June 30, 2011
When the Hockey Hall of Fame announces its latest class of inductees, there are always "snubs" in the eyes of fans and media.
Accomplishments are compared between those on the outside and those who have achieved "immortality"; the politics of the Hall's 18-member selection committee are inevitably questioned.
But there's something different about the snub of the late Pat Burns, who died in Nov. 2010 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Maybe it's the fan campaign to get him into the Hall that surged to 68,000 followers in Facebook, only to see him rejected as a "Builder" before his death last year and then a second time this week, when the Hall of Fame revealed its four player inductees. The Hall didn't admit a builder in an election class for the first time since 1981.
Maybe it's just that this seemingly overqualified former NHL coach is being kept out of the Hall of Fame, and the reasons for that decision are murky, yet infuriating.
Whatever the reasons, the hockey world continues to rally behind Burns' legacy as being Hall-worthy — and, at the same time, fans and media are lashing out at the Hall of Fame's clandestine selection process and its decision to snub Burns again.
There is a strong case to be made for Burns as a Hall of Fame coach.
Burns won the Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003. He left coaching after his third cancer diagnosis with a career record of 501-353-151-14, for 1,167 points and a .573 winning percentage. Before last postseason, he was eighth in NHL history with 78 playoff victories; making the postseason 11 out of 14 seasons with the Habs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins and the Devils. He remains the only three-time winner of the Jack Adams award for coach of the year in NHL history, with Montreal (1989), Toronto (1993) and Boston (1998).
"For me, he's a Hall of Famer in my mind," said Joe Nieuwendyk, who was named to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday along with Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe.
So why isn't Burns in the Hall?
The selection committee won't say.
"This really is our confidentiality, and we're not at liberty to discuss the process, or who was or was not involved. Our process now is to stay with the four players who were nominated, and turn that into an outstanding inductions in November," said Hall of Fame CEO Bill Hay.
"We have put the bylaws into place, and they've worked very, very good. The debates in the meeting are very strong mainly due to the confidentiality."
Their decision to keep Burns out didn't sit well with many.
"With an embarrassment of top-flight players seemingly available for enshrinement, why wasn't last year's snub of a terminally ill Pat Burns rectified with his inclusion in the builders' category this year?" asked Martin Dunphry of Straight.com.
To me the biggest snub of all is coach Pat Burns. How is he not in the Hockey Hall of Fame right now? The selection committee is some secretive 18-member panel and the chair, Bill Hay, made a point of saying that whatever is discussed in the meeting room stays in the meeting room.
What kind of secret club is this? Do they have secret decoder rings, passwords and assemble in some torch-lit cavernous hall 10 levels below the Hall of Fame. Do they drink blood? Is the first rule of Hockey Hall of Fame: You never talk about the Hockey Hall of Fame?
On the November 19, the day Pat Burns passed away from cancer, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News argued that he would eventually get in and decried the "old boys' network" that makes the selections for the Hall of Fame. The same network that figured that they didn't care whether Burns lived long enough to see him inducted.
So what does that "old boys' network" do today? Snub Pat Burns again. This is terrible. On top of that, they name no other builders. Is the secretive and unaccountable HHOF selection committee serious? No builders? Not only did Burns not get selected, but nobody else earned their favor to be installed as a builder this year? Not Fred Shero? Not Clare Drake (Bruce McCurdy has an excellent explanation of who he is and how important he is at Cult of Hockey)? That no one was inducted just makes Burns' snub more of a slap in the face since there was no one else to take any builder spots - if such a thing even exists.
Shame. There is no other word to describe the Hall of Fame refusing to induct a deserving candidate like Pat Burns, much less any other deserving builders of the game.
These aren't low-key complaints about one candidate getting in over another; these are broadsides against the Hall of Fame, its procedures and its politics. The Hall invited an intense scrutiny of its process with this snub, and the fervor isn't waning.
Part of Pat Burns' makeup was that he was always known as a coach who cut through the B.S. in hockey. That his legacy has inspired such impassioned calls for transparency in the Hall of Fame selection process only seems appropriate.