John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


The Case for Pat Burns’ early induction into the Hall of Fame

A week ago I tweeted about the movement to have Pat Burns inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I had wanted to expand on that 140-character missive, but the Easter holidays got in the way. However, now I’ve got the chance.

As TSN later reported, the Facebook group Let's Get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame - NOW! has the support of tens of thousands of hockey fans - over 49,000 as I write this – to put the former National Hockey League coach into the Hall of Fame before he succumbs to terminal cancer.

Other media outlets have picked up on the page, including Hockey Night in Canada, Coast to Coast with Don Cherry, the Montreal Gazette, the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and several radio stations.

Burns has a wealth of accomplishments that should earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame.

In his 14 straight seasons as a head coach he won 501 games with four teams, making it to the playoffs 11 times, the final twice and winning the Stanley Cup once.

To put that in a historical perspective, Burns is 11th in NHL history for number of games coached, nine behind Brian Sutter.

Burns is also 11th on the list for coaching wins, just one behind Hall of Fame member Glen Sather.

Even his losses stack up well, with Burns dropping 353 decisions in regulation and 14 in overtime (OTL was only counted in his last four seasons). That’s significantly less than Jacques Demers (468) and Brian Sutter (437), both of whom also coached for 14 years.

Granted, Burns doesn’t come anywhere close to the top 10 in terms of Stanley Cup wins, but he does at least have that one Stanley Cup ring from the 2002-03 New Jersey Devil’s championship, which is better than many other members of the Hall of Fame.

One could speculate that had it not been for Burns’ premature retirement, he’d have moved even further up these lists. Certainly, he could have moved up on the lists for games coached, and presumably climbed further up in terms of wins.

However, the Hall of Fame shouldn’t rely upon conjecture or presumptions. The man’s record speaks for itself. Even within the constraints of his shortened career he put together an exceptional coaching record.

The only question is whether or not Burns will be alive by the time he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Burns was present at the groundbreaking ceremony of a hockey arena that will be named in his honour two weeks ago. During the press conference, Burns was not optimistic about his chances of seeing the rink completed.

"I probably won't see the project to the end," said Burns. "But let's hope I'm looking down on it and see a young Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux."

Normally, there is a three-year waiting period after retirement to gain admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

However, there is precedent for the Hockey Hall of Fame speeding the process up: Roger Neilson was fast-tracked as he was terminally ill, as was Mario Lemieux, whose Hodgkin's lymphoma appeared to be fatal.

Burns has everything going for him. He has a high-calibre resume, the support of many hockey insiders and the Hall of Fame has done this kind of promotion before.

All that’s left is for the selection committee to take note of his accomplishments and the groundswell of support for his induction. It would be a fitting cap to a stellar career and an inspiring life.

If you’d like to throw your support behind the Let's Get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame - NOW! Facebook group, you can join by clicking on this link.


Book Review: Gretzky’s Tears by Stephen Brunt

Gretzky’s Tears is the latest book by the Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt. It examines the controversial trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, almost bringing an end to Edmonton’s Stanley Cup dynasty and launching the National Hockey League’s sputtering Sunbelt Expansion.

Brunt is one of Canada’s foremost sports journalists, and one of the best “big picture” writers in the newspaper business today. Unfortunately, Gretzky’s Tears does not meet Brunt’s usually high standards, particularly in contrast to his own body of work and other media on the subject.

The closest comparison is Brunt’s previous book, Searching for Bobby Orr, which I reviewed on my old blog .  Indeed, in the Acknowledgements section of Gretzky’s Tears Brunt says that it was intended as a sequel to Searching.

Both books spotlight the greatest hockey player of their generation, both address the theme of innocence lost and both subjects shy away from the limelight. Orr was always intensely private and Gretzky is big on controlling his own public image.

As a result, Brunt was unable to interview either player for his books. Instead, he focuses on interviewing the people around Gretzky and Orr, painting a picture of the circumstances and personalities surrounding these prominent Canadian figures.

It was a very effective method in Searching for Bobby Orr, but falls flat in Gretzky’s Tears.

The difference is that Orr’s entourage has maintained an omerta-like silence around the former Boston Bruin. Even former business associates like Alan Eagleson and Harry Sinden, both of whom have fallen out with Orr, did not participate in Brunt’s research for Searching.

However, in Gretzky’s Tears, two of the principals in the trade, former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and former Kings owner Bruce McNall, submitted to extensive interviews. The result comes across as a rather jaundiced account of the deal. Pocklington and McNall (and to a lesser extent former Edmonton General Manager Glen Sather) all get to say their piece, wheras Brunt, and therefore the reader, are left to guess at Gretzky’s state of mind before and after the move.

This would be fine if Gretzky’s Tears was created in a vacuum.  

Unfortunately for Brunt, Pocklington wrote (with the help of Terry McConnell and J’Lyn Nye) a book of his own called I’d Trade Him Again that includes a forward by the Great One.

Worse yet, ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary Kings Ransom also looks at the trade and filmmaker Peter Berg spoke extensively with Gretzky.

A smaller problem with the book is that it seems as though the editors backed off of Brunt’s copy. This might be because of the success of Searching for Bobby Orr, but Gretzky’s Tears suffers without a firm guiding hand.

 The first chapter of Gretzky’s Tears is a ponderous exploration of loss of innocence that could have been cut completely.  Further, Brunt has, for whatever reason, begun to copy sentences from one chapter to the next almost verbatim.

For example, towards the end of the book Brunt discusses Canada’s Olympic gold medal in 2002 and the rousing speech Greztky made at a press conference early in the games.

“[Gretzky] suggested that Canada was all alone, that the rest of Planet Hockey wanted it to fail, that it was us against the world. Standing in the room listening to him that day, it was difficult to tell how much was honest emotion, how much was a contrived attempt to inspire his team.” (p. 245)

Interesting commentary, except that just 45 pages earlier Brunt had described the same incident:

“Gretzky without prompting launched into a tirade – spontaneous or contrived – about how the whole hockey world wanted Canada to lose, it became a natural call to arms for both the country and the players.” (p. 200)

I only used excerpts, but aside from sentence structure the passages are almost identical.

It’s not an isolated incident either. There are several paragraphs throughout the book that repeat information and use similar phrasing. It’s a distracting habit and one that Brunt or his editor should have picked up on.

And that is the most disappointing thing about this book.

Stephen Brunt is an excellent writer who, in my opinion, is one of the best sports columnists in Canada. Searching for Bobby Orr was thoroughly researched and did a wonderful job of explaining the magic of Orr. On the other hand, Gretzky’s Tears is a flawed book that suffers by comparison to Brunt’s earlier work and the work of others.

By any other author this would be a solid book, but Brunt is a victim of his own success.