Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Burns a no-nonsense hit in New Jersey
By Sherry Skalko ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lou Lamoriello needed a coach. He needed someone with discipline. He needed someone who believed in what he himself believed in: team first, defense second (or is it vice versa?). He needed someone to lead his team back to the Stanley Cup.
So last May, the New Jersey Devils general manager boarded a plane and flew to a town in the remote woods of New Hampshire. There, he talked for an hour with a guy who hadn't been behind a bench in two seasons and had never won it all.
And he hired him.
"I owe a lot to Lou," said Pat Burns after leading the Devils to their third Cup in nine seasons. "I read a lot of articles by a lot of people sitting right here, some of them saying that I was done, and I wasn't ever going to get back in the game, and I wasn't the style of coach people wanted. And he believed in me.
"He came, and we sat down and we talked. When he left, he said 'You know what, we're going to do well.'"
Burns had done well before. He led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup finals and won the Jack Adams Award in 1989, his first year behind an NHL bench. He won his second Jack Adams for turning the Toronto Maple Leafs around, leading them to a franchise-record improvement and back-to-back appearances in the conference finals in 1993 and 1994. In 1998, he led the Boston Bruins back to the playoffs and captured his NHL-record third Adams.
But he never won a Stanley Cup.
"I remember one particular team, when I was out the first year and my name came up," Burns recalled. "I guess one of the reporters asked the general manager, 'What about Pat Burns,' and the guy said, 'What did he ever win?'"
That didn't matter to Lamoriello. Never has. Three years ago, with eight games left in the regular season and his team sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference, he fired coach Robbie Ftorek and replaced him with Larry Robinson, who had never won anything as a coach. Robinson led the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup.
So Lamoriello flew to New Hampshire, believing he had the players to win the Stanley Cup and looking for a coach with a style and philosophy that fit the team.
"I've always said not every team is for every coach and not every coach is for every team," Lamoriello said. "People have to have a certain type of discipline, but also the coaching philosophy which is similar to my own as far as defense ... He was out of the game for a couple of years and I thought he had the hunger and he wanted to chase the Cup which he hadn't won, and that's what it's all about here. That's our mission every year."
Discipline? How about a never-wavering routine?
Philosophy? How about a midseason defensive outburst after being accused of placing too much emphasis on defense?
He even shares Lamoriello's minimal tolerance for the media.
"He's a character," said Devils captain Scott Stevens. "He's an old-style coach. He's a guy who hates to lose. I'm much the same way, so I like his style."
Burns' style raised a few eyebrows during the first round of the playoffs when he scratched defenseman Ken Daneyko for Game 4 against the Bruins. Daneyko, the team's all-time leader in games played, had appeared in every Devils playoff game up to that point. The Devils lost, failing to eliminate Boston until Game 5. But Burns didn't shy from making the move again. He scratched Daneyko for four of the seven games against the Ottawa Senators in the conference finals and scratched him for every game of the Stanley Cup finals -- until Game 7.
The move left Daneyko flabbergasted.
"I questioned his move on this one," said Daneyko, who is pondering retirement with his contract due to expire on July 1. "I wasn't going to say no, but I hadn't been in there for two weeks and I just didn't want to screw up."
Daneyko played 11 minutes and 23 seconds. And when the final seconds ticked down, Burns put him back on the ice. Daneyko was so overwhelmed by the moment, he dropped his stick.
"I thought about it all night long," Burns said. "You know, it's tough when you see the 19th hole coming. It's tough for a player. But you know, to be able to get him in there one last time, to hoist that Cup, was something for him I'm sure he won't forget."
Just like Burns won't forget the faith Lamoriello showed in him.
Sherry Skalko is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.