993, and Boston in 1998. That's three different organizations with three different rosters in arguably different times for the NHL. Only once did he oversee a team that didn't make the playoffs in his 12 full seasons in the league. Burns never won the Jack Adams with the Devils, but the Stanley Cup ring more than sufficed. If those credentials weren't enough, then consider that he wasn't a "hockey guy." He didn't play the pro game. He wasn't an understudy of some big name that gave him an "in." The former cop rose up through the ranks of youth hockey eventually coaching in Hull of the QMJHL and Sherbrooke of the AHL before the Canadiens gave the no-nonsense man a shot at the big leagues in 1988. 1,019 games later, his teams collectively finished with a record of 501-353-151-14.
Burns was never fired from the Devils. While he survived his first bout with colon cancer in 2004, being diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005 forced his retirement. Burns remained as a "special assignment" coach, doing some scouting and consulting within the organization. However, he was diagnosed with an incurable form of lung cancer in 2009; he wanted to continue to contribute but he really couldn't. In 2010, there was a groundswell of fan, media (examples: these cases made by Greg Wyshynski and Pierre LeBrun), and powerful people within the sport (read: Lou) support to have Burns inducted as a builder into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The hope was to have him honored while he was still alive to receive it - or at least to be told that he would be inducted. Neither happened. Burns died on November 19, 2010.
A posthumous induction was missed in 2011, which I (and many others) called it as ridiculous - especially as there was no one else named as a builder in that year. Shame on the selection committee then - and so forth for subsequent years of passing him over. So why now? Why almost four years after his death and seven after his first year of eligibility? While it's unknown as to who did make the decisions as to who gets into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I wonder whether there were changes among the selection committee. Whether it's an actual personnel or changes of the mind, whoever was not for inducting Burns ceased to be a roadblock for the 2014 class. That's my theory.
It ultimately doesn't matter why now or how it happened, though. Burns will be honored as he should. The former Canadien, Leaf, Bruin, and Devil coach will be enshrined as a part of hockey's history. That's the important matter. The quotes from his widow Line and Lou in this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice bear no ill will for the snubs of the past. This is good news and should be treated and celebrated as such. Burns' inclusion caps off a very strong Class of 2014 for the Hockey Hall of Fame. The right decision was finally made.