Pat Burns dies after battle with cancer

Updated: November 20, 2010, 4:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SHERBROOKE, Quebec -- Pat Burns, the former Montreal police officer who led New Jersey to the 2003 Stanley Cup title and was the NHL's coach of the year with three teams, died Friday. He was 58.

Burns battled cancer of the colon and the liver in 2004 and 2005 and hoped he had beaten the disease, but in January 2009 doctors found it had spread to his lungs.

This time, he decided to forgo further treatment.

"Just as they will remember Pat for his success as a coach, hockey fans also will remember his humor, his honesty, his humanity and his courage," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "As it mourns the loss of an outstanding contributor to the game, the National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to Pat's family and friends."

Burns became the Devils coach in 2002, leading the team to a 46-26-10 record and 108 points. New Jersey beat the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games to win the franchise's third Stanley Cup title in his first season.

"On behalf of the ownership, management, staff, and players of the New Jersey Devils, we are all deeply saddened by the loss of Pat Burns," Devils president Lou Lamoriello said in a release. "Pat was a close friend to us all, while dedicating his life to his family and to the game of hockey. He has been part of our family here in New Jersey for eight years."

Burns also coached Boston, Toronto and Montreal, reaching the Stanley Cup finals with the Canadiens and twice leading the Bruins to the playoffs.

"Pat was a great coach and more importantly a wonderful man," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "The Bruins are honored to have him as a part of our history."

The Maple Leafs reached the conference finals in 1992 and 1993 under Burns, who often was cantankerous and abrupt, yet showed compassion.

[+] EnlargePat Burns
Elsa/Getty ImagesPat Burns won his only Stanley Cup championship in 2003 in his first season with the New Jersey Devils.

"He commanded respect from the players and the team quickly had great success while taking on the identity of the head coach," Cliff Fletcher, the Maple Leafs' former general manager, said in a statement. "The Leafs' rise at the time was a testament to Pat's strength, toughness and determination.

"Hiring him 18 years ago was easily my best decision in hockey and we developed a great friendship that I will always treasure."

Burns was able to witness the beginning of construction on an arena being built in his name in Stanstead, Quebec. But Jacques Demers, who replaced Burns as coach of the Canadiens in 1992, said it would have been better if he'd been voted this year into the Hockey Hall of Fame -- a sentiment held by many.

"Pat Burns should have been in the Hall of Fame this year," Demers said. "Not because he was dying, but because he was a Hall of Fame coach."

Burns was the first three-time winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach, receiving the honor with the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Canadiens. He is the only person to win it with three teams.

Burns had a career mark of 501-353-165 (.573) in 1,019 NHL games.

"I always tell everybody that he, more than any other coach that I ever played with, had a feel behind the bench that was better than most coaches," former Canadiens goalie Brian Hayward said. "He had a read on who was going well on any given night better than any other coach I ever had.

"I wouldn't describe him as a player's coach, because people naturally think that means that he's your friend -- and he wasn't our friend. But we had a lot of respect for what he brought. He worked hard, but in many ways, he was more of a people person-type of coach than an Xs-and-Os type of coach."

Survivors include his wife, Line; daughter, Maureen; son, Jason; stepdaughter, Stephanie; and stepson, Maxime.

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the next few days.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE