I'm particularly proud of my work last weekend for HockeyPrimeTime.com. I wrote a brief piece on Pat Burns' impact on the National Hockey League's Northeast Division and my hockey fandom. Check it out and tell me what you think.
Like his personality, Burns leaves large legacy
A former policeman, Burns looked the part behind the bench with his thick moustache, but didn’t act like any cop that would visit my elementary school or volunteer with my Cub Pack. He was always yelling, screaming or trying to get at the other team’s bench. My parents had to awkwardly explain what he’d just said to the referees that had gotten him in so much trouble. (Although I had no problem understanding the idea of sending him to the locker room as punishment.)
He was easily my favorite of the Leafs. As news of Burns’ death spread Friday night, it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one.
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.
Although I’m still a young pup in this sports journalism game, most of my friends and family, as well as people following me on Twitter, have often ask me for my opinion on major events in sports.
As you can imagine, I took lots of questions about the National Hockey League’s trade deadline. People wanted to know about what deals I thought would happen and how I felt about the moves teams made.
You know what? I didn’t think much of it at all. It’s a boring, media-generated event that is over-hyped.
This wasn’t always the case. I remember being an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and stopping people on the street to ask if they’d heard what the latest trade was and congregating with friends between classes to talk about the latest move.
Back then, big names were thrown around. I remember the palpable sense of excitement when the Toronto Maple Leafs landed Owen Nolan in 2003. I also remember the sense of regret and foreboding when the Leafs missed out on Rob Blake in 2001.
The difference between then and now is that the post-lockout collective bargaining agreement has instituted a salary cap (as well as a minimum) for all teams. Adding a big ticket player destroys any franchise’s budget. This cap makes crazy, last minute moves virtually impossible.
Yes, there have been some major moves made close to or on the deadline like Marian Hossa joining the Pittsburgh Penguins in Feb. 2008 or this year’s trade of Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils. But these deals were motivated by teams trying to dump expiring contracts before the free agents walked away for nothing. They are very temporary, and took months to negotiate.
Instead of the free-wheeling desperation deals of yore, trade deadline day consists of a gaggle of analysts trying to fill air time between commercials for hours on end.
I watched TSN’s coverage, which spent several segments introducing the many commentators they’d employed for the day. After nearly three hours of coverage they began to break some news, like the thrilling trades of Derek Morris for a fourth round pick in 2011 or Martin Skoula (being traded by a team he never played with) for a fifth round pick. Yawn.
If you really want to see exciting personnel moves in the NHL, wait for free agency to open up in the summer. That’s where teams are made in this day and age, not at the trade deadline. No, now the last day of the deal-making season is the home of third line centres and depth defencemen.
The buzz before the game centred around Phaneuf, but Giguere is going to be the difference maker on this team.
It was apparent after just one period of play. Giguere looked confident in the net, always sure of his decision making.
“Giguere was solid," said head coach Ron Wilson in a press conference after the game. "He’s very professional, incredible focus and concentration out there, that’s what I noticed about him,”
“When we’ve gotten that kind of goaltending we usually play pretty well,” said Wilson. “Everybody settles down, you’re not bobbling pucks as much.”
That staid approach has already affected his teammates. Toronto’s defence has rarely looked this disciplined. Their awareness of the play developing around them was visibly heightened.
The few times that Giguere gave up rebounds the Maple Leafs quickly recovered and cleared the puck out. Most notably, Christian Hanson snapped the puck out of the crease and past the blue-line in the second period after Giguere had made a stop.
“Our defence did a great job in front of him, clearing people and handling rebounds. It was nice that all these guys arrive and they immediately help you out,” said Wilson.
Giguere even helps Toronto on offence, with his superior puck-handling skills creating scoring chances. An outlet pass off the boards from the Quebecois goaltender almost made it 4-0 for the Leafs in the dying minutes of the game.
On the power play, Giguere helped the defence get the puck back into the offensive zone quickly. He made the team more effective in every aspect of the game.
Obviously, Phaneuf made a difference as well.
“Dion got a couple of good hits in early,” said Wilson. “Every time he steps on the ice the other team is looking before they even attempt anything.”
Phaneuf certainly delighted Toronto’s fans by fighting Colin White, but it was Giguere who stole the show, and will continue to be the difference maker for the club.
A 3-0 win is a welcome sight on any team’s record, but this game in particular bodes well for Toronto’s future. Looking at Giguere's sterling stats Tuesday night is all the evidence needed to see that he is the one that will win the Maple Leafs games.
Of course they did. Really, it’s the only option the league’s disciplinarian had after the former captain of Canada’s World Junior tournament team laid Mikael Tamof the Quebec Remparts out with a vicious elbow.
But there are still lots of questions, the biggest and broadest of which is: where do we go from here? Not just Tam and Cormier, but the game itself.
By all accounts, Tam has already begun to recover. He hasn’t shown any signs of a concussion and he’s been released from the hospital. All good news, to be sure. But no one is sure if he’ll be able to re-join his teammates, or when. Sad when you consider that the 18-year-old defenceman was having a career season with 10 goals and 12 assists.
Cormier, of course, will be spending most of his time training on his own. Lou Lamoriello, the GM of the New Jersey Devils who drafted Cormier 54th overall in the 2008 draft, has already stated that the team will not place him in the American Hockey League or on any other teams affiliated with the Devils.
"We will honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season," Lamoriello said in a press release.
This won’t be the end of Cormier’s career though. He's still a top-flight prospect who might be able to bounce back from this incident. Certainly, if he keeps his head down, his nose clean and continues to develop as a player, the Devils will have to consider calling him up to the NHL in the next few seasons.
Cormier has issued his own public statement, saying, in part, “I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and wish Mikael Tam a speedy and full recovery."
No apology to Tam, just some best wishes. As so often happens in incidents like this, the injured party has to deal with the consequences of the play, while the offender is able to, eventually, resume their career. I wouldn’t want Cormier on my team, but the world of hockey has found roomin its heart to forgive a lot of players after similarly vicious incidents. Todd Bertuzzi is the first name that comes to mind.
And that brings us to the real problem: violence in hockey.
After all, everyone abhors Cormier’s cheap shot, but no one knows how to remove dirty hits from the game. I know that I enjoy watching a good hockey fight, as I think most people do, and there’s nothing like a good, solid hit. Hockey is an intrinsically violent game.
But there is a semi-permanent, translucent line in hockey that a player can cross where finishing their check somehow becomes a late hit. Standards seem to change case by case. This line needs to be better defined, with clearer consequences outlined. How else can hockey separate good violence from, for lack of a better term, bad violence?
I’m not sure. Hockey and hockey culture will always be physical, and tough players will always be admired. It would require an incredible sea-change to adjust the attitudes of players, coaches, officials and fans.
Suspending Cormier is certainly a good step. He’s a very visible junior hockey player, and as I mentioned in an article last week, he’s a repeat offender. It sends a strong message to the hockey community, and was the natural conclusion to a nasty chapter in QMJHL history.
Forcing Cormier, and other offenders at all levels of hockey, to engage in public awareness campaigns might be productive as well.
However, the most effective solution would be to force the offending player’s team to forfeit the game.
Had Quebec lost that game (the Remparts rallied to win 3-2 in the shootout), I feel that the QMJHL should have ruled the game as a forfeit for Rouyn-Noranda. If this became standard practice in junior and professional hockey leagues, I think it would create a sense of peer pressure that a cheap or dirty hit hurts the team in the standings, and players and coaches would do a better job of policing themselves. After all, no one wants to be directly responsible for costing their team a game, in addition to be suspended and fined.
It will take a huge, systemic change to eliminate dirty hits from hockey, but I think it’s time that better minds than mine began to apply themselves to this problem.