I’m going to jump on the Pat Burns for the Hockey Hall of Fame bandwagon since we talked about it last night on RinkSideRants.
But even without the Jack Adams awards and the wins, Burns should be in the hall for his 2002-03 coaching performance, which I’ve written about before as a tour-de-force of psychological coaching brilliance.
Burns wasn’t an Xs and Os innovator, but he knew how to manage people. Coming into New Jersey in 2002, he knew the team was made up of coach killers. Because for all the talk about how selfless and disciplined the Devils are, the players have very specific ideas on their roles and how the game should be played. And because of the talent and experience in the room, especially during that 2002-03 season, they’re a tough group of guys for a coach to simply ignore or scream over.
Burns didn’t just ignore or scream over his Devils. He tortured them from the first moments of training camp and then gradually let up, creating a Stockholm Syndrome kind of vibe, where the players were grateful for any crumb of compassion Burns threw their way.
Burns’ coaching kept the team sharp and prepared for the Finals. They had nothing else to think about. Burns was in their heads.
And finally, in a both brilliant and beautiful move, Burns played Ken Daneyko, a scratch for the entire finals, in game seven, making sure Daneyko was on the ice for the last shift when the Devils clinched, honoring a veteran who was a key part of the Devils for so long.
The following season ended with the Devils in a first-round exit, but I think that was more Cup hangover than a reflection of Burns’ motivational skills. Or maybe the 2002-03 performance exhausted everyone.
If I’m an NHL coach, though, I’m picking Burns’ brain for psychology tips, asking him how to determine what a team needs and how to make sure I’m not taking things too far.
These are questions more NHL (and NFL and NBA) coaches should ask themselves over the course of a season.
For one entire season, Pat Burns was the Scotty Bowman of hockey psychology. I think that deserves a trip to the Hall.